There are good movies that, for whatever reason, don’t make much of an impression on the public when they were released. They either bombed in the theater, or just went straight-to-dvd. This is one of them.
Written and directed by George Huang, this film was released in 1994. I think I first saw it on cable maybe a decade later. This is a really great film, on a psychological level. Frank Whaley plays Guy (I don’t recall ever hearing his last name mentioned in the film) who is the Executive Assistant to Buddy Ackerman, played by Kevin Spacey, who is a high-powered Vice President of a movie studio. As the film begins, we see that Guy has broken into Buddy’s home, tied him to a chair, and is basically torturing him. Guy is punching him, cutting him with the ends of envelopes, and then pouring salt in the wounds. The rest of the film is told in flashbacks, as we see how these two men got to this point.
We see Guy on his first day on the job, a year earlier. He meets the outgoing assistant, Rex, played by Benicio Del Toro, who tells him this job can bring him great success, as it has to all of Buddy’s previous assistants (“One is running The Sony Channel, another produced all the Macaulay Culkin action pictures…”), but also warns that Buddy can be “difficult, at times.” When Guy meets Buddy, he is initially charmed by him, until Buddy explodes in rage when Guy brings him a cup of coffee along with a packet of Equal, instead of the packet of Sweet N Low that Buddy had specifically asked for. Guy later meets Dawn, played by Michelle Forbes, a screenwriter who has worked with Buddy several times before, and, despite a chilly introduction (when Guy first parked in the then-empty studio parking lot, Dawn arrives immediately after him and insists that he moves his car, because she says that he’s in her spot), the two soon begin an unlikely romantic relationship.
The rest of the film chronicles the following year, as Guy does his best to perform his duties, despite Buddy’s increasingly insulting and demeaning behavior towards him (including witty one-liners such as “If you were in my toilet I wouldn’t bother to flush!”). Buddy shouts at Guy for the smallest perceived imperfections, and won’t hesitate to berate Guy in front of others. Meanwhile Guy’s relationship with Dawn continues, and he becomes instrumental in helping her develop one of her screenplays, which Guy hopes will lead to his big break as a movie producer. But when Buddy simply steals all the credit for Guy’s ideas, that may be the last straw for Guy, who breaks into Buddy’s house, and holds him at gunpoint.
I won’t spoil the ending, which has a bit of a “twist” to it. But in the conversations between Guy and Buddy during the torture scenes, we learn that Buddy is not quite as evil as Guy thought he was, and that Buddy might even have a reason for his attitude. I feel like that is where the strength of this film lies. The workplace scenes are fun to watch, but even more entrancing is the dialog between Guy and Buddy during the night while Guy is torturing Buddy. Kevin Spacey was perfect for this role, he’s great @ playing a-holes. And Frank Whaley is even better, as he has to go from being a naive optimist to a sadistic bad guy in this film, and through the journey we can see how his mind slowly broke down over time. We even see him adopt some of Buddy’s mannerisms during the course of the year. And that is what this film is really about, seeing these two mean break down psychologically, it’s a brilliant character study.
I hear that the film was adapted a few years ago into a stage play, starring Christian Slater, which I would like to have had the opportunity to see. But I highly recommend this film.