Veteran character actor Scott Glenn relishes the opportunity to sink his teeth into a rare lead role in this tawdry, if stylishly shot, serial-killer flick.
Looking grizzled and emaciated, Glenn is compelling as small-town barber Gene Van Wingerdt, a buttoned-down blend of Billy Bob Thornton’s saturnine snipper in The Man Who Wasn’t There and Michael Douglas’s simmering white-collar workhorse in Falling Down.
Like countless other movie psychos, Gene marries a strict puritanical bent — he doesn’t like it when his young Hispanic employee Luis (Max Arciniega) curses, for example — with an extremely dark past. Two decades prior, he was arrested for murdering several women, but released due to insufficient evidence.
The outcome drove the case detective to commit suicide, and now the dead man’s swaggering son (Chris Coy) arrives on Gene’s doorstep, seeking not to exact vengeance but, in an oddly intriguing twist, to become the barber’s protégé in future acts of killing. Early scenes mine suspense from the younger man’s cloudy motivations. Sadly, the tense mood is soon extinguished by a script full of undercooked ruminations on the nature of evil, as well as silly plot contrivances and crime-movie clichés (one enraged cop actually bellows the line “He’s a loose cannon!” with no apparent irony).
The Barber is further marred by flat characterization, including appallingly weak roles for its actresses; women seem to exist here mainly to suffer brutal violence. Only Glenn, whose taciturn performance is punctuated by flashes of genuine menace, lifts The Barber to “watchable.”