Main      Site Guide    
At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Gingerbread Man (1998)



Reviews and Comments

Robert Altman directs this original screenplay (i.e., not based on one of his novels) by John Grisham. Kenneth Branagh stars. It's an enticing team of talent, and the results, while not a cinematic masterpiece, are rewarding to say the least.

The first thing I liked about the movie is that its characters aren't the stock thriller heroes. Branagh's character, frankly, isn't all that admirable. It is to the film's credit that it makes him a less than appealing character, yet still one that evokes sympathy. The supporting players -- with the possible exception of Famke Janssen, who isn't given anything to do -- are all well fleshed out. Robert Duvall, in particular, creates a shockingly unforgettable character with just minutes of screen time.

The story involves Branagh stumbling upon Embeth Davidtz, a woman terrorized by her eccentric father. Cliched plot twists are neatly sidestepped in favor of a satisfying labyrinthine plot that has Branagh fighting for his life and those of his loved ones. Altman's direction keeps the mood on edge throughout -- this is one creepy, unnerving movie.

The climax falls apart just slightly, evident mostly by comparison with the tightness of the first hour and a half -- but we are so involved with the characters, the film concludes on a satisfying note anyway. And, as with most good thrillers, the movie incites its audience to reflect on it after it's over.

Robert Altman said that he directed The Gingerbread Man because he had never directed a thriller before and wanted to try. The film is far from his best work -- Short Cuts, for example, is a cinematic masterpiece -- but it's a highly engaging and suspenseful thriller and gives John Grisham's work its most artful treatment yet.