Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg reunite for Spenser Confidential, and here’s our review.
Having already retold the harrowing true events of Operation Red Wings, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and the Boston Marathon bombings director Peter Berg and leading man Mark Wahlberg then moved away from real life stories for their 2018 action thriller Mile 22. That didn’t prove to be a massive success though, thus the thinking would be that their next project would be a retreat of sorts back to their tried and tested formula of Wahlberg portraying the everyman hero amongst a devastating real life disaster.
Enter Spenser Confidential, the new Netflix original that shatters any notion of this expectation.
Now their fifth time collaborating, Spenser Confidential takes inspiration from Wonderland, the novel by Ace Atkins.
The film sees Wahlberg star as ex-cop Spenser, who after serving a five year prison sentence is released back on to the streets of Boston but only to find himself drawn back into the very crime that put him away in the first place. Winston Duke co-stars as Hawk, an MMA fighter who has taken up residence in Spenser’s room, rented to him by Alan Arkin’s Henry. It means that Spenser and Hawk are forced to get comfortable with each other’s company pretty quickly. This narrative arrangement creates the classic genre set up for a buddy-cop style crime mystery.
The film does well to steer clear from several of the clichés associated with these kinds of productions, but this largely comes as a result of the film refraining from giving the two poster stars equal billing. Wahlberg is most definitely the lead here with Duke providing only a supporting performance, and this uneven balance works both in the film’s favour and against it. Duke is without a doubt underused, meaning that the film’s attempt to push this relationship upon the viewer doesn’t feel earned or completely successful.
However, the lack of a dual lead performance does help to avoid the genre conventions such as the inevitable fallout between the duo, only for them to overcome their differences just in time for the film’s finale. It’s certainly appreciated that this tired approach is not taken here. However, maybe the best way to describe the pair’s relationship comes from one of the characters in the film itself. Iliza Shlesinger’s Cissy, Spenser’s old flame before his prison days, refers to them as “Batman and Robin” and honestly it’s a fantastic analogy for the dynamic between this duo.
The narrative itself offers little that the genre hasn’t seen before, although it’s executed in entertaining enough fashion to make the film enjoyable. Sure, there’s a tad too much exposition in parts but the crime mystery is easy enough to follow and doesn’t treat audiences in a way that thinks they will be naive in working out the central narrative components. Spenser Confidential is a mixture of action and drama, and it feels as if Berg has listened to the criticisms of the way his action sequences came across in his last film. Here, the action moments are good; they mainly consist of fist fights though, and fail to create anything overly memorable. The film could have benefited from some larger set-pieces that would have elevated it perhaps, as its action very much feels like an afterthought in comparison to something like Bad Boys For Life.
The comedy doesn’t land too hard either, however again what is refreshing is that the film doesn’t bombard audiences with constant failed attempts at humour. It’s simply absent for much of the running time. This isn’t necessarily a problem but an injection of some well worked humour alongside more exciting action would have pushed Spenser Confidential closer to where it seems to be aiming. This can be traced back to the under-developed relationship between Spenser and Hawk, failing to give Wahlberg and Duke a better opportunity to demonstrate their comedic chemistry, which they are surely capable of.
Nonetheless, spirited performances from the two main stars as well as the aforementioned Arkin and Shlesinger consistently make this crime mystery effortlessly watchable. It’s an unremarkable entry into the genr, but a solid enough way to pass a couple of hours. It’s an improvement on Mile 22, but in terms of Wahlberg and Berg’s back catalogue, it’s also some way below the trilogy of real life disaster movies that brought them together in the first place.
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