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TV review: ‘Phil Spector’

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Al Pacino plays Phil Spector in HBO’s upcoming movie, which is kinda cool. But don’t expect anything resembling the real story.

The Details

Phil Spector
Two and a half stars
March 24, 9 p.m., HBO

The HBO movie Phil Spector opens with the disclaimer, “This is a work of fiction. It’s not ‘based on a true story.’ It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome,” which raises the questions of what, exactly, the movie is about if it’s not an attempt to depict or comment on the actual events of famed music producer Spector’s 2007 trial for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Writer-director David Mamet has certainly never been one to follow established conventions, and so anyone expecting a biopic or even a true-crime procedural out of Phil Spector is going to be very frustrated.

What Mamet is interested in is a very narrow period of time at the end of Spector’s 2007 trial (which ended in a hung jury; Spector was convicted in a second trial in 2009), when attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren) took over as Spector’s primary counsel. The movie begins well after Spector’s arrest and the start of his trial, and ends before any verdict is reached (in either trial). Baden, who served as a consultant on the film, is really the main character, and Mamet spends as much time on the pneumonia she suffered while defending Spector (Al Pacino) as he does on the eccentric millionaire’s explanation for what really happened to Clarkson (to which Mamet is clearly sympathetic).

Although the movie has plenty of Mamet’s trademark circular dialogue, which is as frustrating and meaningless as ever, Mamet also writes florid monologues for Pacino, who chews the scenery with gusto. Pacino’s overacting is probably appropriate for the flamboyant Spector, but it tends to overshadow everyone around him. As much as Mamet wants to make the movie about Baden, and as strong an actor as Mirren can be (even if she struggles a bit with her American accent), Pacino completely takes over whenever he’s onscreen. Sometimes that can be fascinating, but, much like most of Mamet’s choices, too often it just comes across as self-indulgent.

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  • Get ready for complex emotions depicted in regrettably simplistic ways.

  • What’s meant to be a story of female empowerment is instead a crass embodiment of battle-of-the-sexes stereotypes.

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