Judge Paul Corupe dreads the idea of a Tim Allen remake of this movie with a dangerous Santa clause.
"Give me the money."—Harry Reikle (Christopher Plummer)
Generally considered as one of the most entertaining Canadian films of the late 1970s—a notorious era in which government-introduced film tax shelters resulted in a boom of low-budget genre films of varying quality—The Silent Partner still managed to slip through the cracks in recent years, thanks to spotty VHS releases. That's a shame, because this rewarding thriller features gripping performances and a well-developed heist story about a timid bank teller who launches a daring plan to take advantage of a robbery, making it more than worthy of rediscovery via Lionsgate's brand-new DVD release.
Facts of the Case
One snowy Christmas season, teller Miles Cullen (Elliott Gould, MASH) inadvertently discovers that Reikle (Christopher Plummer, The Insider), a donation-collecting mall Santa, is planning to hold up his bank. Anticipating that the crime will go down after a particularly large deposit from a nearby merchant, Miles brings a metal lunchbox to work one morning and lines it with the cash from his teller's drawer. Right on schedule, the sinister Santa comes in and passes a threatening note over the counter, prompting Miles to surrender the rest of the money in his desk—about a thousand dollars. After closing up, Miles puts his lunchbox in a safety deposit box and leaves for home $49,000 richer—money that everyone else assumes was stolen. When Reikle realizes he's been played for a fool, he tracks down the clever clerk, culminating in a cat-and-mouse chase for the cash that begins to get really sticky when Cullen accidentally loses his safety deposit key.
Bolstered by a clever and engaging script by Curtis Hanson (who went on to direct several crime films, including L.A. Confidential), The Silent Partner is a highly structured, fun effort by recently deceased Canadian director Daryl Duke. Despite the elaborate first-act heist, most of the film plays out like a straight psychological thriller, as Reikle hunts down the man who ripped him off and starts a campaign of harassment seemingly inspired by Cape Fear. Interestingly enough, after Cullen manages to have his stalker jailed on an unrelated charge, the Reikle character is briefly forgotten, as Cullen must come up with a way to remove the cash from his locked safety deposit box without rousing the suspicion of his co-workers, the police, or his old nemesis, no doubt still lurking behind the scenes.
In the end, though, the most fascinating aspect of the film is the parallels drawn between the violent and determined Reikle and the thoughtful, quiet Cullen, who has inadvertently become the career criminal's "silent partner." Though the audience easily identifies with Gould's meek teller who outwits Reikle for a nice wad of cash, the film asks some hard questions about what separates the actions of these two men, and if Cullen's audacious switcheroo can be justified on moral grounds.
If there's any real disappointment for viewers, it's the simply adequate direction by Duke, a TV movie veteran who fails to give the film any real visual flair and often clumsily telegraphs the personalities of his two main characters. Still, he does manage to infuse the film with a sizeable amount of tension and nicely incorporates the script's numerous twists, keeping modern viewers on their toes and offering a few impressive blasts of violence that have helped The Silent Partner retain its edge almost 30 years later.
The real key to the film is the solid performances by Gould and Plummer, however. It's Christopher Plummer who really gives it his all, playing staunchly against type as a sleazy, sociopathic Father Christmas who is willing to do anything to get his money, including occasional transvestitism; it's the award-winning Shakespearean actor like you've never seen him before! Likewise, the supporting cast is rounded out with an impressive number of Canadian character actors, including Michael Kirby (Meatballs) and seventies French-Canadian sex starlet Céline Lomez (The Kiss), not to mention a pre-SCTV John Candy, who makes a memorable cameo as well as one of Cullen's co-workers.
It's only April, and Lionsgate's bare-bones release of The Silent Partner already wins this year's most deceptive packaging award, with a highly misleading image that makes the film out to be some kind of cross between Reservoir Dogs and Ocean's Twelve, which it certainly is not. Thankfully, though, initial reports that the transfer was full screen are thankfully false, and Lionsgate delivers an adequate, 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Little restoration work went into this title and it shows in a fairly soft image and a thoroughly unremarkable mono audio track. Likewise, there are no extras on the disc, not even a trailer.
The little-seen The Silent Partner is a highly satisfying little flick that makes up for occasionally drab direction with crackerjack performances and a good dose of nail-biting tension. Fans of the heist genre shouldn't miss checking out this film, even if Lionsgate's DVD doesn't really do the film any favors.
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