Albino Alligator - Rated: Simmering

This is the first feature film Kevin Spacey has made as director, and it is an impressive debut in many ways, but it is very much informed by his origins in theatre. It is an ensemble piece, claustrophobic and static to a great degree. Static, but not visually boring, because Spacey goes to great trouble with camera angles, lighting and other visual effects. And he has picked a terrifically interesting bar room as his main set (but then he fails to give us a good sense of iits significance, or even how it is laid out: you don't really know where you are in that room).

The film is set in New Orleans, but you'd hardly know it, because it doesn't take advantage of the city as a setting, and Spacey hasn't gone out of his way to cast southerners. He has, however, gone out of his way to cast Faye Dunaway, and she's terrific as a sort-of-blowsy barmaid, whose drivers' license says she was born the same year I was - come on!

The rest of the cast are excellent too, with Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise and Viggo Mortensen and Skeet Ulrich (the latter two are unrecognisable). But the standout, for my money, is the maddest brother,William Fichtner. He inhabits his part with unpredictable menace born of a mysterious family background that you long to know more about.

And that, finally, is where I think the film falls down. These are three brothers (at least, that's what I thought), and they are criminals - and I want to know more about where they came from and how they got here. What is it with their mother? Are they all children of the same father? What did they do? But Spacey doesn't give us any of these juicy details, and so, finally, I can't care too much about any of the brothers.

The "Albino Alligator" of the title kept me guessing for a while, even after it was explained. The explanation I came up with shortly before the end was a problem, though, because I think it was better than the actual denouement. Still, after making us guess and wonder all the way through this film, after not allowing us to know quite where we are, and after giving us very little to work with by way of clues to the characters' background or motivation, Spacey finally gives us something substantial to think about after leaving the theatre.