Helen Mirren plays attorney Linda Kenney Baden and Al Pacino plays Phil Spector, the famed music producer who was convicted of murder in 2009. (HBO)
'Phil Spector," the HBO film debuting Sunday night, is a strange but compelling animal.
The movie begins by saying it is not based on a true story and then goes right ahead and tells a true story, the likely unjust tale of how rock's most legendary music producer ended up being convicted of murder in 2009.
Much of the material writer-director David Mamet is working with here is also on display in the superb documentary "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector," so Mamet may be trying to either avoid a lawsuit or make a point about how drama never adequately captures the truth.
But the essence of Spector's story is certainly the essence of this film, and Spector and his lawyer, Linda Kenney Baden, are brought to crackling life by Al Pacino and Helen Mirren.
Spector was still living large on past successes (the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, the Beatles) when he brought an aging aspiring actress named Lana Clarkson home from a bar one night. She ended up dead from a gunshot fired into her mouth. Spector was accused of murder.
How Spector could have shot her while getting virtually no blood on himself is the question that hangs over the movie and the case. But after Kenney Baden managed to derail his first trial, he was convicted in a second.
Mamet and Pacino make it clear Spector was both unlikable and a full-on kook much of the time, but that kookiness also skirts genius. Kenney Baden comes on to the case with reservations but eventually realizes all doubts are very reasonable.
Mamet ("Glengarry Glen Ross," "Spartan") is known for tight, pointed dramas, and he holds true to his rep here, creating a mystery, procedural and character study all in one. Phil Spector is a weirdo for sure, but is he a murderer?
9 p.m. Sunday