ZIPPER – The Review
By Dana Jung
Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson) is a high-powered lawyer with the U.S. Attorney’s office who is on a fast track to a higher political office. He has a loving wife (Lena Headey) and young son, the admiration of his colleagues, and the interest of a Washington power-broker (Richard Dreyfuss). In fact, Sam has everything going his way in life. But something is not quite right with Sam. There is a disconnect going on in the seemingly comfortable relationship with his wife, and Sam is turning to other sexual outlets to relieve the tension of his stressful job and super-powered future.
When a routine interview with a witness on a case turns out to be with a high-end escort, things begin to change for Sam. No longer satisfied with masturbating to internet porn, Sam makes contact with an escort service and starts having regular sexual encounters, with a new woman every time. But secrets this big are hard to keep, and we become witnesses ourselves to the tension of Sam’s predicament. Will his wife find out? What will the truth do to his political aspirations? Will the FBI investigate the escort agency and will the agency then implicate him?
A story like this really rests on the strength of its performances, and ZIPPER comes up aces in that department, as director Mora Stephens has culled fine performances from an excellent cast. Wilson, probably best known as the father in the INSIDIOUS films, plays Sam as a southern charmer; handsome and self-assured, Sam draws us in to sympathize with him even as we are repulsed by his behavior.
This dramatic tension works extremely well, as Sam’s sexual obsession affects his daily life more and more. Headey (TVs GAME OF THRONES), as always, lets her understated intelligence shine through in a low-key performance that makes her betrayal all the more affecting when the inevitable final outburst of emotion arrives. Dreyfuss is not wasted in the pivotal role of the snake-charmer, and John Cho and Ray Winstone also lend solid support. The escorts are also portrayed by some fine young actresses, including a particularly sexy Alexandra Breckenridge, and Penelope Mitchell as a younger escort with her own sad story. Mitchell is especially good in a wonderful scene that takes place in Sam’s parked car, which represents just how low this man has fallen.
The sex scenes—and there are many—are intimately shot and have a somewhat distorted quality, giving the impression of an almost drug-induced state that Sam is experiencing. At times during the sex, Sam has the look of someone on a bender who has suddenly realized where he was and what he was doing, and wondered why. Or perhaps it’s only the guilt of a generally good man doing something bad.
The main themes of ZIPPER concern the correlation between sex and politics, such as the addictive nature of both, the constant juxtaposition of doing things in secret that others want to know about, the use of sex as a political weapon. It seems to conclude that the very obsessive nature of certain sexual behavior is the very thing that makes a good politician. The film even darkly suggests that any sexual act can be used to achieve the means to an end, to help protect a political career.
Dramas mixing sex and politics are nothing new, ranging from the well-done (see THE GOOD WIFE on TV) to the tawdry (BULWORTH, anyone?). ZIPPER joins this genre as a very well-acted and thought-provoking study of a descent into sexual addiction.
RATING: 3 ½ out of 5 stars
ZIPPER is in Theaters and On Demand August 28, 2015