starring Bill Pullman, Aaron Stanford, Agnes Bruckner, Sandra Oh
screenplay by Daniel Handler
directed by Curtiss Clayton
by Walter Chaw Priestly black in its absolute stentorian corruption, Curtiss Clayton's brilliantly twisted Rick is an essay on the cancerous progression of machismo, on the dehumanizing influence of power structures--on the ultimate, ironic strength and futility of family bonds. Written by Daniel Handler, better known for his Lemony Snicket novels, the film's veneer of misanthropy and nihilism hides a strong sense of moral certitude in decay: the affirmation--even if it offers neither succour nor shield--that despite the pervasive rot of the day-to-day, there remains one true place in the space between a father and his daughter. Rick (Bill Pullman, brilliant) is a middle-management prick as imagined by Kafka, running through mazes and crawling around the floor of his boss's (Aaron Stanford) office as part of his daily ritual and spending his bottled bile on a hapless applicant (Sandra Oh) for an executive assistant position. It's Secretary, Interrupted, if you will, a celluloid update of Verdi's Rigoletto incorporating Internet sex, murder for hire, and social satire elevated to piquant grand comedy and, in fact, high opera. A holiday-themed film, Rick is an attack on venality (think It's a Wonderful Life set entirely in Pottersville and written by Neil Labute) that charts the topography of the cratered new-millennial language of cinema. A scene of revelation, happening late in the game and following a virtuoso sequence where Rick walks through a labyrinth to emerge in the barred-shadows underneath (Clayton cut his teeth as ace editor on the films of Gus Van Sant and Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66), is shot, in a stroke of genius, as a literal shadow play. And so Rick finds its central motif and intention: commentary on the act of filmmaking and the experience of film-watching, as well as the creation of new mythologies with new morals for a rough, uncertain age. Originally published: October 18, 2004.