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  Music of Chance, The Hitting The Wall
Year: 1993
Director: Philip Haas
Stars: James Spader, Mandy Patinkin, M. Emmet Walsh, Charles Durning, Joel Grey, Samantha Mathis, Chris Penn, Pearl Jones, Jordan Spainhour, Paul Auster
Genre: Drama, Thriller, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jim Nashe (Mandy Patinkin) has been driving across the country for a while, but now he's headed for New York City. Along a quiet rural road he spots a dishevelled man stumbling by the verge, and pulls over to see if he is all right, offering him a lift. The man is Jack Pozzi (James Spader) and he's been in better shape, with blood dried down one side of his face and a dazed demeanour which suggests he has been in an accident. Once he has woken up a bit, he starts talking with Nashe, telling him that he makes his living as a poker player, and the last two people he gambled with are worth revisiting since they are loaded - and unlucky at cards.

The Music of Chance was based on the novel by Paul Auster, who gave his blessing to the film by appearing in it, though you have to wait a while for his cameo. Some of his fans still prefer the book, but the deadpan mystery of the plot was carried over for a work which stays with those who have seen it chiefly because it refuses to explain entirely what is happening. Certainly it was easy enough to follow, but director Philip Haas, making the transition from documentaries to fictional narratives, left out any hint of what might pass for a reason for all this to happen, other than the two men at the heart of the story were led astray by their own avarice.

Something in what Pozzi has said to Nashe intrigues him, and just as they are about to part company in New York, he makes a proposition: how about they clean him up, draw up a plan and some money, and both pay the two would-be gamblers a visit. If they're as inept and rich as Pozzi says, then a lot of cash is available and it's theirs for the taking. There are few movies which feature card sharks or other hustlers which do not play out the narrative of them getting their comeuppance in some way or another, and The Music of Chance was little different, it's just that the manner in which it unfolds was highly unusual, again recognisably taking place not in some fantasy realm, but still...

The two older gentlemen we are presented with are intended to make us think of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, played by thin Joel Grey and rotund Charles Durning as Stone and Flower, living together in some huge country estate and spending their money on such things as a diorama they call The City of the World, a scale model of a town with little figures arranged in various positions which tell a story, not that you'd know what that was unless you asked them. If you're looking for where the bad luck for Nashe and Pozzi begins, it might be when the former takes a bathroom break from watching his new partner winning at poker and checks out the model, then in an arrogant move decides to take a souvenir.

Does Nashe's lifting of the two tiny figures of Flower and Stone winning their lottery trigger the events which come to pass as a result of Pozzi's eventual losing of the game? Or was the real instigation of their ill-fortune when he made the mistake of picking him up when he was in distress? Or maybe it was before that, when Pozzi got involved in the previous ill-fated card game which landed him in that state, or when Nashe decided to pack in his fireman's job and travel the highways and byways of the United States, apparently aimlessly? The way he has to pay back his debt suggests he now has a purpose in life which was otherwise lacking, but that task he and Pozzi must now carry out - building a medieval wall out of the ruins of an imported castle - seems just as aimless. Why do the millionaires need a big wall out in the middle of a field? Are they performing some deity role which punishes those who squander their lives? Questions, questions, but the fact that the two chancers cannot get away alludes to some hell or purgatory or other. Music by Philip Johnston.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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