1992 Directed by Mark Frost. Starring James Spader, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Jason Robards, Charlotte Lewis, Michael Warren, Michael Parks, Charlie Haid, Piper Laurie, Woody Strode.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 13, 1992

This New Orleans concoction of political and personal intrigue turns the burners up to a steady simmer but never really cranks the jets up to full blast. Curiously, though the movie engages constant viewer interest throughout, it never really excites the imagination in an all-absorbing or gripping manner. Spader is cast as Clay Fowler, a wealthy, young scion running for a local congressional seat. Running, however, probably isn't the correct word to describe his campaign -- ambling is more like it. Fowler has no discernible convictions or qualifications; entering politics is simply something for someone from his background to do. He certainly doesn't approach the contest with any great savvy or cunning, otherwise he would curtail his extramarital philandering and notice the obvious traps set for him by his opponents. Storyville, named after a nightclub rather than the notorious New Orleans district, swelters with that pungent, hothouse vapor we've come to associate with the Big Easy. It's got enough lurid family secrets to keep the ghost of Tennessee Williams quiet and enough generalized rectitude for our sins in Vietnam and the race wars at home to keep the sensitivity factors high. Yet in the midst of all this skeleton-rattling, the sheer dramatics of the piece are strangely subdued and lackluster. Except for Robards' robust characterization as Fowler's family mentor, everyone else in this truly prize cast has a neurasthenic pall (which also makes Robards' brio seem all the more out of place). Still, despite these oddly unexceptional dramatics, Storyville's intrigue holds viewer interest from beginning to end. Directed by the unsung creative half of the Twin Peaks phenomenon, Frost manages to imbue his New Orleans with a distinctive sense of place as well as the implicit understanding that there are dirty little secrets lurking behind virtually every local door. It's not quite as garish and bizarre as the worlds of Twin Peaks or the New York City Santeria rituals portrayed in Frost's script for the movie, The Believers. In fact, Storyville's strong sense of locale and emotional pallor most resembles Frost's documentary series, American Chronicles which he executive produced. It's not that Storyville is dull or uninteresting. It's just that it plays like “no peaks.”

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Storyville
Tommy Shannon
Tommy Shannon
'I Live in Trios'

Margaret Moser, April 13, 2007

Trouble Men
Trouble Men
The Secret to Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon's Success

Andy Langer, Feb. 9, 2001

More James Spader Films
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Moviegoers Assemble!

William Goss, May 1, 2015

The Homesman
Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones point their wagon east while confronting the myths of the Old West.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Nov. 28, 2014

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
Love means never having to flip to the B side

March 16, 2024

SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
A Hollywood garden party unearths certain truths

March 12, 2024


Storyville, Mark Frost, James Spader, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Jason Robards, Charlotte Lewis, Michael Warren, Michael Parks, Charlie Haid, Piper Laurie, Woody Strode

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle