Spenser Confidential

★★★1/2

Actor-turned-director Peter Berg has made 11 films. Mark Wahlberg has appeared in five of them. The two also co-produced the “Entourage: NFL Edition” series, Ballers, for HBO. The work has varied from good (Lone Survivor, Patriots Day) to so-so (Deepwater Horizon) to outright bad (Mile 22). It’s almost as if these two independent organisms have merged into a single, creative Symbiote known simply as “WahlBerg.” WahlBerg’s latest jam is the Netflix original movie, Spenser Confidential, based off a series of books that were originally written and conceived by crime novelist Robert B. Parker, carried on by fellow author Ace Atkins and transformed into the Robert Urich-fronted ABC series Spenser for Hire back in the mid ‘80s.

Wahlberg is Spenser, a Boston patrolman who’s thrown in the clink for five years for beating the piss out of his commanding officer, Captain John Boylan (Michael Gaston), while intervening during a domestic dispute. Having served his time, Spenser seeks to start a new life out in Arizona working as a trucker. But first he must get his affairs in order and reclaim his beloved beagle, Pearl, from his friend and former boxing coach, Henry (Alan Arkin). Living under Henry’s roof Spenser encounters Hawk (Winston Duke), an aspiring MMA fighter whom Henry’s training. Coinciding with Spenser’s release, Boylan and another officer are murdered. Spenser’s the prime suspect. He and Hawk begrudgingly team up to clear Spenser’s name and bring the guilty parties to justice. Rounding out the rest of the cast are comedienne Iliza Shlesinger as Spenser’s foul-mouthed ex-girlfriend, Bokeem Woodbine as Spenser’s former partner, Driscoll, and comedian Marc Maron as a paranoid crime reporter. Post Malone and his face tats even show up for a pair of scenes.

Spenser Confidential (such a stupid title) is better than many have made it out to be. Sure, it may not be as action-packed or laugh-inducing as audiences may have expected, but the movie’s got charm and swagger. There is action and there are laughs, but these things are secondary to the mystery and procedural elements at hand. I really enjoyed the way this incarnation of Spenser was written by seasoned screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River, Man on Fire) and relative newcomer Sean O’Keefe. I even more so enjoyed the way Wahlberg played the character. Spenser is a man of conviction, but he also takes no shit. There’s an altruism and an earnestness to the character that’s kinda refreshing. Spenser doles out beatings, but is on the receiving end of far more. It’s in this scrappiness that the picture finds its soul, its personality, its purpose. I’m not advocating violence as the answer, but I can applaud a film for encouraging its audience to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. Sadly, sticking one’s neck out to benefit others even at the detriment of one’s self has become a novel concept … both on screen and off.

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