Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten, or unknown film and TV credits, continues this week with works featuring Matthew Lillard.
Spanish Judges (2000)
Jack (Matthew Lillard) is a criminal looking for an incredibly impressive and expensive antique called The Spanish Judges. After being told to go and “relieve them” from someone’s possession, a bad encounter with his boss, and an explosive firefight, he ends up finding his way to a small little apartment full of antiques. Enter the aspiring crime boss – with a penchant for getting quite angry – Max (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the poison collector Jamie (Valeria Golino), a couple who are at the end of their wits in their current life as criminals – they’ve lost a lot of money and no one respects Max anymore. Jack shows up just in time with the offer of a lifetime: Be his body guards as he makes a deal with someone to sell The Spanish Judges for one million dollars and both Max and Jamie walk away with $100,000 each. Of course, it’s never quite that simple, especially when others are involved, including Jamie’s not all that smart buddy Piece (Mark Boone Junior) and his girlfriend who thinks she is from Mars and aptly named Mars Girl (Tamara Mello). What ensures is a dialogue-heavy, but nonetheless engaging, crime caper.
Coming off of watching The Curve, Spanish Judges is actually really easy to recommend. Sure, none of the characters are morally great people, as they are all criminals in one way or another (besides Mars Girl who is just along for the ride), but they are portrayed as humans who just happen to be criminals, and it’s handled well. The story is also incredibly well written; William Rehor (who sadly doesn’t seem to have written anything besides Spanish Judges) has crafted a script that is very close to being on par with the likes of wordy and quirky crime films from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, and early Matthew Vaughn. It’s not exactly perfect, but I was enthralled by the very subtle cat and mouse game going on from the get go, which never lets up until the film is over. Granted, one of the twists one can be seen coming a mile away, but it’s glossed over so quickly that it’s easy to forget about until it pops up again at the end of the film. Every character here is someone completely new fresh and unique giving it a sense of heart and charm that we just don’t see often enough in crime films.
The acting here is incredibly top notch. I didn’t even know I was watching Mark Boone Junior on the screen until I started writing this article – that’s how good he was. And of course everyone else is equally fantastic! D’Onofrio here gives us a glimpse of early Wilson Fisk with his dramatic scenes but sprinkles in lots of fun and comedic bits to keep it very unique. Golino is seductive, scared, intense and bad ass all rolled into one character, and Mars Girl is an adorable and funny bubble of weird that always has you guessing what is really going on in her head. And we have to mention the focus of this piece, Matthew Lillard who gives one of his best performances I’ve seen to date.
From the second Lillard shows up and starts talking I fell in love. Have you ever seen a movie where you look at an actor and you know who that actor is as you’ve seen them in many other movies before, but for some reason you feel like you just can’t recognize them? Not physically, but because they have just become that character. This is what Lillard does here. He gives us something wholly unique, not once have I seen this kind of acting from him before and it’s an absolute joy. He has slipped into this character so well that I stopped believing he was acting and just assumed this was who he is. He’s fun, intense, witty, and just wonderful.
Granted, this movie isn’t perfect. The script does have one or two little bits that make it just less than perfect, and one big thing is that visually it feels like a poor 90’s TV show (which makes sense given that almost all of director Oz Scott’s filmography is television work). Not that it’s particularly bad (especially since the visual aspect is something I can be very picky about)l it’s just the set pieces, directing, and cinematography seem stunted compared to the films huge and outlandish script. I will give Scott this, though: he did a damn good job getting A+ performances out of every single actor here.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
Spanish Judges has a couple things that are stopping the film from being absolute perfection, but that’s just what the film is: very near to perfection. From phenomenal acting to a tight fun and insane crime script, this film was an absolute honor to dig up. If you like great fun and intense dialogue heavy crime films or just fantastic acting from any or all of the actors in this film, Spanish Judges is 100% worth watching.
Come back tomorrow for a film filled with comedy, romance, and Shakespearean songs!