Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: ZIPPER: Haunting Portrayal of Addiction [SFF 2015]

Patrick Wilson Zipper

Zipper (2015Film Review from the 37th Annual Sundance Film Festival, a movie directed by Mora Stephens, starring Patrick WilsonLena Headey, Richard Dreyfuss, Ray Winstone, John Cho, and Dianna Agron.

Loosely-based on the downfall of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, this tale from director Mora Stephens is a fresh and welcome entry into the cautionary tale genre.

The story revolves around Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson), a handsome and competent federal prosecutor with a recent string of successful cases. He embodies a clean family-man image, a credit due to his wealthy and well-connected wife, Jeannie (Lena Headey), who ranked higher than he in their law school class but took a backseat to his ambitions.

All of this makes him a prime target for grooming for a higher political office. He is approached by George Hiller (Richard Dreyfuss), a notorious kingmaker in the political world, at a who’s-who social event to run for a soon-to-be-empty U.S. Senate seat, and Sam, while initially reluctant and distracted, soon signs on to the idea.

There’s just one problem: Sam has recently begun a habit of using an escort service, and he has no idea how deep his soon-to-blossom addiction will embed itself.

Blinded by an obvious ego, a pathetic naiveté, and a striking sense of entitlement, Sam jumps onto the hamster wheel, chasing the hope that he has power over his addiction, a woefully ignorant proposition for anyone who’s ever had experience with addiction (as the addicted or as a wounded bystander). He begins to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars each week in his pursuit of the unattainable: satiation. At first it doesn’t disrupt his life, personal or professional, but they soon come into view and he begins a cringe-worthy collision course that involves a declined credit card (to purchase his suspecting wife a gift), an auto-pedestrian accident, a $10,000 elite escort, and an undercover federal investigation into underage sex trafficking.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, doesn’t even begin to approach the insanity that these characters exhibit. In a supremely effective and haunting plot-twist that echoes the best episodes of Netflix’s House of Cards, Jeannie and a longtime family friend and investigative journalist, Coaker (Ray Winstone), scheme at the sideshow that is her husband while plotting even greater plans. It’s a cynical touch so nasty – but oh, so believable – that is pulled off so well that it earns well-deserved admiration. The message seems to be that there’s always room for quid pro quo, and everyone has a price.

This is a dark film with an ending that not everyone will like, but it’s safe to say that it understands the mindset of the American Electorate: all of the nation’s elected officials are crooked, and it’s so ingrained into the system that it’s hard for any one person to do much to correct it or root it out. But it’s also safe to say that the film’s main purpose is to entertain, not to indict, and on this level it performs very well.

Much of this is due to the excellent and accurate portrayal of what addiction does to a person and the people in his/her life, for it is as much about Sam’s wife as it is about him. The hope that dims day by day, the dark desperation that Sam clings to, the downright irrational reasoning he uses to excuse, hide, and tame his insatiable behavior is as perfectly portrayed as it possibly could be. For that, the director (who, in a post-screening Q&A, confided that she researched nearly every U.S. sexual-political scandal of the past 30 years) deserves credit. The tone she hones is impeccable, and she crafts a couple of downright haunting scenes that cement the movie as something special. This is not just a movie to be seen, it’s a film to be felt.

Zipper is screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in the non-competitive Premieres category and has been acquired by Alchemy for U.S. theatrical distribution later this year.

Rating: 7.5/10

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Image Source: Sundance Institute

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About the author

Drew Stelter

Drew is a 26-year-old film buff. A native Utahan, he attends the Sundance Film Festival annually. He is a member of the Salt Lake Film Society. In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he attended the Oscars Red Carpet on March 2, 2014, after winning an essay contest through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. At any given time he can be expected to be conversing via movie quote GIFs.

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