The Prime Gig

The Prime Gig

Consider The Prime Gig a poor man’s David Mamet film—a Glengarry Glen Ross shady sales story, with some The Spanish Prisoner and House of Games-style double crosses thrown in. It’s got enough going on and it’s well-done enough to be at least modestly interesting the whole way, but in the end I didn’t feel like there was much reason to care about this movie and these characters. It didn’t hit me in any deep way emotionally, and it didn’t give me a lot to think about.

This has more the feel of a mainstream movie—high production values, big name actors—than the vast majority of the films I’ve written about so far. So aside from whatever other pros and cons it might have, it’s highly professional and watchable.

The lead character is a salesman who specializes in telemarketing. In the first portion of the film, he is the star salesman for a rather rickety operation, which seems to be collapsing as the employers and employees try to outmaneuver each other to cheat and avoid being cheated, even as they’re cheating their customers. (None of the phone scams in the movie are explained in detail. Clearly they’re shady and people are being aggressively pushed to commit money in ways that are contrary to their self-interest, but since that’s true of a sizable percentage of what goes on with “legitimate” business, it’s not as clear which of them cross the line to being illegal.)

He next moves up to a far more polished, big money operation, but if anything this one has more of the trappings of a con than where he came from, as it is run by a notorious swindler only recently released from prison.

He has something of a sidekick in the form of an eccentric crippled friend who makes little effort to support himself, due in part to his being at least a little crazy, and in part to his being morally unwilling to treat people the way his buddy does. Sometimes he—hypocritically—crashes with and bums money off his friend to survive, and sometimes he lives on the streets. So he’s not pure, but he’s willing to suffer for his principles a lot more than most people are. He functions as a conscience, as a reminder of “the road not taken,” for the main character, who at times treats him disparagingly as a leech, and at times manifests admiration for him and treats him with genuine warmth.

For a lot of the movie, what I was wondering is how all these people can stand each other. I mean, I guess I understand that people can compartmentalize enough to consciously screw people over from 9 to 5 and then live a different life separate from that, but in this movie they’re dating each other and such. Shouldn’t there be a sort of “Wait a minute. I know what you do for a living, the same shitty thing I do. I know how you’re capable of treating people. Of course I’m not going to trust you, open up to you, leave myself vulnerable to you, respect you, etc.”?

But I guess that’s not unrealistic, as that happens in life too. Maybe once you reach a certain degraded state, not only are you immune to guilt for your own capitalist excesses, but you lose the ability to understand the implications of such behavior from others and you think they’re actually still human.

The negative reviews I’ve read of this film complained that it’s disappointingly predictable. I don’t know that I would say that. To me, as I watched I saw two main arcs this movie could be taking.

One, it could be a story of redemption for the main character. It could end with him turning over a new leaf and taking a stand against the cheating he and his cohorts have been doing the whole movie.

Two, it could be an elaborate con, where at least some of the people scamming others get scammed themselves in the end.

But even within that second option, there are a myriad of ways it could have played out. There are all different combinations of people who could be in cahoots with each other. And once you factor in that there could be any number of layers of double and triple crosses, the possibilities rapidly multiply.

So, yeah, the way it ended up did have the feel of being predictable for anyone familiar with this genre of movie, but I think a lot of that is hindsight, and being honest I would not have singled out this particular ending to predict. Probably something vaguely like it, but like I say, there were a lot of possibilities.

I kind of was rooting against the redemption story as a possibility. I wasn’t prepared to like this guy just because he suddenly decides to be a decent human being after the life he’s led so far. He’s too much of a creep; it shouldn’t be that easy to be viewed as a good guy.

Sort of related to the point I made earlier about how odd it is that people like this can feel comfortable getting close to each other, one of the weaknesses of the movie is that only the main character is allowed to have some moral second thoughts or ambivalence about what he’s doing, and only he shows significant skepticism, like about the main phone operation (for instance, insisting on being paid his commissions daily in cash). The other characters aren’t allowed enough complexity for either trait, as if only the main character is worth our focusing on and the others are just extras.

I find the idea that all these people in this line of work lack a conscience to be somewhat believable, but not the idea that they wouldn’t be on their guard more against being conned in one way or another.

Another thing that occurred to me about this film is it’s a little disappointing that the characters from that first phone room disappear from the movie once they’ve served their purpose. Actually they—George Wendt, Wallace Shawn, et al—are more interesting, more appealing characters than the folks who populate the later phone room that forms the bulk of the movie.

Anyway, The Prime Gig is not a bad way to spend an hour and a half. It’s an OK movie; it just didn’t grab me, it didn’t stand out to me as having a lot of depth.

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