“Spenser Confidential” stars Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, Bokeem Woodbine, Marc Maron, and Post Malone. Released on Netflix on March 6, 2020, the film is about a former officer who attempts to unravel a murder conspiracy.
The film is directed by Peter Berg, who also directed films such as “Friday Night Lights”, “Hancock”, “Battleship”, “Patriots Day”, and “Mile 22”. It is loosely based on the 2013 novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins with characters created by Robert B. Parker. We’re once again getting close to spring, which means that it’s time to look at another film from Netflix, and boy, this is going to be an interesting one. This film marks the latest collaboration between Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg after churning out some well-made fact-based thrillers back-to-back as well as the choppy misfire that was “Mile 22”. Seriously, what the heck happened to that mess? Peter Berg is one of those directors that deliver hard on the intense thrills and, in some cases, provide a solid story to go along with them. His filmography is far from perfect as he had a couple of misses in his career like the film adaptation of the Hasbro board game “Battleship” (don’t ask why it exists) and the already-mentioned “Mile 22” (again, what happened to that film?), but aside from those disappointments, I think he deserves some credit for making Wahlberg into a decent star with his recent thrillers like “Lone Survivor” and “Patriots Day” (my personal favorite from him). So now we have a loose adaptation of one of Ace Atkins’ novels that will hopefully erase the “Mile 22” mishap and get the duo back on track. Was it able to shoot its way to the top? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Spenser (Wahlberg), a former Boston police officer who gets sent to prison for intervening in a domestic dispute and assaulting his captain John Boylan (Michael Gaston). On the day of Spenser’s release, Boylan and another officer are found murdered in cold blood. With the help of his mentor Henry Cimoli (Arkin) and his new roommate Hawk (Duke), Spenser must put his skills to the test in order to solve this mystery and uncover a conspiracy that involves drug dealers and corrupt cops. Even though the film is inspired by one of Atkins’ novels and uses Parker’s characters, the story doesn’t follow the source material beat-by-beat, and the characters in the film aren’t exactly the same characters that you recognized in the novel or Parker’s original works. This is a pretty big risk that usually spells doom for the filmmakers’ relationship with the fans. If you’re a huge follower of the book series, you might find this film to be a smack in the face. Since I haven’t heard that much about this character and the source material in general, I will be looking at it as its own film without making some comparisons. This is just me talking about something that I watched out of curiosity. The first thing I want to talk about is the cast. Mark Wahlberg is the latest actor to portray Spenser following Robert Urich and Joe Mantegna in the made-for-TV movies from the 1990s. This is also his latest attempt to show off his acting skills in the thriller genre. For the most part, I thought he did all right, to be honest. It’s not the best performance I’ve seen from him, but he was able to provide some decent moments to make the film watchable. Winston Duke and Alan Arkin did what they could to follow suit as Hawk and Henry respectively and the results were okay at best. Not great, not terrible. Just okay. The cast is one of the two main reasons why the film was somewhat tolerable in my eyes, with the other reason being its bearable action scenes. It didn’t have a lot of action that made my heart pound with excitement, but the editing during those scenes weren’t as painful as the editing in “Mile 22”, so it gets points for that. If you’re wondering why I mentioned only those two good reasons, it’s because the film was severely lacking something that made the other mystery thrillers and Peter Berg’s last few films (excluding Mile 22) so riveting. To its credit, I did find myself feeling intrigued by the film’s mystery and the chemistry between the main cast, but with a plot that’s as simple as reading a book and a script that lacks a strong connection between the characters, that intrigue wore itself thin rather quickly. Another flaw I should mention was its tone. It looked like the film was trying to combine the comedy with the thriller aspect, which could result in a fun and exciting ride if they play the cards right. Unfortunately, almost all of the jokes didn’t quite hit their marks. Because of this, the film’s tone wound up being uneven and underwhelming due to the direction that was given and its cliched screenplay. It tried to be a thriller that’s both heart-pounding and amusing, but the direction towards it felt so restrained like it didn’t want to go too far with one thing or the other, which is why the film didn’t exactly impress me as much as I wanted it to do.
Overall, “Spenser Confidential” has some tolerable moments that I enjoyed like its cast and some decent action sequences, but they weren’t enough to shoot its way past its disappointing attempt to meet its promising expectations. While I would say that it’s a small improvement over “Mile 22”, I can’t say that it’s as thrilling and fun as Peter Berg’s other works. With its mediocre plot, uneven tone, underdeveloped characters, and an underwhelming script, this is one mystery that should've been handled by the professionals. I’m starting to get the feeling that Berg and Wahlberg should get back to making thrillers based on true stories again. They seem to know what they’re doing with these types of films unlike this film and “Mile 22”. If you’re interested in seeing it because of Wahlberg’s involvement, you might be okay watching this on Netflix if you’re feeling bored. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.