There are a lot of great con movies. The Spanish Prisoner, The Sting, Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, House of Games, The Thomas Crowne Affair, the list goes on and on. But The Key Man may just have one-upped them all. It’s one thing to keep the viewers on their toes, always guessing what’s going to happen next, how the scam is going to pull together and whether it’s going to pull off without a hitch or collapse in on itself, taking the flim-flam men down with it. But The Key Man is the most meta con flick ever. You put Jack Davenport, Hugo Weaving, Brian Cox and Judy Greer in a film about an insurance salesman getting conned into a get-rich quick scheme, and any reasonable viewer expects good-to-great things. But the viewer turns out to be the ultimate mark, a rube and a sucker, because The Key Man takes 80 minutes of their life with no looking back, no remorse and no fucking regrets.
Bobby (Devenport) is a down-on-his luck insurance salesman with a lovely wife (Greer) and kids, a decent golf game, and little luck or respect at work. But after a fellow-member of his golf club, Irving (Cox), stages a meeting between Bobby and Vincent (Weaving), Bobby suddenly finds himself faced with an opportunity to look like a champ both in the office and for his wife. Irving and Vincent rope the reluctant Bobby into an insurance scam involving one of their business partners and from there, one expect things to ratchet up as Irving and Bobby’s greater scam becomes clear and conflicts between the trio emerge. Instead, the storyline manages to remain largely uninteresting and the film plods along in a dreadfully slow-burn. (Written by Peter Himmelstein, who also directed, the dull script doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming Peep World, also penned by Himmelstein.)
And here’s the great con, because even the excellent cast is simply unable to resuscitate things. Weaving is the only performance worth any real praise, as Vincent affords a role that allows Weaving to subtly chew the scenery, although the Shakespearean recitals were a bit much. Davenport is solid enough in his role as the schlub trying to do right by his family, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about his performance. Greer is lovely as always, and the only real complaint is that she is, yet again, sorely underused in a role that offered but a single scene for her to really do anything with — when will the Hollywood establishment figure out that Judy Greer rules and should be used appropriately, preferably in everything? Cox, meanwhile, mostly mails it in as the grizzled Irving — he’s not bad, because I’m not sure Brian Cox is capable of truly delivering a bad performance, but he’s not particularly good aside from one particular scene. In fact, if this weren’t a smaller indie flick, you wouldn’t be judged for thinking Cox was only in it for the paycheck.
Stylistically, The Key Man seeks to be an homage to the great heist and con films of the 70’s. And I suppose that Himmelstein succeeds in this regard, as the film does have the casual pacing, music style, and scene transitions that some of the coolest 70’s flicks have. However, where Himmelstein-the-writer didn’t really give the movie enough to work with, Himmelstein-the-director gives it a bit too much, as the editing and music go past the point of evoking a 70’s flick and begin to become distracting (Dustin fell asleep in the film and then left halfway through because, “the annoying music kept waking me up”). My understanding is that the film was originally shot in 2007, and now it makes sense why it’s sat on a shelf for four years — as TK put it when we exited the theater after the film, “The Key Man would be a bad movie in 1975 and it’s a bad movie now.”
The Key Man premiered at South By Southwest 2011.