Helen Mirren and Al Pacino in HBO's "Phil Spector."

Helen Mirren and Al Pacino in HBO's "Phil Spector." Credit: HBO

THE TV MOVIE "Phil Spector"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Accused of shooting to death struggling actress Lana Clarkson, who had come to his "castle" after a night of drinking in 2003, famed music producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino) has hired Bruce Cutler (Jeffrey Tambor) for his 2007 trial. Cutler, in turn, hires defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren), who must sort through the rambling rants of a narcissistic shut-in who insists Clarkson shot herself. In time Baden decides he is innocent -- mostly because the white suit he wore that night barely had any bloodstains. This made-for-cable movie was written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet.

MY SAY So here is what we know from this movie about Spector's guilt or innocence, and I quote: "This is a work of fiction. It is not 'based on a true story'... it is neither an attempt to depict the actual person nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome." And with that disavowal plastered right at the beginning of the film... phffft.

The air is sucked out of the "Phil Spector" balloon, or -- because this is Spector, after all -- it's like a long screech of the needle across one of his 45s. All this for nothing? The convincing patter of Mamet-speak? Pacino Method-acting his way right into Spector's nutty soul? One of the great actors of our time forced to wear a Krusty the Clown wig just because it might look good?

Surely there had to be a reason for all this -- new evidence suggesting Spector was innocent; or a famous playwright establishing the truth through art? Something. Anything. But apparently nothing. And as a result, "Phil Spector" is an empty vessel. It's neither a commentary on the celebrity justice system nor a look at the nature of human prejudice. You're left to wonder why anyone, Mamet or Pacino especially, wanted to go to all the trouble. The caveat emptor could be a fig leaf to divert the many critics of this film -- notably those who insist Clarkson was murdered -- but if so, then where does the hard truth begin (or end)? From this, you'll never know. (In real life, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder at a second trial in 2009 and is now serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life.)

BOTTOM LINE A frustrating film that leaves the questions -- pretty much all of them -- unanswered.


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