Director: Mark Frost
Screenwriters: Mark Frost

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


James Spader stars as Cray Fowler, the scion of a prominent political family from a state that in its time has produced the most colorful political figures: Louisiana. A young, swinging lawyer with a streak of youthful indulgence that at times gets him in trouble, Fowler is running for a seat in Congress which has traditionally been his family’s and for which he has been groomed for years. On the surface Fowler has it all: charm, intelligence and the kind of arrogance that sells well. But he is unable to rid himself of a nagging concern about his family’s questionable legacy in St. Alban’s Parish, the shady deal in which his grandfather made his fortune. In fact, on the day he was to testify about the matter several years earlier, Cray’s father committed suicide and the inquiry was dismissed. Complicating matters further is Cray’s own past, where the death of a young girl in an accident in which he was involved has been hushed up, a marriage which is a farce, and his sexual escapades, which lead him into a web where he’s threatened with blackmail and has to flee from an incriminating scene. When an innocent Eurasian hustler is arrested for the murder of the blackmailer, who happens to be her father, Fowler decides it’s time to face the music. Instead of hiding behind his family’s connections, he takes on her defense in a law court.

Mark Frost mixes this melange of politics, family secrets and personal introspection against a lush and lurid New Orleans backdrop. Spader gives his best performance to date, heading a sparkling cast which includes Joanne Whalley-Kilmer as the prosecuting attorney, Piper Laurie as the sheltered southern matriarch, and Jason Robards as a scheming, cynically righteous power broker. Charles Haid and Michael Warren shine in smaller but equally memorable roles as a porno photographer and the African American attorney/community leader. The somewhat-familiar alliance of scandal and politics in a southern setting is given new vitality by Frost’s vivid direction and rich storytelling. As they say in the film, “Down here the past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” Until now Frost has been best known as David Lynch’s partner, but in Storyville he demonstrates that he is a first-rate writer and skillful and stylish filmmaker on his own.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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