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People I Know
cast: Al Pacino, Kim Basinger, Ryan O'Neal, Téa Leoni, and Richard Schiff

director: Dan Algrant

95 minutes (15) 2001 widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to rent on video

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by John Percival
Legendary New York PR man Eli Wurman (Al Pacino) is a man coming apart at the seams. His glory days are behind him and now he is lost in a blur of celebrity and politics. After a routine incident with moody starlet Jilli Hopper (Téa Leoni) and famous movie star Cary Launer (Ryan O'Neal), Eli is drawn into a world of political conspiracies and murder that he can never fully comprehend. Instead he uses every last remaining ounce of his PR talent to ensure Manhattan's movers and shakers turn out to support his cause.
   Al Pacino is certainly one of the best actors of current times. In the role of Eli Wurman, with Eli's slow Georgia accent and dislike of mobile phones, he is a man who has spent his life clearing up the problems of his clients. With the handfuls of pills he takes and all the alcohol he drinks, his life is killing him. Looking like a tired, ragged Columbo the movie is more the long drawn out death rattle of Eli Wurman, everything else appears secondary.
   In being requested to look after Jilli, he is led to an opium den where he recognises many faces and realises how much he does not know about these people, the same people he has dedicated his life to. He is a dinosaur, out of touch with the current world and any influence he has is based solely on people's respect for his talent in the past and what he has done for them. He is dedicated in organising a benefit party, in order to give Nigerian immigrants without green cards a voice in the more prominent sections of society. How altruistic is the act of organising the benefit? While Eli seems sincere and heartfelt in his argument, it is ultimately his swansong and Eli, himself, knows this.
   A large amount of the time Eli seems barely in control and just swept along by events as his drug addled body collapses on itself. You just know whatever the outcome will be; it is not going to be good. It is that kind of bleakness that follows through the film; being disassociated with a world that you were once a vital part of. More than being redundant, if a function is your whole life and that function exists no longer, then you are not alive.
   Pacino does put in the superb performance that we have come to expect from him, but the Leoni tangent is not strong, not developed, nor explained nearly enough to be an attention grabber. Much like Eli himself, we have little or no true idea just what is going on. Leoni is particularly caustic as jaded starlet Jilli, but she dies way too soon for us to enjoy the possibilities of her character. Ryan O'Neal pretty much plays himself as an aging playboy actor with gleaming white teeth and a taste for young actresses. Kim Basinger hardly excels as Eli's brother's widow, who loves Eli and is trying to entice him away from the big city. For an Oscar winner you would have imagined something better from her instead of being the equivalent of wallpaper. Her presence does little to further the story and only adds a little interest to the sexual ambiguity of Eli.
   People I Know is an interesting story held together by yet another great performance by Pacino. That said it is prevented from being a really great movie by some lazy contributions from the supporting cast, underdeveloped subplots and an ending that is unsatisfying. Seeing as Eli is essentially dying through the whole movie, the way his final exit manifests itself is as frustrating as it is tragic. He understands even less about the world that he been shuffling him out, than he did at the start of the film. That same world killed him and he did not even know it. Even though they are some frustrations with People I Know it is still worth a look for there are important questions raised by the story even if they were not explored properly.
   Extras on the DVD include a very interesting press conference with Al Pacino at the Sundance Festival, trailer and a sprinkling of cast interviews from Téa Leoni, Richard Schiff and Ryan O'Neal.
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