Middle Men – Review


Highly fictionalized account of how porn changed everything

Pornography has long been the arbiter of great technological advances and changes. The format war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD was won because the adult film industry adapted the former as its standard, leaving the latter to go the way of BetaMax (another format war decided in part by the adult film industry’s adaptation of one format over the other). And internet commerce was popularized by the desire for people to view adult wares in the privacy of their own homes with a credit card, avoiding the stigma of going to the adult video store or the adult video section at the local Blockbuster.

Middle Men is a highly fictionalized look at how a segment of computer code which is used by online merchants to this day ended up revolutionizing the way we think about the internet’s capability to do stuff. Some lines of code in the pursuit of more adult fair would end up changing the way we view business forever and made possible the ability for companies to have international clients without needing international stores. And while the easy comparison would be to Boogie Nights because of the similarity in subject material, the more apt one would be to Lord of War and its storyline about a man succumbing to the demons of the world around him.

Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is that guy, a mild-mannered family man who thrives on being a “fix it” specialist when it comes to business problems. Based off the life of internet billing mogul turned producer Christopher Mallick, follows Harris in the same way Lord of War followed Nic Cage in that the film is about the struggle of temptation. One can talk of trying to get out of something morally bankrupting but financially prosperous, but sometimes accomplishing it is too hard. The ability to walk away is something that arms dealers, pornographers and criminals all want but seemingly can never have; this becomes Jack’s dilemma after an early negotiation leaves him thinking he could walk away with a big score for a small amount of work.

When a shady attorney (James Caan) brings him in to help out two drugged out slackers (Gabriel Macht and Giovanni Ribisi) who’ve stumbled onto something worth a fortune, Harris delves deeper into the world of internet erotica than he’d ever imagined. Dealing with the Russian mob, the opulent lifestyle coming from the masses of cash his business generates and the overwhelming incompetence and drugged out shenanigans from his two business partners, Harris finds the allure of his newfound lifestyle at odds with what he describes as a lifestyle straight of a Norman Rockwell painting. And it’s all fueled by Luke Wilson in the best role of his career in perhaps his best performance.

Wilson has never been known for being an actor to chew scenery, or to steal scenes, but the one thing he excels at is being the everyday man dealing with extraordinary problems in a toned down manner. Harris isn’t a complex man, just one in too deep and unable to find a way out, and Wilson is note perfect in the part. This is a part where being too stiff, or too animated, would take something away from the film and Wilson straddles that line with pizzazz. While everyone around him gets to chew scenery, including Ribisi with some remarkable flair, he has to be the anchor by which the film latches itself on to. He can’t be over the top because he’s what gives the film its moral compass; it’s in subtlety and nuance where we see Harris slip further away from what he once was.

Harris is a man who finds that the further he gets into this the further away from the man he is he gets; money and fame can corrupt just as easily as power and Harris finds the essence of what he used to call his life being corrupted in every facet because of all he finds himself getting into. Who he is, and what he’s about, end up being defined by the business he’s in rather than the fundamentals of family life he once had. The film hinges on Harris gaining everything he ever wanted but in the end discovering what he had lost was a bit of his humanity.

The truth in the particulars of Middle Men is up for significant debate, obviously, as the film is “inspired by” and not based off of anything in particular. But the truth in the quality of the film is that it’s perhaps the best film of the summer and easily one of the best of 2010.

Director: George Gallo
Notable Cast: Luke Wilson, James Caan, Gabriel Maacht, Kevin Pollack, Giovanni Ribisi
Writer(s): George Gallo and Andy Weiss

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