viewer on a roundabout trip in the company of the lead character (as he tries to unravel what on earth is going on) whilst revealing a few things of his own into the mix as we go! Confused already? Get used to it!
The story is about an English professor (Bruce Cogburn) who, some years ago, had a job teaching in America before striking oil and making himself fame and fortune from a book sale. We join the action some years later in around 1981, with flashbacks to the teaching days, where he’s living a reclusive lifestyle, refusing to connect with his fans or the public - not even having a phone and living in the dusty, dry middle of nowhere.
He starts getting letters, to his PO Box address, from a particular fan (William DuKent) asking him for his opinion on his work, writing a book. The fan starts to hound the professor, who starts to head rapidly into a booze-fuelled decline because of it. The fan leaves a phone number, so Cogburn eventually tries, politely at first, to engage with DuKent but is only able to leave his messages via an answering machine. DuKent doesn’t relent and pushes Cogburn, who descends further and further into apparent mental ill-health over it.
The book was called The Infernal Machine and it had been alleged that it had been written with all sorts of hidden code and instructions regarding terrorist acts, some of which had been linked to the Knoxville Massacre in which Dwight Tufford opened fire from a tower, killing 13 people. The Tufford character does make an appearance in the film, but it’s not hugely significant to the plot really. The film is based on a story by Louis Kornfeld by the way, not any basis of truth.
That’s about all I can tell you about the plot really, as to continue would give away parts of the mystery which you’ll want to see unfold. It does get horribly complicated en route, however, so keep on your toes! There are periods where the story is dragged out too much - and other times when it felt like more could have been made of the unfolding. In fact, it might have done well as a mini-series to explore further the back-stories of some of the characters who do indeed end up being central to the plot.
It’s a bit of a one-man show in many ways as Guy Pearce (Memento, L.A. Confidential, Mare of Easttown) plays Cogburn beautifully. Convincing and engrossed in his role, we feel his character’s decline, anxiety, frustration and plight. Most around him are making up the numbers, but do a decent-enough job.
The setting is mostly that dusty, dry landscape of hot American outback which makes for some interesting imagery. Some of the editing seems to be a bit severe in places (adding to the theory of a better mini-series) but generally the direction tries hard to keep the audience with just enough information at any one time to keep track. Just.
Anyway, it’s an interesting film for sure, as it turns out, a great idea, thoughtful mystery/thriller and good character study - it just feels like it loses itself here and there with perhaps a slightly too-complex plot, crammed in at times, stretched at others - perhaps a pacing issue. But do watch it for Guy Pearce’s performance.