Directed by: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Penelope Ann Miller, Mika Boorem
A superior suspense flick that showcases a great Morgan Freeman performance, a nicely twisty-curvy plot that never loses its way no matter how circuitous, Along Came a Spider is something rare these days: a movie that tries to be nothing more than a solidly entertaining genre effort and yet doesn't skimp on the intelligence and craftsmanship necessary to actually be an entertaining ... well, genre effort. The film is a class act all the way -- from the clever opening credits to the effective, but not overly prolonged, ending. One of the best things about Along Came a Spider is the fact that there's precious little here that is extraneous. Newcomer Marc Moss' adaptation of the James Patterson novel and Lee Tamahori's direction conspire to create a work that is 99-percent fat-free. It's not "minimalist" -- Tamahori creates far too many painstakingly evocative scenes for that -- but nothing is wasted and nearly everything is necessary to tell the story of a would-be arch criminal's attempt to earn himself a place in the history books with a convoluted kidnapping plan. The film is as lean and taut as Morgan Freeman's performance -- a performance that completely anchors the movie. Tamahori has commented that Freeman "shares a common trait with classic American actors such as Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. Silence and stillness. The less they say, the more we, the audience, do the work." And that is precisely the genius of Freeman's performance. As legendary filmmaker Josef von Sternberg once said of Gary Cooper, Freeman has the ability to just stand there and be interesting. In Along Came a Spider Freeman is reprising the role of detective-psychologist-author Dr. Alex Cross, which he first played in 1997's Kiss the Girls, and he is never less than brilliantly believable with no aspect of the character's multi-level career being allowed to override another. He's always in balance and yet never less (or more) than human. In his one face-to-face encounter with kidnapper Soneji (Michael Wincott), his humanness takes over his professionalism when he sizes his adversary up as "someone with a morbid desire to burn in hell." Yet the plot is so well-structured that we later realize that even this apparent lapse is less than it seems. The film also offers Monica Potter (Head Over Heels) a chance to break free of the romantic comedy persona that has previously been her lot in movies. She seizes the opportunity and acquits herself nicely in a daring role (one that could either make her career or turn her into the Rebecca De Mornay of "A" pictures). Some mention must be made of the splendid performance of young Mika Boorem as the kidnap victim. In fact, victim almost seems the wrong word, since for a change the film gives us a child actor who is far too insightful and resourceful to be just a victim. The movie's not high art, but it's such a well done thriller that you'll almost think it is.