REVIEW: The Writer with No Hands

Hot Docs 2014

2 mins read

The Writer with No Hands
Directed by William Westaway
UK, 85 min.
Programme: Nightvision (World Premiere)

A conspiracy is a lot like that trout your friend caught over the weekend. The fish, on the first catch (if he ever catches it all), is reasonably sized. Eat it and you’ll never think twice, but throw it back and your friend tells of a fish that goes from “this big” to “THAT big” and said fish grows until it breaks the rod.

Such a fish story reels in director William Westaway when his friend Matthew, a British propaganda expert, asks him to document his investigation into the mysterious death of screenwriter Gary DeVore (Running Scared). DeVore, Matthew explains, was reportedly working on a screenplay about alleged CIA bank heists when he went missing and was found dead a year later with neither his script nor his hands. A fishy death invites much speculation.

Speculate Matthew does, and The Writer with No Hands follows him down a quagmire that sees his catch grow bigger and bigger. This crudely-shot doc is consistently engaging if only for the escalating magnitude of the conspiracy theories that grow like proverbial fish stories. Matthew treads in murky waters with witnesses that include Oscar-winner Haskell Wexler, who details the infringements on his own personal security and furthers Matthew’s hypothesis that Hollywood is colluding with Uncle Sam. Some leads suggest that Gary’s script threatened national security, while others position Gary as a Chuck Barris-like Hollywood spy.

Matthew’s fanaticism unravels into a veritable gong show. He’s so involved that he fails to realize when Westaway makes him the subject of the documentary. While Gary’s death raises essential questions about the propaganda machine, the figurative disappearance of Matthew reveals the perils of all-consuming intellectualism. Only Hollywood escapism makes one believe that one can catch a fish that isn’t even there.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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