Everybody Wins

Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller wrote this original script – his first since The Misfits, in 1961 – so attention must be paid. Just don't expect it to be rewarded. Miller has buried a familiar story about small-town corruption under an avalanche of overblown dialogue. Nick Nolte, an actor whose reputation can survive anything if it survives this, stars as Tom O'Toole, a Boston lawyer turned Connecticut private detective. Angela Crispini, played by Debra Winger, is wooing him to take the case of a young man she believes has been wrongly convicted of beheading his uncle, a respected local doctor.

"You're the most unexpected thing that ever happened to me," Tom tells Angela. No argument. Angela is lavish with her compliments ("If there's any hope in the world, a man like you is it") and her body. For Tom, a widower who lives with his schoolteacher sister (Judith Ivey), Angela's admiration for his "pair of brass balls" is a potent lure. He is less pleased to learn that Angela is a hooker who can count among her customers the dead doc, a druggie religious zealot spotted at the scene of the crime and a DA with presidential ambitions who has rigged the case against the kid. Angela is also a schizophrenic given to berating Tom in a voice out of The Exorcist.

Angela is an impossible role, and Winger, terrific actress though she is, can't make something coherent of it. "You're trying to go north and south and powder your nose at the same time," Tom tells Angela. That's also a fairly accurate description of the movie. Nolte and Winger, together for the first time since the fiasco of Cannery Row in 1982, appear to be getting no help from director Karel Reisz (Isadora). Perhaps Reisz had all he could handle just keeping the threads of the script from unraveling. Miller borrows too many insights from himself: He's covered corruption in All My Sons, the little guy squashed by the system in Death of a Salesman, religious fanaticism in The Crucible and even sexual enthrallment in After the Fall (a thinly veiled autobiographical play about Miller's marriage to Marilyn Monroe). Throwing these themes together only dilutes their power. Worse, the echoes from those earlier, better Miller works remind us of what Everybody Wins is so desperately missing: the ring of truth.

From The Archives Issue 572: February 22, 1990