A disappointing adaptation of Herman Melville's classic 19th century tale, Bartleby at least manages to find a good use for the spooky talents of Crispin Glover. Updating Bartleby The Scrivener to the present day, debut director Jonathan Parker tries to do what many other filmmakers have never managed - to make Melville's economical little fable about a rebellious clerk into a full-fledged feature film. The problem is, the material doesn't support him.
After The Boss (David Paymer) at a Public Records office places an advert for a new clerk, the only applicant is Bartleby (Glover), a sallow-faced bureaucrat who's distinctly lacking in "oomph". After just a few days of work he begins to ignore every order or polite request he's given, whispering "I prefer not to" anytime he's asked to do anything. The Boss is flummoxed. Why won't this weird little man work?
"GLOVER MAKES AN IMPRESSIVE BARTLEBY"
While hampered by some set design that seems to have been inspired by the local thrift shop, Parker does his best to stay loyal to the spirit of Melville's attack on capitalism, bureaucracy, and the soulless nature of dead-end employment. Best of all, Glover makes an impressive Bartleby, finding just the right balance between petulant subversion and supernatural being. His lank-haired, grey-skinned, bowed-head performance makes him look like a cross between Marilyn Manson and an investment banker.
A colourful cast of character actors - whose faces are more familiar than their names - inject the film with a suitably offbeat feel, but that isn't enough to justify its existence or its distinct lack of dramatic urgency. All of which leaves one to wonder whether it's worth spending time in this film's company.
Let's just say, we would prefer not to.