An outstanding cast, a coolly confident style and quirky literary material turn The Music of Chance into an auspicious feature debut for documentary filmmaker Philip Haas. But it’s ultimately more of an intellectual tease.
Based on a tome by w.k. New York writer Paul Auster, story will be called Kafkaesque because a hapless duo are caught in a mystifying, virtually inescapable web. Yet, the piece has a thoroughly American feel.
Mandy Patinkin, zipping along a rural highway in his new red BMW, offers a lift to a bloodied drifter (James Spader). Spader convinces him to put up $10,000 for a poker game with two rich pushovers.
The pair proceed to the splendid country estate of Charles Durning and Joel Gray. After initial success, Spader’s luck turns and he and Patinkin are forced to agree to work off their debt by reconstructing a medieval stone wall, a job estimated to take 50 days. Intrigue involving delays, hidden agendas, escape attempts and possible murder envelop the drudgery and command involvement.
But the denouement is too pat and O. Henry-ish and the characters, too, are shallow constructs.