“A formulaic cautionary tale of a leader who can’t keep his zipper closed.”
Patrick Wilson is done masturbating to online porn. Now, his pants are down for escort service. In the second feature of director and co-writer Mora Stephens called Zipper, an aspiring politician finds himself target of a huge prostitution scandal.
Sam Ellis (Wilson) seems the perfect-image Canali-suited prosecutor in South Carolina. He has strong career success by going after the big fishes. He has good looks, charm and a secure home life with his beautiful wife, Jeannie (Lena Headey). A former lawyer, Jeannie puts her career on hold and stays home to raise their young son. Nonetheless, she has political connections and performs charity works.
Despite his seemingly faultless life, Sam has ungovernable libido. After evading further consequence of a drunken kiss from his seductive intern (Dianna Agron) during a work-related party, Sam meets a high-end hooker (Elena Satine) on a case. She introduces him to Executive Privilege, an online escort service website whose women rate at least $1,000 an hour. After a nervous first encounter with brunette Christy (Alexandra Breckenridge), Sam finds himself making more sweaty phone calls on a pre-paid cell phone and secretly venturing into luxury hotels.
Through all this, Sam sets his eyes on Washington, possibly through the help of his wife and sharp campaign consultant and strategist George Heller (Richard Dreyfuss). But his political dreams can be easily devastated, especially that details of his secret come into the hands of influential and respected journalist Nigel Coaker (Ray Winstone).
Zipper is an engrossing yet underwhelming political drama. It feels like a fictionalized version of the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal which exploded in 2008. Following similar events, the film paints a bigger picture as its Sam Ellis aims for a higher office (This is quite confusing though as Ellis becomes a senator at the end of the film, unlike their initial congressional plans). Considering that there are already countless reported political sex scandals all over the world and much too many political drama series on TV, the movie ends up having softer bite than it intends to. Having nothing new to offer, it overtly expresses its themes in overstated dialogues.
Ellis is the stereotypical flawed leader, an angel face that harbours personal demons using his success, privileges and position. He is never quite contented with what he has. He is desperate for more, that he runs across a street to pull out more cash and gets hit in the process, that he is willing to play the people’s hero to stay in power. However, there is no genuine tension during this time as such behaviors are hackneyed for the image that the film created for Ellis. More so, the feature misses to study the psychological toll on Ellis’ sex addiction. It is too centered on the unravelling of plot that it fails to give deeper understanding of the lead’s actions.
The momentum only picks up when the focus shifted to Jeannie, Sam’s wife. It is intriguing how she responded to her husband’s infidelities. She goes from predictable, as she lashes out at Sam as any betrayed wife should do, to being incongruous, as she remains steadfast with their initial dreams of political power and reputation.
In many aspects, the film falls short of the things it wants to convey, such as the dangers of sex addiction, family struggles amidst a scandal, and the submissions of a puppet political leader. Yet, it manages to bring up an eye-raising and provoking thought – the hypocritical penchant of the public to pass judgment on leaders in the midst of a moral scandal.
Wilson, with his gorgeous all-American looks, serves as a good palette to Sam Ellis. He delivers as much sensitivity and believability to his tormented character. Headey is beautifully fierce and authentic. Her moments with Wilson and Winstone are solid and powerful. Other supporting actors give as much as they can with their very short screen time like Dreyfuss, Breckenbridge, and especially Agron and John Cho who are both gravely underused.
Zipper is another cautionary tale of a flawed and whitewashed politician. In the face of many dramatized political scandals in cinemas and TVs, it is simply zippered to oblivion.
Production companies: Protozoa Pictures, 33 Pictures, Hyphenate Films
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Lena Headey, Ray Winstone, Richard Dreyfuss, John Cho, Dianna Agron, Christopher McDonald, Alexandra Breckenridge, Penelope Mitchell, Elena Satine
Director: Mora Stephens
Screenwriters: Mora Stephens, Joel Viertel
Producers: R. Bryan Wright, Amy Mitchell-Smith, Mark Heyman, Joel Viertel, Marina Grasic
Executive producers: Scott Frankel, Ari Handel, Darren Aronofsky, Danya Duffy, Jan Korbelin, Beau Chaney, Christian Oliver
Director of photography: Antonio Calvache
Production designer: Hannah Beachler
Costume designer: Shauna Leone
Music: H. Scott Salinas
Editor: Joel Viertel