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With: Al Pacino, Kim Basinger, Ryan O'Neal, Tea Leoni, Richard Schiff, Bill Nunn
Written by: Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by: Dan Algrent
MPAA Rating: R for language, drug use, and brief sexual images
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/19/2013

People I Know (2004)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Public Image Limited

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Purchased by Miramax and stuck on a shelf for three years, Dan Algrent's People I Know is bad in a really bizarre way.

Al Pacino plays Eli Wurman, a battered, struggling New York PR man with a wild Southern accent. Set over a period of 24 hours, the film begins when his only client, actor Cary Launer (Ryan O'Neal) asks him to bail a model Jilli Hopper (Tea Leoni) out of jail. Afterwards, Eli goes with her back to her apartment where she is either murdered or OD's -- it's not clear which.

The next day Eli tries to arrange a fundraiser dinner benefiting Nicaraguan refugees. For this he must recruit both the Reverend Lyle Blunt (Bill Nunn) and Elliot Sharansky (Richard Schiff), pillars of the black and Jewish communities respectively who happen to hate each other. Meanwhile, his brother's beautiful widow Victoria Gray (Kim Basinger) has turned up to lure him back to his hometown in Virginia.

Through his prescription drug-induced haze, Eli can barely navigate his own life, let alone deal with the complexities of those around him. And now mysterious people related to the model's death are out to kill him.

Besides the tangled plot, the film's major problem comes from the fact that director Algrent can't control his lead actor. Pacino unleashes every trick in his actor's bag, spinning off on a wild tangent that has nothing to do with the story. The accent alone batters us into the back of the theater, making us want to go home.

Aside from Pacino, the film itself has a shrill tone with everyone barking at each other and buckling under some intense, unseen pressure. In one scene, Pacino witnesses a leggy model exiting a limo wearing only a fur coat. She sneers at the old man still in the car, saying that she only agreed to spend one year with him and that year is now up. The scene has no bearing on anything other than to make us increasingly uncomfortable.

Only the Southern belle Basinger gives the film a moment of pause, a breath of fresh air. Compared with its vision of New York, People I Know makes Virginia sound like a good bet.

The fact that Pacino plays a PR man has led some misguided critics to compare People I Know to the great Sweet Smell of Success. But that 1957 film had a point. It showed relationships gone sour and power plays in a fascinating and razor-sharp new light. People I Know merely bashes us over the head with its own headache-inducing misery.

DVD Details: Maybe this oddity will play better at home, or maybe Algrent's director commentary track will help explain some of his off-kilter decisions. The DVD also comes with deleted scenes, an optional French language track and optional Spanish subtitles. The picture is presented in widescreen (1.85-to-1) and the sound is in 5.1 Dolby Surround.

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