Based on the detective novel series ‘Spenser’ by Robert B. Parker that spanned five decades, as well as the adapted 80’s television show ‘Spenser: For Hire’; ‘Spenser Confidential’, is a ‘Netflix Original’ film directed by Peter Berg (‘Mile 22’, ‘Lone Survivor’).
Closely following the structure of ABC’s (US) 35-year-old show, this modern (yet exaggerated) translation on Boston’s corruption and crime stars Mark Wahlberg in the titular role of ex-police officer/ex-convict ‘Spenser’. The story follows Spenser’s journey from jail cell to street-level detective, in his attempt to uncover the underworld dealings of corrupt cops in the ‘Boston Police Department’ including ‘Captain Boylan’ (Michael Gaston), who is mysteriously murdered upon Spenser’s release from prison. Led by the belief that discovering the real killers of Boyle would redeem the name of his old police colleague Terrence Graham (Brandon Scales), who is accused of murdering his captain before turning the gun on himself, Spenser becomes obsessed with finding the truth.
Spenser is met at the prison gates by his old friend ‘Henry’ (Alan Arkin), who returns him home to his new roommate ‘Hawk’, played by Winston Duke. After spending time together in Henry’s gym, Spenser and Hawk form a unique relationship and join forces in the investigation. Much like the original show, the duo works well together and have fun doing it, largely thanks to Duke’s inventive and often hilarious depiction of Hawk. In fact, Duke steals most of the scenes that he is in, much like the ever-talented Iliza Shlesinger who plays ‘Cissy Davis’, Spenser’s wife prior to imprisonment. Another notable appearance is that of American rapper ‘Post Malone’ (real name Austin Richard Post), who makes his acting debut as ‘Squeeb’ one of Spenser’s fellow inmates. Although only having only a small role in the movie, Post proves he’s not only a talented musician, but also actor, delivering a solid performance as a troubled lawbreaker.
While Wahlberg easily steers the less than stellar narrative, having previously played the Boston police officer ‘Sergeant Tommy Saunders’ in 2016’s ‘Patriots Day’, there is a paramount feeling across the film that this take on Spenser is an act that has been seen time and time again. It is only when Wahlberg is coupled into scenes with Duke, Shlesinger and even newcomer Post, that this classic character is given the chance to evolve into something more than just a brute justice go-getter. These scenes often surrounded by tension and conflict, unearth a man who stays true to his strong morals. If it weren’t for this and the interesting decision to make this character a fighter with a detective’s intelligence, Wahlberg’s performance would have been tolerable at best. Mix this with an average score and a story that is predictable from the beginning and you get another Wahlberg film that is a fun watch, but not an experience that you’ll be rushing back to see.
In credit to the concepts and characters it is inspired by, in addition to a few standout performances from actors such as Winston Duke and Iliza Shlesinger, Spenser Confidential serves as a welcome addition to the Netflix Originals library. Arguably, with the inclusion of a story that more explored the relationship of Spenser and Hawk and their detective work, as well as a fresh performance from the leading actor Mark Wahlberg, this movie could have been this decade’s first great buddy-film.
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