Mark Wahlberg may be a diverse actor who has shown his abilities across multiple genres in his career, but he also has a habit of stereotyping himself as the gritty, foul-mouthed action hero who is out to save Boston. It’s a role we’ve seen him fulfil in several movies recently, including Patriots Day and Mile 22, all with director Peter Berg. And now the two are at it again in Netflix’s Spenser Confidential which sees Wahlberg be as Wahlbergy as he has ever been before.
The difference though between this film and some of those aforementioned Wahlberg and Berg collaborations is that while those films had a sense of drama and intensity towards them, Spenser Confidential is more of an action-comedy, only with few laughs. This is not to say that it’s a bad movie. In fact, I found it highly entertaining with some decent action and well thought out characters. It does all this though, despite its many gaping problems.
That the characters are likeable all boils down to writer Ace Atkins, whose novel, Wonderland, is adapted here – albeit loosely – by Sean O’keefe and Brian Helgeland. Spenser himself is a nice enough former Boston PD detective with a good heart, but a penchant for finding fights while trying to do the right thing – which landed him on the wrong side of the law and some prison bars years earlier. Now, back out of jail and wanting to rebuild his life, he gets embroiled in a need to be a detective again as a former police colleague is mysteriously killed. With an air of corruption and inadequacy in the Boston Police department, he takes it on himself to bring the bad guys down. Well, almost by himself as he ropes in new roommate and fellow former convict Hawk (Winston Duke) and friend Henry (Alan Arkin) to help with some of the dirty work.
It’s a clichéd and predictable detective movie. A pity considering it’s supposed to be about a cop trying to solve a mystery that is supposed to leave you guessing till the very end. It’s saving grace is its fun action scenes and character moments that make the predictability of the plot enjoyable to watch. With the script playing its hand very early if you pay attention, figuring out who the big bad guy is plays second fiddle to beating up the bad guys.
Berg and co know how to execute a decent action scene and there are plenty of great moments here in which he gets to flex his filmmaking muscles to the full, while Wahlberg gets to flex his physical muscles. Especially if you favour hand to hand combat over shootouts. The choreography and direction of these scenes are all on-point with the editing focused enough to not be too jarring as is often the case for a Berg film. Perhaps the biggest annoyance of the direction is the number of skyline scenes of Boston we get to see. Both actor and director are from this city and their passion for it clearly shows in their projects as they try and showcase both the best and worst aspects of it in every way they can.
What the film packs in action though it lacks in brain cells. While I never expected a film of this ilk to be cerebrally challenging, Spenser Confidential goes out of its way to throw things at you that make little sense. Firstly, there is a gang that wields machetes for no apparent reason. Especially unusual when everything else seems to bring a gun to their knife-fight. Though when you do see how poor their aim is when they do have guns, you probably understand why. The film then makes many logic leaps to fit its missing pieces together. A prime example of this is the climactic action scene where many of the criminals and their big weapons are completely ignored to focus on the fisticuffs of a few leaving you wondering how on earth the good guys get away with it when in any normal world they would’ve been blown to smithereens. It doesn’t make the execution of these scenes any less spectacular, but your brain will get a headache trying to make sense of it all.
Spenser Confidential also tries too hard at trying to be a comedy at times with much of the humour feeling forced rather than natural. The film might’ve done better just to stick to the grittiness of the story and put some more drama into the characters rather than utilise humour to make something more engrossing. Which is something which Netflix will have another shot at if they get their way as the film is clearly set up for a sequel.
This is a flawed and cliché riddled film that sees Mark Wahlberg perfect in his comfort zone. It does nothing amazing or new, but it remains decently entertaining, nonetheless. It’s perhaps the perfect definition of a good film, that unfortunately remains far away from being a great one.
Last Updated: March 18, 2020