review for The Photographer on AllMovie

The Photographer (2000)
by Josh Ralske review

Writer/Director Jeremy Stein's feature debut, The Photographer is plagued by the nonstop strained quirkiness that sinks so many modestly budgeted independent films, and it's not helped by the heavy-handed treatment of Stein's artistic themes. The film is engaging -- to a point. It's fairly well shot and features such luminaries of indie film and theater as Mary Alice, Tom Noonan, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, but the mixture of a whiny protagonist, an unconvincing fairy-tale social milieu (in which creative white people from all walks of life and one non-white exotic trump the pretentious gatekeepers of the art world by joining forces in a search for one man's mysterious treasure, and becoming fast friends), and a pervasive, overreaching, mystical view of the creative process bogs it down. One can sense early on that the seemingly supernatural mystery of the source of the amazing photographs Max (Reg Rogers) finds is never going to be satisfyingly resolved, but the lack of true suspense would be acceptable if the quest itself was more compelling. Gyllenhaal seems incapable of being uninteresting, but the acting as a whole is uneven. While everyone seems committed to their offbeat roles, only a few are able to transcend the essential triteness and contrivance of the writing. It's a decent New York movie, with some fresh locations, and a nice, scuzzy downtown atmosphere, but The Photographer is not good-natured or winning enough to pull off its tricky thematic conceit.