An obscure but diverting thriller produced in Canada with American leading man Elliot Gould and Canadian-born Hollywood star Christopher Plummer, The Silent Partner was written for the screen by Curtis Hanson, who later demonstrated his acumen for the thriller genre by writing and/or directing critical faves including L.A. Confidential (1997). Complex and smart, Hanson’s script—which was based on a novel by Anders Bodelson—boasts not only a nifty set of plot twists but also wry wit and a surprising degree of savagery. In particular, the movie features one of the nastiest screen villains of the ’70s, and Plummer, who plays the baddie, clearly relished an opportunity to skewer the nice-guy image that had haunted him since his appearance in the squeaky-clean blockbuster The Sound of Music (1965).
Gould, portraying one of his signature put-upon everyman characters, stars as Canadian bank teller Miles Cullen, whose branch gets robbed by a thief named Harry Reikle (Plummer). In a memorable flourish, Harry commits the crime while dressed as Santa Claus. Through circumstances that needn’t be explained here, Harry flees the bank without his stolen cash, which remains in Miles’ possession. However, because the bank believes the money is gone, Miles helps himself to the haul. Emboldened by his unexpected transition to criminality, Miles also becomes involved with a dark-haired femme fatale, played by the smoldering Canadian singer/starlet Céline Lomez. Unluckily for everyone involved, she’s also connected to Harry. Here’s the kicker: When Harry learns that he and Miles are both complicit in criminal activity, the crook manipulates his “silent partner” into participating in further larceny. It gets ugly.
The plot requires a considerable suspension of disbelief, and some viewers may be turned off by the lack of a tangible moral center—even though Harry is a monster, Miles is at the very least a reckless weasel who endangers everyone around him for petty reasons. Yet the movie remains interesting because of its unexpected rhythms and vivid performances. Sure, Gould did similar work in many other films, but Plummer dives wholeheartedly into portraying a sociopath, and Lomez more than delivers the requisite measure of sexual heat. (Poor Susanna York, as was so often the case, wilts in a bland supporting role, though her elegant presence offers a small complement to the craven behavior surrounding her character.) Director Daryl Duke, whose career mostly comprises melodramatic TV projects including the ’80s miniseries The Thorn Birds, serves the edgy material well, guiding actors toward uninhibited work much as he did with the acidic music-industry drama Payday (1972). So, while The Silent Partner might not hold up to close scrutiny, it’s strikingly intense and mean-spirited.
The Silent Partner: GROOVY