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The Silent Partner (1978)

by on 2011/07/06

“The total is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.”

* * *

I’ve been wanting to see The Silent Partner for going on a year now. I read about it a shade too late to make last year’s July run of CanCon. In retrospect, I’m not quite sure what I went in expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised in some ways, if overall underwhelmed. (Insert your own Sloan-tastic punchline here.)

In seasonal opposition to a Canada Day July, this small-scale heist starts just before Christmas. In the then-lowest (ground) floor of the city’s Eaton Centre, the First Bank of Toronto enjoys some celebrity attention. Staff members include the late greats John Candy (Canadian Bacon) and Susannah York (Superman). Christopher Plummer (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), as would-be robber Harry Reikle, surveils the establishment from the depths of a Santa suit. All that stands between him and fifty thousand dollars is eccentric teller Miles Cullen (Elliott Gould of the recent Ocean’s series).

Instead of handing over the cash, however, Miles plots to keep it for himself. In a sense, his quiet life of contemplation, solitude, and interest in tropical fish has prepared him for this kind of chance. But can his machinations protect him from a frustrated robber’s revenge?

I didn’t know — I imagined the story could go either way — and frankly, I’m not sure I cared. I didn’t find either lead caught my attention as well as the flashbacks did. No cell phones, computers, or even appealing colour schemes to be seen. (A computer is mentioned by a police officer, though never shown.) Instead, we find quaint souvenirs the kids of today may well think unusual: carbon paper, Chargex signs, deposit notes, flip calendars, and pay phones, for example.

What really took this Torontonian back, though, were the hallmarks of a life now long gone. Not since Terry have I felt such bittersweet whiplash. The Eaton Centre itself, built a year before the filming, appears astonishingly dingy and drab, and filled with shops now missing or changed. I thought of The Kids of Degrassi Street, how the world was familiar, but eerie . . . dark and grainy and somber in its way.

Beyond catching sight of things past, I found myself missing more recent additions. The upgraded subway stations, the newer police cars, license plate styles, and pre-loonie/toonie money. And whither the SkyDome? (Do you really imagine someone as obsessed with nostalgia would call it by its new corporate name?)

There’s even a Superman lunchbox, presumably a nod to Ms. York, or for passive aggressiveness’ sake.

So Canadian!

Where honeymooners dream of Lake Louise. Where the media berate a guard for drawing his gun. Where the stupefied extras stare directly into the camera. Where every trick of the trade is employed to be edgy, but clumsily so.

It becomes a bit of difficult slog once the promising start runs its course. The decorations and nostalgia only work to a certain extent. Carefully — too carefully — it seems to try ever so hard, and that over-deliberation slows it down. The addition of drugs, nudity, swearing, and violence feels less casual than contrived and awkward.

Of course, part of its charm is the cumbersome way it plays out its CanCon cliches. As an experience, awesome. As entertainment, not so much. I want to love it, but I don’t. Or perhaps I do love — but don’t like — it. If I ever do watch The Silent Partner again, it won’t be for a best-in-class heist, but a trip back in time to my youth.

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Rated R for language, nudity, and violence

106 minutes

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