Alphabetical Movie – The January Man
The January Man is a mess of a movie. It wants to be about a modern day Sherlock Holmes but it doesn’t spend any time establishing the main character as all that clever and gets bogged down in a whole lot of relationship subplots that are at right angles to the main plot.
But there is one thing about it that is relatively unique and that is the fact it is a serial killer movie in which we barely see the serial killer. Typically a serial killer movie is a cat and mouse story in which the audience, at least, is aware of who the killer is.
I think audiences are, in general, more interested in the killer than the hunter. Clarice Starling is a great character but notice they keep making movies about Hannibal Lector, not Clarice.
Nobody gives a crap about the walking corpses in the Friday the 13th series. It’s all about Jason Voorhees. Same with Freddie Kreuger. And when people talk about The Dark Knight, they are probably talking about The Joker.
The Die Hard series was never as interesting once Hans Gruber fell to his death.
Heck, even Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was far more interesting when Holmes and Moriarty were on screen together.
We may not actually identify with those characters but we can’t deny that they are interesting.
So when a smart cop is tracking a serial killer and we don’t get to learn anything about the killer, I think we can feel a little bit cheated. Smart cops are great but what about the kook who is leaving all the corpses?
Se7en is a great example of a movie where the killer is barely seen but he is, at the same time, always present. We don’t see him until the very end but we see his actions in a way allows him to be there in our minds even if he is not actually there in the flesh.
Even so, we get that extraordinary scene with John Doe at the end of the movie.
I think we want that. We want to know that the killer is someone we get to meet.
The January Man completely jettisons that idea. The killer is a nobody. He doesn’t get a chance to tell us why he did what he did. He isn’t a secondary character so we can be surprised when he is revealed. He’s just an anonymous guy who kills people.
That is actually far more realistic but it isn’t nearly as engaging to the average movie audience who wants to believe that we will meet the killer at some point.
We are far more interested in evil than we are in good. I think most of us spend a lot more time defining what acts are “wrong” versus what acts are “right.” That might be why we are so interested in the bad guy.
The January Man is one of those few movies that doesn’t focus on the bad guy. That was a bold choice. If the rest of the movie wasn’t such a mess, it may have worked.