Monday, December 7, 2009

'Swimming with Sharks' A Dark, Absurd Journey

Remember that job you once had with the unrelenting and insulting boss? Well, Guy (Frank Whaley) does, and it’s why he’s decided to take Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey) hostage.

Swimming with Sharks is the unforgiving, unapologetic, aggressive and darkest of dark comedies that tells the story of how Guy got to be throwing hot sauce in Ackerman’s open wounds.

This rather bleak look at the studio system in Hollywood is a scalding hot piece of comedy, a deeply hysterical albeit sad piece of social commentary on the business behind the pretty facade.

What makes this foul-mouthed film work so well is Spacey’s comically brilliant performance as true asshole Buddy Ackerman. A man who’s on the top of it all at Keystone Pictures, Ackerman uses and abuses Guy on all fronts, from stealing credit of his work to yelling at him in front of the entire office over a packet of Sweet‘N Low.

And on the other side, Whaley plays two versions of Guy. The more quiet and timid youngster looking to make a name for himself in the world of film and the berserk, near-psychotic man that storms into Ackerman’s house to hold his boss hostage and torture him with salt and paper cuts.

The film’s narrative is one of the huge keys to the film, as it supplements the present day events of Guy torturing Ackerman in his own home with the abuse and hostility Ackerman sprayed towards Guy during his time as his assistant. Jumping back and forth from past to present really allows the viewer to get a different sense of the events. It’s certainly an experimental way to tell a film of this kind, but I think it works much better than the straightforward start to finish narrative that could have been used.

And when I say that Swimming with Sharks is the darkest of dark comedies, I truly mean it. There might be films darker than this that dash comedy in here and there, but I have to admit that I didn’t get the film I expected when I read the critic comments of “Hysterical!” on the back of the DVD case. Writer and director George Huang offers so much bleak light into the life of Guy and the Hollywood system it’s unbelievable. The outcome of the situation is even more disparaging. If not for the humorous approach, Ackerman’s snide and ruthless bouts of yelling and the all-around foul-mouthed nature of the film, I’d have a hard time calling it a comedy.

But now that I’ve seen Swimming with Sharks I have a problem wondering why this film isn’t more beloved. It’s certainly not far from a brilliant total package, a working together of comic mischief and unabashed ruthlessness. The film isn’t afraid to point at dark, touchy subjects while maintaining a light sense of humor on the side. Think Glengarry Glen Ross had it been about holding your boss hostage.

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