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REVIEW: Spenser Confidential

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 111 minutes
Director: Peter Berg

I’ve often heard people compare Netflix’s original content selection model to “throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks,” which often seems to be a fairly accurate statement; especially if you’ve spent a good amount of time watching Netflix original content. There’s a lot of good, but there’s also a lot of bad. Spaghetti that’s stuck: Stranger Things, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Bright (I personally love this David Ayer movie), Daredevil, Murder Mystery, Grace and Frankie, Queer Eye, The Haunting of Hill House, Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, etc. That list is pretty long, and substantial. Netflix has really begun to hone in on their craft. But it’s been a bumpy road along the way. Spaghetti that has not stuck: Rim of the World, The Open House, Polar, How It Ends, The Titan, The After Party, Everything Sucks, Disjointed, etc. (If I called out any show that you’re a fan of, please do tell me why you like that show!) Here’s what I’m getting at: What happens if that spaghetti you threw against the wall stuck but is slowly sliding down, making its way to the floor? That’s exactly how I feel about Spenser Confidential. It’s really not that great of a movie, but it was free! (kind of)

Spenser Confidential (loosely based on the novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins) stars Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, and Bokeem Woodbine. The movie takes place in Boston, MA, where it was also shot and filmed. This is Mark Wahlberg in his natural habitat doing Mark Wahlberg things. I like Wahlberg. I’m not sure there’s a movie of his that I didn’t enjoy to a certain extent. And any time you go see a movie starring Wahlberg, you kind of already know what you’re going to get. Like many actors in the business, Wahlberg just plays himself. So it’s a good thing that he’s got a charismatic way about him, because without Wahlberg, this movie likely would have sunk like a rock in the Boston Harbor. Wahlberg plays Spenser, a disgraced Boston police officer, who has spent the last five years in prison for assaulting his superior in his own home. Spenser re-enters society after his five year prison stint with hopes of leaving Boston and starting his life over (Why as a truck driver living in Arizona? I’m still trying to figure that one out). Spenser has help acclimating back into society from his old fighting coach, Henry (played by Alan Arkin). Henry allows Spenser to live with him, where Henry is also mentoring and housing an up-and-coming fighter named Hawk (played by Winston Duke). Shortly after Spenser leaves prison, other Boston police officers are murdered, which sparks Spenser’s policing instincts to begin his own investigation into these suspicious murders.

The plot plays out in very familiar fashion. You’ve definitely seen this kind of movie before—think Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, 16 Blocks, or The Other Guys—the buddy-cop action-comedy, but just not nearly as good or as memorable as those classics. Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke make a really interesting pair; although, I wish Duke had more to do in this movie. Every time his character is given some light, he shines, but only long enough for the spotlight to be taken away, leaving you wanting more from him. Duke is a very talented actor; he was fantastic in Jordan Peele’s Us, and I’m ready for him to take on a true starring role. The more tense and serious moments of the movie are broken up well with bits of comedy from Spenser’s jilted lover, Cissy, who is not happy about the five years she’s spent alone waiting for Spenser to get out of prison. Cissy definitely plays the part of a strong, confident Bostonian woman: she takes what she wants when she wants, and is not scared to get her hands dirty. Wahlberg really is in his element playing an ex-cop in Boston. This is his city, and he feels right at home in this movie.

(From left to right) Winston Duke, Alan Arkin and Mark Wahlberg appear in a scene of Spenser Confidential | NETFLIX

Where the movie’s wheels fell off for me was the ending. It was far too predictable, and felt like a cheap way to end the movie. Corruption in law enforcement and local elected officials is not an uncommon story, but I always find myself eager to watch these kinds of movies. Maybe that’s because deep down we all know (or want to believe) that these kind of stories are real. We want to see that dirty underbelly of the city we’ve grown up in; we want to swing that door open as fast as we can and expose those filthy rats in the basement; we know they’re there—we just can’t see them. Movies like Spenser Confidential help to fill in the gaps of what we already suspect is happening in real life. So when the movie approaches the ending, and both my wife and I are audibly predicting what is going to happen, and then rolling our eyes when it does, it just feels cheap. Good thing this is a Netflix movie, which means we got to sit in the comfort of our own home, on our own couch, and just veg.

Now it comes to it: my recommendation. Like I stated earlier in this review, Spenser Confidential really isn’t that great of a movie, but I didn’t regret spending the 1 hour and 45 minutes it took to watch it. The reason I will give it a “Stream It” is because this is a Mark Wahlberg-starred movie, and he is able to do enough to keep the movie afloat. The only thing this movie will cost you is your time. So if you’ve got some time to spare, give Spenser Confidential a watch.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
About the Author
Founder of Backseat Directors. Host of The Backseat Directors Podcast, and The Mega Movie Show! Continually surprised that he's getting older and not forever 24. Quit the corporate life to pursue his passions and spend more time at home. Grateful for the talented team at Backseat Directors, and for all the incredible work they do. Lover of movies, the BYU Cougars, Amy Jane and Groucho. Let's go to the movies!

2 comments on REVIEW: Spenser Confidential

  1. Shannon says:

    After reading all of the original Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker, and watching the TV series based on them in the 80’s, I can NOT bring myself to even WANT to see this movie! Hawk is not comic relief! The previews alone make it too much of a travesty for me.

    And honestly, not sure if I can bring myself to read the book by Ace Atkins.

    Thanks for the review!

    1. That’s the duel-edged sword nature of movies adapted from books. I’ve seen so many movies that disappointed because I had read the books first. I had no prior knowledge of these Spenser books before seeing the movie.

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