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TV review: Pacino wigs out in HBO's 'Phil Spector'

Al Pacino gets his freak on in HBO Film's biopic about legendary record producer Phil Spector, who definitely had a case of the crazies.

Written and directed by Chicago native David Mamet, "Phil Spector" (8 p.m. CT March 24, HBO; 3.5 stars) fictionalizes what went on behind the scenes before and during the music icon's 2007 trial for the 2003 murder of B-movie actress Lana Clarkson. It ended in a mistrial, but in a 2009 retrial Spector was convicted of second-degree murder and now is serving 19 years to life.

Although Mamet has said the movie takes no sides--he's called it a "mythological" take on events--the film certainly suggests that Spector was convicted mostly of being a freak. The producer showed up to court in a series of increasingly outlandish wigs, and the prosecution provided plenty of examples of his past eccentricities.

The always spot-on Helen Mirren stars as Spector's real-life attorney, Linda Kenney Baden, who believes her client is guilty. She first meets the egotistical, gun-loving Spector at his "castle" outside L.A., where the rooms are filled with items fit for any museum of the weird. She also is well aware that several women claim Spector held them at gunpoint, and that his own limo driver issued a damaging statement to police about the night Clarkson died.

But his lawyer's assurance of Spector's guilt slowly erodes as Baden gets to know the wacky wig-lover. She constantly has to cut through his meanderings about his glory days working with the Beatles, John Lennon, Tina Turner and many others. Still, she becomes convinced that forensic evidence doesn't prove he committed the crime and that there is cause for reasonable doubt.

Pacino fully embraces the extremes of his character while smartly (and surprisingly) downplaying his own chew-the-scenery tendencies, which have seeped into his recent roles. Mamet arms Pacino with searing speeches, which the actor delivers with perfectly calibrated gusto, creating a fully fleshed-out human being who is maddening one moment and sympathetic the next.

Together, these two pros paint a portrait of the uneasy relationship between client and lawyer. It doesn't matter whether any of the story actually happened--you should read newspaper archives for that anyway--Mamet and his actors have created a fascinating character study that puts our notions of prejudice, celebrity, media and justice in the spotlight.

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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