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by Jack Sommersby

"Lou Diamond Scores Doing Double Duty"
4 stars

A shame it wasn't widely released during it's brief theatrical run.

The excellent psychological thriller Ambition is that rarity in this day and age of mega-budget productions and formulaic stories - a movie of both wit and imagination, not to mention a good deal of originality. It's quite the impressive achievement on the part of the actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who not only stars as frustrated writer Mitchell "Mitch" Osgood who manages an independent Los Angeles bookstore to make ends meet, but also wrote the screenplay which is chock-full of surprises. Mitch's completed manuscript has been rejected by every publishing house in the city, even the one where his girlfriend has a job at; to keep his fiery determination alive he pins to these letters to a poster board. Added to which, he has a long-suffering father with chronic back pain he has to care for because the father refuses to go to a doctor, and his refusal to read his son's book and recognize him as a true writer further sours their relationship. When Mitchell hears of the news of the notorious Valentine's Day Massacre convict Albert Merrick (played by the always-welcome Clancy Brown) granted parole after a fifteen-year sentence he goes to see him in prison to get the rights to write about his ordeal, but Albert has already done so with someone else, but still Mitch insists on giving him a job at the store. From here the movie tactfully shows Mitch methodically manipulating Albert, like switching his Lithium medication with placebos and inviting Albert's long-estranged mother as a surprise guess at a dinner outing, but all to what avail, exactly, since Mitch has nothing discernible to gain? Credit Phillips for penning something unexpected and sometimes-ingenious in that you never really know where the movie is headed while at the same time not cheating by callously employing cheap logical loopholes in getting us there - almost everything adds up in the end as far as I can tell. And he's given us three-dimensional, interesting characters who make sense so we have an actual stake in the proceedings, with Brown, usually cast as villains, particularly appealing as an oftentimes-nebbish man sincerely looking to put his life back in order. Phillips also had the good sense to bring onboard the director Scott D. Goldstein (who also did the editing) whose fine work here is further complimented by the ace cinematographer Jeffrey Jur in giving the production something of a sophisticated design, with unusual camera angles and evocative use of shadows contributing to the overall atmosphere - there aren't any attention-getting shots for strictly arty purposes; it's been thought out in intelligent visual terms. (Plus, there's an alert, fitfully funny performance by Willard E. Pugh as one of Mitchell's employees fearfully nervous about sharing workspace with a mass murderer.) All in all I can't see how Ambition, in its own limited way, could be any better. It doesn't aim very high, and that's part of its charm in that it doesn't bite off more than it can chew, thus freeing itself to work on its own terms that more than manages to succeed on a weird kind of level that's satisfyingly refreshing.

No home-release on disc yet, unfortunately.

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originally posted: 11/26/20 13:24:06
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  31-May-1991 (R)



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