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Volume 5, Number 31

This Week's Reviews:  People I Know.

This Week's Omissions:  American Wedding, The Eye, Gigli, Respiro.

Daniel Algrant

Al Pacino
Kim Basinger
Ryan O'Neal
Téa Leoni
Richard Schiff
Bill Nunn
Robert Klein

Release: 25 Apr. 03

People I Know


Miramax reports that the reason People I Know has set on a shelf for two years is that 11 September 2001 made the film’s New York City attitude, with anti-Giuliani undertones, seem in poor taste. I counter that the reason this film seemed like such a insincere gambit -- underlined by the fact that the film has only received a limited release in the States and abroad despite its star power -- is that it is especially bad.

The story revolves around the power plays of a down-on-his-luck New York public relations director, Eli Wurman (Pacino), and the final moments of his continued downfall. The arch of the film is the question of whether he can rebound or simply whither away, if he can be a Renton of Trainspotting or a Willy Loman of Death of a Salesman. All this should be engaging -- Pacino is the type of actor who can play aged befuddlement better than anyone else -- but it is lost in a barrage of subplots and idiotic contrivances.

The last remaining celebrity with Eli on his payroll is Cary Launer (O’Neal), an Oscar winner with his own career breakdown. Now Cary spends most of his time with two-bit drug addict/prostitutes, and Eli spends most of his time cleaning up the messes that are certain to follow.

The film begins with one of those cleanups, an ecstasy-raddled B-actress named Jilli Hopper (Leoni) who must be bailed out and taken to a party-come-orgy-come-drug-ring to appease her. For some reason, none of this really bothers Eli other than the fact that he’s up later than he would like -- it is clear he is oft sent on these wasteful adventures.

And then the film digs itself into a hole of intended intrigue that involves murder, robbery, and a conspiracy. Eli was present for all these, but popped some pills with booze to the point that all of this is just a haze. Too bad, because there are some people willing to kill him to make sure that the haze doesn’t clear up.

All this is set to a scheme Eli is obsessing over involving the assemblage of celebrities for a fundraiser to stop the mayor from deporting some immigrants. In the way of his plan -- which anchors on the appearance of Regis Philbin -- is the disagreement between the city’s two loudest liberal voices, Jewish businessmen and African American church ministers. If he can just get Elliot Sharansky (Schiff) and the Reverend Lyle Blunt (Nunn) to agree to ally if only for this evening, the event will be the talk of the town and Eli’s career will be resuscitated. Of course, how can a man trying to fight for his life put together a high profile event without getting himself into more danger?

The whole of People I Know comes with an unneeded gravity. Director Daniel Algrant seems to believe his film is important, dealing with issues heretofore unseen in American cinema. But the politicking this film uses -- the only matter in which it might make a move towards new territory -- isn’t even fresh, even in 2001. However much the film might vilify Giuliani (in this case an unnamed, aggressive mayor with senatorial aspirations), it feels pushy and underdeveloped, like the commentary of an armchair op-ed writer, waxing poetically on the evils of Giuliani’s politics without being able to describe anything other than his police force. For rich, informative observations on the same ideas, Abel Ferrara’s 'R Xmas would be a far better choice.

©2003, David Perry,, 1 August 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry