Review: Pacino and Mirren star in HBO's controversial Phil Spector flick Special

Posted Mar 22, 2013 by Mindy Peterman
David Mamet's Phil Spector film has sparked controversy because of the nature of Spector's crime and Mamet's belief that his subject never got an even break.
David Mamet’s Phil Spector film, which will premiere on HBO on March 24, has already generated a great deal of controversy. The film is based on the first murder trial of the famed producer, who was convicted of killing actress Lana Clarkson in his home on the morning of February 3, 2003. According to the disclaimer that appears onscreen before the opening scene, the film is not to be considered a biopic. We are to look at it as a “mythological story” based on real life people and events.
Still, Mamet, who both wrote and directed the film, has definite ideas about whether Spector is guilty or innocent. In a 2011 interview with The Financial Times, Mamet says, “I don’t think he’s guilty. I definitely think there is reasonable doubt,” and adds, “They should never have sent him away. Whether he did it or not, we’ll never know but if he’d just been a regular citizen, they never would have indicted him.”
Executive producer, Barry Levinson agrees that the film is not meant to be a documentary or investigative report. “Here is what the Phil Spector story is not about,” he says, “It is not an investigation into whether he did or didn’t commit the murder. It is not about a trial and how it proceeded and what went on. It’s not that type of a film. In a sense, it’s really like a two-character piece: Helen Mirren is the defense attorney, and Al Pacino plays Spector. It’s the dynamic of those two people. And this woman, who is trying to put the information together, trying to proceed to trial with a guy who at times is half bouncing off walls. That’s really where the dynamic of the piece lives.”
With his penchant for guns, threatening his musicians, and spousal abuse, Spector is hard to look at as a sympathetic character (he is called a monster more than once in the film). History is not on his side and this is one of the major challenges for his legal team.
We are reminded more than once of Spector’s extraordinary accomplishments in the music world. But time passes, and when a younger lawyer on the team admits he has no idea what a 45 record is, it is obvious Spector’s iconic stature will not be enough to save him.
The story is told from the point of view of Spector’s defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden played by Helen Mirren. Mirren imbues her character with a mix of strength and vulnerability as she gradually becomes acquainted with Spector, his eccentricities, and the sordid details of the case. Al Pacino’s Phil Spector is initially only halfway believable. He seems more of a caricature with the outlandish wigs, his cave of a home and his showy outfits. After a while, as the relationship between lawyer and client deepens, Pacino’s acting chops do prevail. He will win you over.
If you find no sympathy for Spector in your heart, this movie may not be for you. But if you are open minded about what might have happened that February morning and take this film as Mamet’s mythology, you might find it worthwhile.