Squeaky clean lawyer Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson) is a sympathizing federal prosecutor for the human cause. Good intentions and a hell of a record entice Sam to try and run for attorney general and later for senator as he’s informed by George Hiller (Richard Dreyfuss) that he could easily take the open position so long as he’s willing to work for it. Earlier this year we saw Nicholas Cage’s character in the low-key film Runner struggle with the same good intentions of being a politician with good intentions, until a sex scandal threatens to destroy his entire career and everything he stands for. Zipper is everything Runner could have been had it tried to explore more of the descent from being the next big thing to finding yourself at the bottom.
Lena Heady plays Jeanine Ellis, the Claire to Wilson’s Frank Underwood from House of Cards. She is just as intelligent and driven as he is, with a lawyer background as well, but is seemingly more intent on helping her husband rise to the top. One issue is mentioned as a hurdle in their relationship that they supposedly overcame long before they got married. Sam throws it out there, probably to justify why he falls into the habit of hiring call girls from a high-end escort service that caters to politicians–an escort service that also happens to be under investigation with the FBI. Feeling tremendously guilty and unsure of why he’s there the first time around, Sam is quickly pulled into the world of escorts, sex addiction, paranoia, and sneaking calls on his pre-paid phone under the guise of “Ben Fisher.” Eventually falling under the suspicions of a reporter (Ray Winstone) and putting his entire career, family life, and reputation in jeopardy, director Mora Stephens and co-writer Joel Viertel beg the question, “Why take the risk?”
The film is very much a psychological, political thriller. Bearing a lot of weight down on showing, but not excusing, the behavior of its protagonist in montages that will make you paranoid. Told from the male perspective and never once questioning his own actions while telling the escorts that they deserve better, Stephens is quick to unravel the plot slowly while building tension and a heightened sense of possibly getting caught. In retrospect, Wilson’s character gets off easy. His situation escalates, but we aren’t privy to the repercussions following his actions and guilt for the “zipper problem” that he has. The relationship between Wilson and Heady could have been further explored as there’s a fantastic and truthful moment when Heady asks, “What do they have that I don’t?” But Wilson is never able to answer the questions nor clarify the reasons behind why he cheated.
Stephens does infuse the film with the parallels between the illegality of the escort service and of the corrupt power of the political world, but as is usually the case, the politicians come out on top, skirting their responsibilities as though it were another day in the office and who gets blamed but the women they use. Stephens doesn’t make Wilson blameless, and in his own semi-naive way, tries to help when the escort service he uses is put under fire. Zipper has all the makings of a great political thriller. It’s well-acted, dramatic, has several thematic elements that are solid, even if it doesn’t always peel back the curtains to reveal the reasons why or make use of the consequences of the protagonist’s choices. In this vein though, there is a lot of food for thought as to power plays, character interactions, and the statement that sums up the inner lack of wisdom of Wilson’s character when wondering out loud about why public figures are held to a higher standard. After all, he promised “I would help people, but I never said that he was better than them.”
Release Date: August 28, 2015 | Director: Mora Stephens | Screenwriters: More Stephens, Joel Viertel | Cast: Patrick Wilson, Lena Heady, Richard Dreyfuss, Ray Winstone, John Cho, Dianna Agron | Genre: Drama, Thriller | MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and brief drug use