Author(s): Jeremiah Hall / Douglas Reese
Written and Directed by Sidney Lumet
Film Editing by Andrew Mondshein
Cinematography by Gerry Fisher
Clive Owen … Dr. Friedkin
Jennifer Connelly … Mrs. Crothers
Trevor Morgan … William Lynx
Jeremy Sumpter … Andy
Tagline: "Power and Authority, Weakness and Instability. A Million Dollar Problem Will Lead to the Destruction of an Innocent Life"
Synopsis: “Every time it happens I feel this warm sensation sprouting from the bottom of my spine and up to my brain. Every image and every noise dies away as I enter into this quirky black abyss. Once there, I feel like a rag doll. I feel like I’m being thrown around, up and down, and not ever once hitting the ground. I realize the feeling but my mind doesn’t realize that I’m blacking out. When I come to, all of my senses come back to me and I realize that I had just undergone a fabulous experience. But these immense disappearing acts are a work of peril. These fabulous experiences kill me more and more every time.”
-As Told By Character William Lynx at Beginning of Film
We first meet William Lynx waiting by a psychiatrist’s door, scratching the sides of his blue-colored patient pants in nervousness. Dr. Friedkin, a bulky but rational individual comes from his office, inviting William back. Once there we realize that William is a patient for the Psychiatric Hospital for Troubled Youth. Dr. Friedkin is quite a sturdy man, asking such questions like “Are you eating your off properly?” or “Are you taking your medication when given to you?” William, however, replies back: “Quit treating my like I’m psychotic and dim-witted, Dr. Friedkin, please.” The doctor simply replies as nicely but sinisterly cruel as possible, “William, you’re not dim-witted, you are not psychotic. You are just disturbed and have been steered down an uneasily wrong path.” This first scene sets up the whole theme of the picture: the cry for independence and the response of being unaccountable to handle the acceptance.
The reasons for William Lynx, a seventeen-year-old with the looks of a teenage struggling to be what he is not, being in a psychiatric hospital is quite unclear since he is a seemingly smart boy with a sort of quirky charm under his feelings of angst and worry. He wakes up under strict orders every morning at 6am and is put on a strict schedule. Half-an-hour after waking up for the day, he takes a shower. However, it is left supervised by one of the nurses. He eats breakfast at seven and from 7:30 to noon it is school with a stubborn but admiring Mrs. Crothers, whom is fond of William for his sturdy dexterity in math. His skills eventually inspire Crothers to suggest William with the famous “Million Dollar Math Questions”. At noon is lunch and afterward is gym time where he exercises alongside his fellow friend, Andy. While William doesn’t bother telling his reasons for being a patient, Andy comes clean that he is in there for repetitious counts of cutting his legs. “I’ll always have these scars here to remind myself on how unhappy I am. But it just isn’t as unhappy without the blade actually touching and the blood actually gushing.”
At 3:00 it is time for his appointment with Dr. Friedkin. Thirty minutes of questions asked and thirty minutes, also, of William hurling back his lies; or are they the truths? After “reading time” where he works on his million dollar question, it is 6:00pm. Bedtime. Lights are all out and William spends a whole twelve hours with his thoughts… and his unexplainable blackouts.
The next morning, Mrs. Crothers studies real hard on William’s solved “Math Questions”. Looking over them a second time, she looks up and says to William: “William Lynx I think you just might be a millionaire.” Crothers sends the solution to Dr. Friedkin who studies it also, but instead claims to Mrs. Crothers that the problem had been “accidentally thrown away”. Crothers finds him suspicious but knows she can’t do anything to him because she still is unsure if Friedkin is lying or being honest. He is far from honest. And when 3:00 arrives, Friedkin tries to cut a deal with William on if he would like to give Friedkin himself the credit of solving the math problem while through this act, he would grant William release from the hospital through behavioral improvements. William tells the doctor: “You know I would normally say yes but you’ve kind of been an asshole to me so I think that I’ll stay here just cause it pisses you off.” This was a mistake. Furious, Dr. Friedkin looks down upon the boy. “I tried to cut a deal with you William. I was offering you freedom in return for the solution. But you being a troubled kid you need not be freed. And since I have the power of authority I will keep you here to fry some more while I enjoy the nice riches that I can use just to… piss… ‘you’ off.”
The deal leads to much turmoil, however. Mrs. Crothers realizes that William Lynx was the actual authority of the math problem and even though she could cause ruckus by telling off the public that Friedkin was not the actual problem-solver, he would still have the authority of power. While Friedkin becomes a millionaire, William becomes the actually troubled. In the end, tragedy pursues when Andy brutally attacks and beats William to death. And in the end, Mrs. Crothers plunges forward into guilt… and Friedkin enjoys his money, his job, and his power.
What the Press would say:
Sidney Lumet’s powerful examination of isolation is portrayed so masterfully in his new film “Problem Solver”, a drama so sinister and so in-focus on its character that it sets off in many different directions at one time, only to circle around and crash right back into him. It’s a depressing film, one not easy to swallow, and at first it may seem that there really doesn’t even seem to be a point. But the film has a point. Its point is to show the power of authority and the limitations of the weak. While you expect a character like William Lynx to prevail and become what you want him to be, your dreams are shattered, just like the character, when power pushes the dreams of an individual. Lumet manages masterfully to achieve a visually epic feel to the scenes, all taking place in the hospital. Using shades of blue and dark and sickening greens, the cinematography shares its character’s hellish dive into an emotional nightmare. Through its silence the film reigns with a sense of isolation that no other film has ever offered. No musical score and very little scenes of dialogue including Lynx’s narration which fades away as the film progresses, just like its doomed character.
The doomed character of William Lynx is astonishingly played by Trevor Morgan. A miracle of an actor, he brings so much innocence and sympathy to his performance that we care about him; but also brings a sense of mystery to him as if he’s hiding something that if we found out maybe our sympathy would totally vanish. But we click with him. Through his silent times alone, sometimes very personal and private, we invade his privacy even though when daylight comes, privacy no longer exists. As friend, and future killer, Andy, Jeremy Sumpter is as strange playing the Southern-talking self-destructing soul. His moments of plain sincerity with William are shown throughout the film. They seem so surreally close, sometimes even seem attracted to one another. If this is the case, why in after one night does Andy actually decide to kill him? Is it because he is actually sick in the head? Or is it because Dr. Friedkin has fooled him into the same deal that he had offered to William, except with a life of William being on the line? It’s never looked into because once William dies, we see him have a final blackout before we cut to see Dr. Friedkin in all his powerful glory, smiling and accepting an oversized check for one million dollars. Clive Owen buries under your skin as this monster who believe he can squash anyone under his feet only because he is with much power. The way he behaves can only remind you of a male version of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”’s Nurse Ratched. And finally, as the sweet but sassy Mrs. Crothers, Jennifer Connelly brings so much truth into her character that we just want to embrace her for the commitment she has made to William, and then comfort her when she feels powerless of getting the truth across that William Lynx was in fact the problem solver.
Sidney Lumet’s keen eye and ear for visuals and dialogue prove why he such a great director at showing films of people falling apart because one with more authority just has the power to do so. As cruel as it may come, “Problem Solver” is a masterpiece in showing the isolation and the depths of hell an individual must endure after one pushing you under their feet.
For Your Consideration:
Actor – Trevor Morgan
Supporting Actor – Clive Owen
Supporting Actress – Jennifer Connelly