Life and Death in L.A.: April 2020

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

'The Silent Partner' : A Noir Bank Job, 1970s Style

Elliot Gould in 'The Silent Partner.'

Elliot Gould is Miles Cullen, a Toronto bank teller whose chief companions are tropical fish that flutter about in an aquarium in his cramped apartment. To his female co-workers, Miles is a teddy bear nerd with as much sex appeal as one of his guppies.

One day, he realizes that sinister acts are taking place in the mall where his bank is located. Something churns within him, and before long his ruminations bubble to the surface. He fusses over his chess board — the first clue that this drama will be a tactical battle of wits.

Frustrated in his dreams of winning the love of a beautiful woman, Julie (Susannah York), he takes an uncharacteristic step that could free him from his mundane life or lead to ruin  — pocketing a healthy chunk of the bank's funds after a hold-up man makes off with some of the cash drawer contents.

As ineffectual as he is with the opposite sex, Miles proves himself a surprisingly skilled criminal, although it becomes clear he has not considered all of the consequences of his actions.

Once the deed is done, a number of snags appear, including the reappearance of Reikle (Christopher Plummer), a sadistic criminal who is the diametric opposite of Miles. Further complicating the matter is Elaine (CĂ©line Lomez), a femme fatale with murkey allegiances — as femmes fatale often have.

Along the way, Miles comes close to losing the purloined fortune he hopes will serve as an early retirement fund. In addition to keeping his hands on the cash, he must figure out how to rid himself of his nemesis, Reikle, who has made Miles his unwilling silent partner.

The screenplay, written by Curtis Hanson, who co-wrote and directed "L.A. Confidential," has a lean framework typical of neo noir. Scenes fit together nicely and project an understated authenticity. 

If one weakness must be singled out it's that "The Silent Partner" lacks noir's fatalistic outlook — the ending buttons up neatly and just misses greatness. See it anyway, because, unlike Julie's withering summation of Miles, its total is greater than the sum of its parts.