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Movie Reviews from the Film Gang

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April 13, 2001- Along Came a Spider reviewed by Bill Nichols

ALONG CAME A SPIDER, the new suspense mystery starring Morgan Freeman, will appeal to at least two categories of fans.  If you enjoyed the “what’s wrong with this picture” game as a child, you will find yourself in puzzle-hunting heaven.  Inconsistencies abound at the level of plot.  The film opens a bit like Hitchcock’s VERTIGO, with a cop in pursuit of a criminal but, just as Jimmy Stewart misses a rooftop leap and winds up suspended over thin air, Morgan Freeman misses his chance to rescue his partner and winds up suspended in a cloud of grief.  Both men relish the chance to recover from their despondency by taking on new cases, cases that will test their cunning as well as their mettle.  When a lively young girl finds herself abducted from a high security private school the abductor draws Morgan Freeman’s Alex Cross into the case to be sure there is an investigator smart enough to appreciate his own perverse genius.  The FBI and Secret Service won’t do.  The FBI agent in charge proves it by acting like a dolt, and the Secret Service agent in charge of school security let the abductor outsmart her in the first place.  This leaves her profoundly shaken, although not quite shaken enough to mar her impeccable make up or the almost wax-works perfection of her features.  Monica Potter plays the Secret Service agent as if she had just gotten back from moonlighting at a fashion show.  No one seems to mind when she announces that she will assign herself to be Morgan Freeman’s partner; government agents routinely subordinate themselves to despondent local cops, or at least they do in this severely plot-challenged tale.  Before long our heroes have plunged headlong into the pursuit of the kidnapper and the plot problems multiply at an amazing rate.
Apart from cataloging “what’s wrong with this picture,” or cringing at the woodenness of Ms. Potter’s performance, we do have the opportunity to appreciate Morgan Freeman delivering another one of his remarkably poised and professional performances.  This was my main reason for seeking out ALONG CAME A SPIDER, and on this level I was not disappointed.  As he did in SEVEN, Mr. Freeman adds a measure of humanity and decency to a story that might, in other hands, have collapsed into a hysterical frenzy of chases, killings, and illogical twists. When he must finally kill another man, it is perfectly justifiable but Freeman still conveys a sense of genuine dismay at the horror of what he has just done.   Freeman has the ability to exude a sense of hard earned wisdom that elevates him above the immediate situation while simultaneously allowing him to grasp the motives and needs of those around him.  He is both in the moment and beyond it.  No other actor has quite so vivid a capacity for conveying the humanity of a character.  The characters may be cardboard and the action muddled, but Morgan Freeman rises above it as if to show how all of us can do the same when we too risk being dragged down by a sea of banality.  Never superior to the less principled, never too good to explain himself or to listen to what others have to say, Morgan Freeman is an actor of uncommon grace.  He elevates ALONG CAME A SPIDER several degrees above the level of its contrived plot.  Looking at movies that look at the world, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Bill Nichols.

c 2001 Bill Nichols