Though it never got a proper release, writer-director Mike Binder's The Search for John Gissing garnered critical acclaim and delighted festival audiences in 2001. Happily bowing, at long last, to popular demand (primarily a grassroots campaign by Alan Rickman fans), Binder is self-distributing the film on DVD. It's easy to see why Rickman fans have been clamoring. The English actor—whose credits range from Die Hard to Truly Madly Deeply to Harry Potter gives another peerless performance in his patented, hilarious deadpan.
Rickman plays the titular Gissing, a Machiavellian executive working for the English office of generic corporation Compu-Corp International. In preparation for a contingent of Germans (shades of Fawlty Towers!), the company has charged Gissing with flying in American Matthew Barnes (Binder) to oversee a pending corporate merger. Since Barnes is taking work from him, falling star Gissing determines stealthily to make Barnes' life a living hell and, in the process, make him look bad in front of their corporate bosses. With Barnes out of the way, Gissing can resume his climb up the corporate ladder.
Though the film never quite lives up to this ingenious premise (indeed, Binder plans to correct his mistakes in an upcoming remake), The Search for John Gissing is pretty darn funny all the same. As Barnes' wife Linda, Janeane Garofalo gives one of her most realistic screen performances. Binder's gift for fluent dialogue serves the marital banter well; these characters also provide the film's central theme of stopping to consider what it's all about before committing to a life of blithely straining for the brass ring.
The strong supporting cast includes Sonya Walger as a suspiciously sexy nun, Allan Corduner (Topsy Turvy) as a squirmy French tinpot-tyrant executive, Owen Teale as a manager susceptible to seduction, and Juliet Stevenson (Rickman's Truly Madly Deeply costar) as another, increasingly exasperated executive. But it's Rickman who runs away with the whole film by running the gamut from teflon smoothie to desperate madman. He's particularly funny in a bravura meltdown in the middle of a business presentation crucial to his continued success with Compu-Corp.
The film's somewhat tossed-off feel has its pros and cons; ultimately, the narrative is a little too loose for farce (there's also a plothole involving the nun that's big enough to drive a lorry through). When all is said and done, it adds up to a comedy that's part Out-of-Towners, part A Fish Called Wanda, with a cast that's up to the tasks. By way of high stakes, sharp dialogue, and rough-and-tumble slapstick, The Search for John Gissing earns its pinstripes.
As befits a labor-of-love film, The Search for John Gissing gets a labor-of-love home-video special edition, distributed by Binder's web home, TheFreebird.com. The disc might not have the best technical credits, but it gets the job done. The anamorphic widescreen transfer has a somewhat soft, washed-out appearance (in keeping with the film's London setting) and occasional flicker; the stereo soundtrack is strong and clear. The layer change is hiccupy, coming mid-sentence, and the commentary track sounds echo-y and tinny, but whaddaya want? Be grateful this movie ever saw the light of day on DVD, especially in an anamorphic transfer.
Binder supplies a nice set of extras, starting with that banter-rific commentary between the director and his editor, Roger Nygard (a director in his own right; see Suckers). Their conversation allows the gregarious Binder to cover all aspects of production; most intriguingly, Binder lets slip plenty about his upcoming remake (!) of The Search for John Gissing, to be entitled The Multinationals and to feature "bigger stars."
"The Search for John Gissing: On the Streets and Behind the Scenes" (3:12) comprises video B-roll set to Larry Groupé's film score; it's a nice look at the peppy production. Six deleted/extended scenes (10:44) are a nice bonus, as are outtakes (2:46) and a photo gallery (2:46) consisting of 67 production stills, again set to music from the score.
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