SXSW 2000 Film Festival and Conference
THE OPERATORDir/Scr/Prod: Jon Dichter; Co-Prod: Doug Bruce, Betty Buckley; Exec Prod: Jay Barnet; DP: Bert Guthrie; Ed: Michael Coleman, Darren Kloomok; Music: Victor Zupanc; Cast: Michael Laurence, Jacqueline Kim, Brion James, Stephen Tobolowsky, Christa Miller.
35mm, 101 min., 1999 (RP)
If there was a prize for best concept, The Operator would take top honors. John Dichter's entertaining thriller puts a new spin on the "cat and mouse" scenario that pits his slimeball protagonist Gary Wheelan (Michael Laurence) against a wily telephone operator (Jacqueline Kim) out to make him pay for his actions (cheating, gambling, etc.). That premise alone would be enough for two films, but Dichter (who also wrote and produced) weaves in several other subplots, most of which are confusing and tend to distract from the central story. Nicely photographed (in Dallas, no less) but lacking in substantial dramatic weight, The Operator works best when Dichter allows his camera to gradually reveal the person behind the voice of the operator. Sadly, we're treated to only sporadic bits of Kim's intriguing performance and overloaded with Laurence's wobbly characterization of someone who, for all practical purposes, deserves everything he gets. Once Gary hits rock bottom, The Operator loses its edge and collapses into an unbelievable character study that wraps up loose ends and slaps on an all-too-happy, wink-wink epilogue rife with inconsistencies. The result is a film that seems to apologize for being so nasty in the first place.