Dirty Tricks Misfires on DVD, January 4, 2011
Featuring an amoral, ruthless, manipulative, greedy, sex-obsessed lead character, Dirty Tricks arrives on American shores (and in DVD players) January 4, 2011. This black comedy won the International Emmy for Best Drama in 2001; that incongruity is one of many.
Martin Clunes stars as Edward, an English tutor at a seedy language school. While he is described as charming, it is a false charm. He lies to get what he wants, manipulates people and situations to his own advantage, and is altogether conscienceless. The current term for such people is “anti-social personality,” a disorder formerly known as psychopathy or sociopathy.
Everyone Edward meets is his potential victim, from immigrant students to wealthy society matrons. He strikes up a friendship with a gentleman who finds him to be wonderful company, only to have a raunchy affair with the man’s wife. Quicker than one can say “Bob’s your uncle!” (or “aunt”), Edward’s friend dies in a boating accident for which Edward is partly to blame.
Learning that his friend left a generous insurance policy to his wife, Edward seeks to turn their sexual liaison into a marital relationship, and succeeds. Once married, he isn’t especially happy; he and his wife fight, and he’s looking for a way out. She becomes pregnant and he seeks to twist that to his favor; after all, he had a vasectomy. Before long the bodies start to pile up.
For Dirty Tricks to work, the viewer must sympathize with Edward, despise his boss (who certainly is despicable), and not feel sorry for his victims. The problem is that Edward just isn’t likable. Oh, he’s clever, and there’s that faux charm, but he isn’t someone with whom people would actually want to spend time, unless to kick his ass. For nearly two and a half hours I found myself hating him and hoping something terrible would befall him. Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman are far more charming and amusing psychos. Even Norman Bates has more charisma.
Not everyone likes black comedy, but I’ve always found it amusing, particularly when done well. However, Edward’s antics did not strike me as funny. That which should be perceived by the viewer as ironic seemed more like nasty devices in Edward’s bag of dirty tricks. Fortunately, in the end Edward’s reward—the one thing he most desired—turns out to be his punishment, and this viewer couldn’t have been more satisfied.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent/stream Dirty Tricks? No. It just didn’t work for me.