“Other Voices,” Dan McCormack’s sharply observed feature debut, takes familiar issues, such as the impersonality of corporate life, the breakdown of interpersonal communication and the loss of identity and explores them as they define and handicap one marriage. Imbued with the same emotional intensity and dark humor that marked McCormack’s hourlong drama “Minotaur,” new film boasts a terrific cast, headed by Campbell Scott, who gives his most exuberant and outrageous performance to date. Though marred by narrative and cutting flaws, mostly in the last reel, pic should please mature, educated audiences seeking nontraditional entertainment and willing to go for a wild, Kafkaesque ride in an ominous, nocturnal New York.
Obviously inspired by Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and possibly Harold Pinter’s one-acter “The Lover,” McCormack’s film dissects the complex, problematic bond between Phil (David Aaron Baker) and Anna (Mary McCormack), a young couple whose marriage seems to be on the rocks. The opening closeup, showing the couple as they wake up with the anxiety of facing another tumultuous day, sends alarming signals that things are not as they should be.
It soon becomes clear that the issue, for both Phil and Anna, is a shaky belief in their bond — each suspects the other of infidelity, and they feel that their nine-year marriage is rapidly disintegrating. In the first act, Anna confides in her eccentric psychiatrist, Dr. Grover (Stockard Channing), that she is seeing another man, and Phil shares his secret with John (Scott), his wildly unpredictable friend, that he is dating another woman.
Dr. Glover, a therapist with her own set of phobias, is shocked at how lightly Anna takes her extramarital affair; John, on the other hand, comes up with a more “pragmatic” idea for his troubled friend, to employ one of the city’s best private eyes, Jordin (Peter Gallagher, sporting a thick French accent). But a meeting in a chic restaurant with John and Jordin alerts Phil to the potential harmful results of using the sleuth’s services.
Helmer McCormack is effective at showing how easily things spiral out of control. Before long, Phil is followed and beaten by Mink (Ricky Aiello), Jordin’s thug. Also thrown into the labyrinth is Jeff (Rob Morrow), Anna’s problematic, unstable brother, who, after listening to Anna’s complaints, engages in spying too, rushing to the hotel where his sister is supposed to have a rendezvous with her lover.
After an hour of suspense, with each encounter between Phil and John more sinister and menacing than the last, the yarn discloses that the dangerous games Phil and Anna have been playing involve assumed identities for sexual gratification. Echoing the central idea of Pinter’s “The Lover,” Phil and Anna rent an apartment where they engage in steamy, impersonal sex — then jealously spy on each other. And like Albee’s George and Martha, the spouses delay the moment of truth, when they must stop playing their games and face crushing reality.
In its good moments, which are plentiful, pic recalls Scorsese’s “After Hours” and other yuppie-angst movies of the mid-1980s. Sprinkled with witty lines, dark humor and irony, McCormack’s script shows Gotham as an unmanageable urban landscape, one that not only fails to provide stability and order, but accentuates every sort of anxiety associated with big-city life.
Occasionally, pic lays on its messages too heavily, especially the notions of how precarious is the desire to find truth and hold on to it, and how our increasingly corrupt and bureaucratic society prevents people from maintaining personal identity and integrity. Unfortunately, the last reel is weak and meandering, dominated by an unnecessary chase scene between John and Mink through typical urban locales, climaxing in a diner. Substantial cuts of at least 10 minutes would make the storytelling smoother and more engaging — and also improve theatrical prospects.
A splendid ensemble almost overcomes pic’s shortcomings. Though technically not the lead, Scott shines throughout, delivering his lines with authority and bravura timing. Rumor has it that Scott was originally set to play the straight-laced yuppie Phil (a variation on roles he has done before), and producers should be saluted for casting him against type.
As the upscale couple, fearful of facing marriage’s inevitably lapse into routine, McCormack and Baker look and behave credibly, engaging the audience emotionally. Rest of the troupe, in what’s arguably the best-cast movie in competition at Sundance, is flawless, with standout turns from Channing and Morrow.
Unlike many of his peers, McCormack is a filmmaker whose writing and helming skills are matched by a powerful, often elegant visual conception. Here, as in “Minotaur,” he’s assisted by the extremely talented d.p. Dan Gillham, whose work contributes immeasurably to pic’s persistently ominous ambiance, also aided by Fred Wardell’s barbed cutting and William T. Stromberg’s evocative music.