Spenser Confidential review – an entertaining, yet un-original buddy (ex-)cop movie

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: March 6, 2020 (Last updated: December 28, 2023)
Spenser Confidential review - an entertaining, yet un-original buddy (ex)cop movie


Spenser Confidential is fun and enjoyable, a buddy (ex)cop movie that will satisfy a need for entertainment without straining the audience’s mental capacity.

Spenser Confidential tells the story of ex-cop Spenser, a cop that is the epitome of moral code until he ends up behind bars for assaulting his acting Sergeant. After doing his time Spenser decides to leave his home town Boston in order to pursue a fresh start in Arizona. With endless possibilities of a reformed life on the horizon, Spenser is a breath away from a chaos free life until trouble comes knocking. With only his elderly mentor, a zen loving roommate and a will to correct wrong, Spenser makes it his duty to discover the truth behind a murder the police are keen to wrap up.

Heading into Spenser Confidential, initially there was little in the way of high expectations, the trailer delivers a promise of a ‘buddy (ex-)cop movie’ with a formula audiences are all too familiar with. Spenser is the paradigm of a typical Bostonian; he’s rough, ready and full of glaring stereotypes, a man that knows what he wants and is not shy to take it. Spenser’s roommate, Hawk, is peaceful, good with animals and only eats whole, organic foods, a reserved character, one that is the complete opposite of Spenser. Now, where have we seen this combination before?… Other than every other buddy movie that comes with the same promise of clashing personalities, hilarious misunderstandings, and ‘unexpected’ friendships. This can mean that Spenser Confidential lacks in originality but that does not always equate to being an unenjoyable watch.

Spenser Confidential personally kept me gripped, though safe to say it is not as pressing or engaging as a serious murder mystery or cop seeking revenge movie. This being said Spenser Confidential‘s narrative was provocative, engrossing and compelling; sure it was predictable and often cliche but it was at heart a joy to watch. After seeing the negative critical response I must write that although not a masterpiece of cinematography, acting nor script writing, Spenser Confidential has entertainment value by the bucket load. The main characters are abundantly likable, loyal to their moral obligations and have a clear notion of right and wrong. Spenser Confidential is a film for those who wish to see a lighthearted tale of a hard-knock underdog that doesn’t know when to throw in the towel, one that doesn’t give up in the face of clear adversity.

Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke in Spenser Confidential (2020)

Mark Wahlberg plays Spenser, understandably he is perfect for the role as he seems hardly outside of his own personality when it comes to all things Boston. Wahlberg doesn’t deliver anything too impressive, working to be the good guy but sometimes just coming off as a know-it-all high-horse jockey. Winston Duke, on the other hand, plays Spenser’s ‘good vibes’ roommate Hawk, most recently known for playing M’Baku in Black Panther and Gabe in Us. Duke is consistently demonstrating his capability for diversity with each role taken and this film proves no different. Duke’s talents are ever-present as his character is quiet, graceful and composed, making his charm irresistibly admirable. Duke’s subtleties and convictions are indiscernible to the casual viewer, proving that an actor doesn’t need to be boisterous or overt in order to deliver a favorable character.

Wahlberg and Duke, provide a good deal of hilarity and moments of misunderstanding, though it does feel as though their chemistry wasn’t always flourishing. The pair seem at peace with and undeniably admire each other but audiences may feel unsatisfied with a lack of intimate moments or tenderness. Often action scenes play out with the two combating different people or heading in different directions, with little collaboration to visually prove their friendship. This being said, Spenser and Hawk often make up for it verbally in the presence of Spenser’s overbearing girlfriend and critical straight-talking mentor. Played by Iliza Shlesinger, girlfriend Cissy offers a frank and often unrestricted opinion that can often come off as boorish and unapologetically obscene. Spenser’s mentor Henry, played by Alan Arkin, is refreshingly honest in a different sense; he has outlived the days of chaos and troublemakers and has no time for anything that is going to disrupt his day to day routine. Both work to add comedic relief in moments away from action and brutality.

Overall, Spenser Confidential isn’t going to be a classic, nor will it be a monument in cinema history but it does serve its purpose as an entertaining movie. The script, although not unique, does tackle themes of police corruption, injustice, and abuse of power. The storyline is gripping enough to keep audiences in their seats and have them eager to watch as the bad guys receive their comeuppance. This being said, Spenser Confidential is eminently predictable and the antagonists are barely shrouded enigmatically, so if it’s a compelling mystery you’re after then maybe give this one a miss. On the other hand, if you are content with frank humor, physical comedy, and a cameo role for singer Post Malone then this may be right up your alley. Maybe if you go into Spenser Confidential with low expectations as I did, then in the end, like me, you will also be pleasantly surprised.

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