Film Review: ‘Spenser Confidential’: A Roughly Hewn Cop Actioner Caught Up in Clichés

March 9, 2020 Updated: March 16, 2020

R | 1h 51min | Crime, Drama, Mystery | 6 March 2020 (USA)

As with many contemporary film directors, Peter Berg has seen his share of ups and downs. His latest effort, “Spenser Confidential,” is his fifth partnering with actor Mark Wahlberg, and it looks like the film is meant as a launching pad for a new crime-mystery series.

The duo paired up for 2016’s disaster film “Deepwater Horizon,” as well as the 2017 bomb-drama “Patriots Day,” both of which showcased Berg’s adroit ability to couple real-world geopolitical situations with lots of gusty, high-octane action sequences.

However, the combo also recently hit a low note with 2018’s “Mile 22,” a half-baked, by-the-numbers action-thriller that not only tanked at the box office but also squelched a would-be film franchise.

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Mark Wahlberg’s character seems in a constant state of bewilderment in “Spenser Confidential.” (Netflix)

In this latest film, set in South Boston, Wahlberg plays former police detective Spenser, who is just wrapping up a five-year stint in prison. The reason he served time was that he walked in on drunk and disorderly police captain Boylan (Michael Gaston) beating his wife, and commenced to unload a few of his own fists upon the naughty captain.

Berg gets things rolling off to a fast-paced start when Spenser is beset upon by a bunch of goons in the prison library, which just so happens to be on his last day of confinement. After surviving the tumultuous fisticuffs, he’s back on the streets, embracing his freedom. But with all of the chaos that has surrounded his life in Boston, Spenser has hatched a plan to leave the big city and relocate to Arizona to live a less complicated life as a trucker.

Spenser’s old friend Henry (Alan Arkin) offers him a place to stay so that he can get acclimated to his new life on the outside. Spenser soon meets his new roommate, Hawk (Winston Duke, “Black Panther”), a large, gruff, wannabe MMA fighter whom Henry is helping to train.

Things are thrust into disarray when suddenly good ol’ Captain Boylan turns up murdered, and another cop also died at the crime scene, one who seems squeaky-clean. The deaths pique Spenser’s detective senses and make him all curious as to what’s behind the murders. Of course, it doesn’t take long to figure out that there’s a dark web of conspiracy involving dirty cops and an accompanying sinister plot.

The film revolves around Spenser trying to track down those responsible for the double murder, with the aid of Henry and Hawk.

Spenser’s ex shows up in what could only be described as the perfunctory “romantic interest” portion of the film. This entails a screechy, motor-mouthed blonde, Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), periodically showing up and throwing tantrums: She flails her arms around, shrieking at Spenser. These scenes cannot be mistaken for Shakespeare’s.

The minuscule elements of comic relief come at the expense of blockheaded Spenser as he attempts to master the new technologies that have left him behind during his prison sojourn. Spenser seems dimwitted as he wanders from one scene of bewilderment to another.

Low-brow action yarns can be pretty fun if they’re crafted correctly. Unfortunately, this film’s script feels flat-footed and relies entirely on genre tropes, including the typical “crooked cop” deal, which has been absolutely done to death.

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(L–R) Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, and Mark Wahlberg in “Spenser Confidential.” (Netflix)

The action scenes are also overwrought and jumbled, with lots of shaky-cam trickery along with quick-cut editing. The visuals are accompanied by overly loud and dramatic sound effects, like something out of a “Looney Tunes” cartoon. Together, these give the illusion that something is happening when in reality the action looks contrived and convoluted.

Toward the end of the film, plot-turns careen off of clichés that you can see coming a mile away. Wahlberg does his usual thing—act like Wahlberg—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But with a boilerplate, by-the-numbers script, and half-baked action sequences, just like “Mile 22,” this buddy actioner never really takes off from its launching pad. My guess is that “Spenser Confidential” will not herald the dawn of a new series, but will fade away into the annals of cinematic history.

‘Spencer Confidential’
Director: Perter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Release Date: March 6, 2020 (USA)
Rated: 1.5 stars out of 5

Ian Kane is a filmmaker and author based out of Los Angeles. To see more, visit or contact him at