Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Accentuate the Positive

By Devin D. O'Leary

OCTOBER 11, 1999:  Vann Siegert is just about the most mild mannered guy you could ever hope to meet: gentle, polite, sensitive. Vann drifts slowly, aimlessly from town to town in his well-groomed pick-up truck, meeting interesting folks, taking on odd jobs and thinkin' about what a funny old thing life is. People are naturally drawn to the simple, soft-spoken fellow. He's not the loud, boisterous kind of guy who shows up on anyone's radar very well. He's just the quiet, reliable Joe who's always hanging around in the background -- always there when you need him. He also happens to be a serial killer.

Based on the novel of the same name by Lew McCreary, The Minus Man posits the idea of evil as banality, banality as evil. There's nothing outwardly wrong with Vann Siegert, you see. But somewhere deep in the back of his skull, a wire is corroded, a genetic glitch has taken place that compels him to kill people.

"I never did anything violent to anyone," confesses Vann. "Just the minimum necessary." Indeed, like some modern-day Norman Bates, Vann seems entirely incapable of violence. Unlike nutty Norman and his wig-and-butcher-knife act, though, Vann gently poisons his victims. After a swig on his flask full of sweet amaretto, Vann's victims quietly slip off to sleep and never wake up. Amid his many rules of serial killer conduct, Vann chooses his victims carefully. All of them seem to need some kind of relief, some kind of escape from this cruel world. Vann is more than happy to oblige them.

Drifting into a small town somewhere one winter afternoon, Vann decides to stop for a spell. He rents himself a room in the idyllic home of Doug and Jane, a seemingly nice middle-aged couple. He gets himself a good job at the local post office. He toys with the idea of dating one of his coworkers, a lonely girl named Ferrin. And, occasionally, he kills someone.

As adapted by first-time director Hampton Fancher (lauded screenwriter of cult sci-fi fave Blade Runner), The Minus Man is less of a horror story and more of dark, disquieting and occasionally witty character study. Owen Wilson, a "one to watch" actor since his debut in Bottle Rocket, does an amazingly mannered job as the friendly neighborhood murderer. Vann really doesn't want to hurt anyone, and there's never any feeling of dread looming over the proceedings. He isn't driven by rage or pain or even evil in the conventional sense. He's nothing more than a bland cipher who attracts the lonely and the lost -- people who are missing something in their lives.

Take Ferrin, for example. Played by Janeane Garofalo at her most earthy and vulnerable, Ferrin is the kind of small town gal who's just scared enough not to leave her placid hometown, just smart enough to know all that she's missing. She's attracted to Vann, but the closer she gets, the less there is to actually hold on to. There's such a simple hope on her face, such a shy longing in her eyes. Despite his tenderness, though, we know Vann isn't the man to provide her with what she needs -- which makes their relationship all the more melancholy.

Doug and Jane (Brian Cox and Mercedes Ruehl) also have their own checklist of aches and pains. Their daughter has abandoned them, and their marriage has degenerated into a mass of cracks and stress fractures. Like Vann, they manage to put on a pleasant mask, but tragedy is brewing just under the surface.

For all these people, Vann functions as a confessor, a sympathetic ear. In truth, though, he's nothing more than a mirror, reflecting everyone's pain. And somewhere in the back of his mind is a little voice that tells him how to take all the pain away.

The Minus Man is hardly a thriller. It's filled with the same quiet, dignified melancholy that its main character radiates. Some viewers may be turned off by the measured pace and enigmatic emotions. But, in the end, there's something about this film that gets under your skin, seeps up to your brain and percolates there for a while. I urge you to see it. I defy you to shake it.


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