Owen Wilson as a serial killer?
Gotta be a dark comedy, right?
Uh, no. Writer/director Hampton Fancher (adapting his screenplay from a novel by Lew McCreary) is serious. Deadly serious.
And if M. William Phelps is right, Wilson, with his blond, blue-eyed boy-next-door good looks and lazy drawl, is perfect casting.
“One of my sources, who killed many, many, many women, told me that the most accurate depiction of a serial killer on film is The Minus Man, with Owen Wilson as the killer,” Phelps tells showbiz trade newsletter thewrap.com. “From my research, that is dead on, because the quintessential serial killer is someone who just folds himself, weaves himself in and out of society, and when all is said and done, you go to his neighbors, and they say, ‘I thought the guy was a great guy. I saw him cutting his lawn. He loved his wife’, etc.”
Phelps says he has interviewed a number of serial killers during the course of his research. The author of over a dozen true crime books, he is also co-host (with criminal profiler John Kelly) of Dark Minds , a new reality TV series on Investigation Discovery which utilizes the experience and insight of a mysterious source referred to only as “13”, a convicted killer – according to the show – whose participation is limited to brief conversations on the phone. For more information on the series click on the link below: investigation.discovery.com/tv/dark–minds
Curious, I rented a DVD copy of The Minus Man at my local (independently owned) video shop.
Sure enough, Wilson’s character is the last guy you’d suspect of poisoning an asthmatic junkie (singer Sheryl Crow in a rare dramatic role), a high school football star (Eric Mabius) and a local businessman (played by novelist McCreary himself in a cameo role.)
A softspoken drifter with a genial smile and a little-boy lost look in his eyes, Vann (Wilson) rents a room from a troubled married couple (Brian Cox, Mercedes Ruehl), gets a job at the local post office and attracts the interest of a lonely co-worker (played with a nice touch of wistful yearning by a surprisingly sweet Janeane Garofolo).
Detractors of the movie say it moves too slow. Nothing much happens. But that’s precisely the point. The flamboyant serial killers we often see in films and TV are rarely present in real life. Instead, people like Vann lead , to quote Henry David Thoreau, “lives of quiet desperation.”
“I never did anything violent to anyone,” Vann tells us in a v/o narration, “just the minimum necessary.”
It’s not that Vann doesn’t have a screw loose. I mean, he hears voices. (Dwight Yoakam and Dennis haysbert play imaginary detectives.) It’s just that he manages to keep the quirks in his personality under wraps.
Fancher purposely leaves plenty of gaps in the screenplay. A trailer for the film (included on the DVD) shows a couple discussing the various story points. They became so wrapped up in talking about the film that they lose track of time and one of them is late for work the following morning.
That particular marketing strategy may not have worked at the box office (the film bombed during its brief theatrical run in 1999) but the very fact that it is being mentioned over ten years after it was released attests to its durability on DVD. In fact, six of the latest comments on imdb.com’s boards date from earlier this year. (There are five pages of comments dating back to 2005)