In PEOPLE I KNOW, New York publicist Eli Wurman, played by Al Pacino, romanticizes days gone by and regrets what his life has become. PEOPLE I KNOW may be a humanist morality tale of the celebrity life or it may be a humanist exaggeration of that world's excesses, but for all its preaching, it indulges in sin as much as the kind of people it is criticizing.
In PEOPLE I KNOW, New York publicist Eli Wurman (Al Pacino) is on his way out. He just does not realize it yet. His only movie star client, Cary Launer (Ryan O’Neal), is about to fire him for a younger, more energetic version of the talented Eli.
Back in his glory days, Eli was a powerful publicist with big name clients and contacts. Today, he is a dinosaur in the industry, alternately criticizing the vacuousness of the industry while longing for greater power to accomplish something worthwhile. He romanticizes those bygone days and mournfully regrets what his life has become.
Eli spends much of his days regretting his life’s choices, mourning loved ones long gone, and searching for meaning in his empty existence. His one salvation, in his own estimation, is an upcoming celebrity benefit he has organized to help Nigerian refugees embroiled in a legal crisis. His priority then is to devote much time promoting and recruiting media darlings to support his cause.
Compounding the stress and problems in his life, Launer asks him to bail out and babysit a young spoiled starlet, Jilli (Tea Leoni), a woman he refers to as “an awkward.” Jilli’s indulgences only remind Eli of the superficiality of the celebrity life and the shallowness of his own weak fate. Eli sees the excesses of stardom: the drugs, the sex, the privilege of wealth. Once again, he relents and is pulled further into its stormy vortex. He loathes everything, yet cannot break away from the intoxicating position of power.
Unknown to Eli, Jilli has secretly videotaped some powerful people at a drug and sex party downtown. Her plan to expose these people leads to her death, leaving Eli with the evidence and the ensuing tough choices to make. Eli ultimately confesses that he is a person with “no real center, no real soul.”
PEOPLE I KNOW is a darker East Coast version of Robert Altman’s THE PLAYER. It may be a morality tale of the celebrity life, or it may be an exaggeration of that world’s excesses. Still, it is a picture rife with unlikable characters and issues of loyalty, power, corruption, and spin. Director Dan Algrant, tackling this story as his second feature film, adequately captures the feeling of those trapped by the trappings. Jilli reminds Eli early on, “Everybody’s looking for an out clause.” Eli, worldly wise but still shocked by the overindulgence he sees, utters the best line: “We don’t live in a time with a morals clause.”
PEOPLE I KNOW approaches greatness when it contrasts the world’s real news with the self-serving importance that celebrities believe is newsworthy. Unfortunately, for all its preaching, PEOPLE I KNOW indulges in sin as much as the kind of people it is criticizing. Even the credits acknowledge the coordinator of product placement. The viewer is left with an odd assortment of maudlin moments, whispers of Jewish conspiracies willing to kill any in their way, and self-centered stars who are really good guys after all. In more experienced directorial hands, this might have been a terrific movie. The talented cast makes this barely watchable. Most frustrating, though, is Pacino’s garbled accent, which never quite comes off as believable or interesting.
Save yourself from a starkly depressing experience and avoid PEOPLE I KNOW.
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(HH, B, Ho, AcapACap, AP, AbAb, Fr, LLL, V, S, NN, AA, DDD, MM) Humanist worldview as seen through the lives of those in the entertainment industry with a few moral messages against the wrongdoings as well as issues of racism, anti-capitalism, anti-government feelings, Jewish conspiracies, and homosexual references intimated, and a reverend declares "We have Jesus and Allah," later labeled as a false prophet; foul language includes eight blasphemies, 50 strong obscenities (about 30 "f-words"), several uses of "Oh my God" as exasperation, and comments describing an actor as "a god"; violence includes murder by drugging, stabbing, fighting, and implied rape; briefly shown video of illicit behavior implied with obscured images; brief scene of upper female and upper male nudity and woman shown in revealing blouse; excessive use of drugs, alcohol and smoking; and, family values ridiculed briefly, some arguments made against the self-destructive behavior depicted, themes of deception and lying and betrayal and promiscuity; and the pursuit of power is rebuked.