People I Know (2002)

Directed by Daniel Algrant

I’m not sure what this movie was trying to be but whatever it was, it didn’t get there. It’s a depressing mess that flounders for quite a while then ends. It starts nowhere and winds up in the same place.

Satire: if this is what People I Know is (as some reviewers seem to think), it should probably be a bit more obvious about it. It’s hardly a successful satire if an audience has to be told so afterwards in order to get it.

I’m not sure if humour is a requirement of satire but it’s certainly one of the things I expect and there is absolutely nothing funny in this movie. And there is no indication it even makes a half-hearted attempt at it. Was there parody or mockery in here? If so, I didn’t get it.

Tragedy: I may be a little too wedded to the Shakespearean notion of tragedy but it seems to me the movement in tragedy is one of descent, from high to low, order to chaos.

In People I Know, there is no movement of any kind. It starts with one pathetic character in a bleak place and ends in the same place – a pathetic character in a bleak place.

This isn’t tragic; it’s just depressing. And pointless too.

People I Know tries to tell the story of a publicist (Al Pacino) drowning in the compromised world of celebrity. He’s the pill-popping pawn of disagreeable people. His life is in the toilet, he knows he’s in the toilet and he does nothing to get out of the toilet beyond an obsessive need to put on a charity event for the “cause of the day.”

Good grief. You would find more cheer in a terminal illness ward. After about five minutes you want to yell at the filmmakers, “All right already! We get it!”

How Al Pacino ended up in this disaster is anyone’s guess. But just as I am sick to death of “Tom Cruise – action figure!” I’m sick to death of “Al Pacino – world weary guy!”

We’ve seen it in the brilliant Scent of a Woman. We’ve seen it in the brilliant Insomnia. But we’ve also seen it in Simone and now People I Know. And here, in this latest version of the world weary guy, we’re moving into the area of self-parody. It’s so excessive it lacks credibility. Please, Al, you may be one of my favourite actors but give it a rest!

Maybe the real problem in People I Know is that it tries too hard. The plot is overly convoluted. It takes ages to get going. When it does get going, it doesn’t go anywhere. By turns, it tries to be a mystery. It tries to be a satire (maybe). It tries to be a character study. And it seems to want to be a message film. It wants to do so many things it ends up doing nothing.

Ultimately, the biggest problem is the bleak world it creates is unrelenting – probably because it’s so darned earnest about being a serious film. For an audience to care at all for the characters (in this case Pacino), there has to be something to lose. What does this guy have to lose? His life is crap and it ends up that way. You feel so uncomfortable because he’s so pathetic you just want him to go away – quickly.

But he doesn’t. It seems to drag on forever. It’s just a long, boring, depressing movie.


Roger Ebert didn’t write a review of this movie because it never opened in Chicago. However, from an interview he did with Al Pacino at roughly the time the film People I Know was released, I gather he didn’t feel about the movie the way I do. Here is Roger Ebert’s interview with Al Pacino.

© 2004 Piddleville Inc.

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