Late 2001 wasn't the best time to release a satire attacking New York's powerbrokers, so it's hardly surprising this potboiler's been stuck on a shelf for more than two years. Thing is, the belated story of a faded PR struggling to engineer one last photo-op would have felt dated if it had come out five years ago.
For the most part, though, playwright-turned-screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz manages to hide the cracks by condensing his incident-packed narrative into 24 hectic hours. Thus we watch Pacino's dishevelled, zonked-out Wurman (reportedly based on New York publicist Bobby Zarem) career from a disastrous Broadway opening via a swanky charity benefit to an after-hours drug den. He stops off en route to bail his last client's mistress (Téa Leoni) out of jail and fend off romantic advances from his brother's widow (Kim Basinger).
Phew. Eat your heart out, Max Clifford. The more the movie steamrollers on, however, the more its flaws trundle to the surface to flatten viewers' interest. For starters there's Pacino, sporting a lively Southern brogue and Godawful sartorial sense, who can't resist autopiloting his shabby fixer with a noble streak into loud, raspy, SHOUTY mode. Hoo-bloody-hah. Still, at least he manages to bestow his character with enough crumpled charisma and tragic grandeur to keep us interested - for a little while at least.
The main problem, then, is that People I Know is a hodge-podge of past pictures. Bringing to mind everything from '70s conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View to Pacino's own City Hall, another recent plunge into NYC's racial melting pot, it's tiring, frustrating stuff. And that's before you even consider the pungent whiff of Sweet Smell Of Success, still cinema's most damning depiction of the publicity game.
You know something's missing when a movie keeps reminding you of other, better films. So kudos for intent maybe, but Daniel Algrant's political drama lacks the sharp execution of the genre's best: when it strives for tension it achieves monotony; and what's meant to be a slow-burn pace is just plain slow.