The Minus Man

The Minus Man is a 1999 thriller film starring Owen Wilson and Janeane Garofalo. It is based on the novel by Lew McCreary, and directed by Hampton Fancher, who also wrote the screenplay. The film centers on a serial killer whom Fancher describes as "a cross between Psycho's Norman Bates, Melville's Billy Budd and Being There's Chauncey Gardner".[1]

The Minus Man
Minus man ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHampton Fancher
Screenplay byHampton Fancher
Based onThe Minus Man
by Lew McCreary
Produced byKeith Abell
Fida Attieh
David Bushell
Steve Carlis
Joseph J. DiMartino
Larry Meistrich
Mary Vernieu
StarringOwen Wilson
Janeane Garofalo
Brian Cox
Mercedes Ruehl
Dwight Yoakam
Dennis Haysbert
Sheryl Crow
CinematographyBobby Bukowski
Edited byTodd C. Ramsay
Music byMarco Beltrami
Distributed byArtisan Entertainment
The Shooting Gallery
Release dates
  • September 24, 1999 (1999-09-24) (Sundance Film Festival)
  • September 21, 2001 (2001-09-21) (Germany)
Running time
111 min.
CountryUnited States


Vann Siegert is a wandering serial killer who poisons his victims; he explains that he feels he is helping them and that they die without pain. After killing a heroin addict named Casper he met at a bar, he makes her death look like an overdose and moves to a new town. The next day, he arrives at the home of Doug and Jane Durwin and rents out the room of their missing daughter. Doug recommends he look for work at the post office, as they are hiring seasonal help for Christmas.

Doug takes Vann to a high school football game, where he meets Gene, a star athlete, and his family. A few days later, Vann offers the boy a ride and murders him, burying his body on a beach. While he is digging the grave, Vann has an imaginary conversation with two detectives, Blair and Graves, who ask taunting questions about his methods. Later, Vann helps the town search for the missing athlete and even attends his memorial service. He reveals that killing Gene broke two of his personal rules: don't kill anyone you know, and don't kill anyone from your town. Vann's ties to the community grow as he is given more responsibility at the post office.

One of Vann's co-workers, Ferrin, sheepishly pursues him. Doug drives her to the beach, where the pair exchange an awkward hug directly over the spot where Vann buried Gene. On Christmas Day, Vann goes to a diner and chooses another victim. She invites him to her home, where he sees that she is a painter. Something about her work disturbs him and he flees. Vann returns to the diner and slips poison into the water of a man eating alone. An autopsy reveals that the death was the result of a rare poison derived from tree bark fungus found in the Pacific Northwest. The poison is then linked to Casper's death, and to Gene's when his body is found. Vann knows that the police will eventually tie the murders to him. While looking in the mirror, he pulls hairs off his jacket and puts them in an envelope on which he writes 'FERRiN'.

Jane is found dead from a blow to the back of the head. The police suspect Doug, but Vann is worried that the increased scrutiny from another murder will lead the police to him. During a date with Ferrin, he tries to initiate sex by assaulting her. She is terrified, and Vann leaves. The next day, the police arrest Doug for Jane's murder. Vann packs his things. Before he leaves town, he puts his postal uniform and the envelope marked "FERRiN", containing the sample of his hair, in a mailbox. The film ends as he drives on the highway, saying that he wants to lead a more regular life once he gets to wherever he is going. He is pursued by a cop who had earlier approached him on the beach. After taking a good look with her spotlight, she smiles at him and takes the right fork in the road, while Vann takes the left.



The film has a 58% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 36 reviews.[2] The site’s critics consensus states: "While its subdued thrills and lack of answers may prove frustrating, The Minus Man delivers a chillingly measured performance from Owen Wilson."[2]

Roger Ebert called the film "a psychological thriller of uncommon power maybe because it's so quiet and devious".[1] In the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas wrote "it is above all such an unsettling experience you find yourself still taking it all in well after the lights have gone up".[3]

In praising the film, Andrew Sarris writing for the New York Observer said: "A surging undercurrent of black comedy drives us out to sea without ever breaking to the surface with glib psychological or sociological explanations. We cannot laugh out loud, nor can we feel any grief".[4] Sarris singles out Garofalo's performance as "incandescent ... one of the most enticingly endearing female movie characters in recent years – witty, bubbly, but at the same time lonely and terrified of rejection". Glenn Lovell described the film as "an assured blend of Camus and Hitch's small-town classic, Shadow of a Doubt" in his Variety review.[5]

The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.[6]


The Shooting Gallery's The Minus Man promotional campaign and materials, like many independent films (see Sony Pictures Classics' When the Cat's Away and Miramax's The Crying Game) tried to spark discussion/word of mouth among audience members after they left the theater. In addition to the tagline "Don't see it alone. Unless you like talking to yourself", one trailer for the film showed a couple discussing the film as they leave the theater. Their conversation takes them from place to place all over the city, until the man (played by Eddie Ifft) marvels at how beautiful the sunrise is. The woman (played by Marin Hinkle) realizes she is late for work and rushes to her job as a lifeguard, where two people are floating dead in the pool. The ad ends with the tagline "Careful, you can talk about it for hours". They partnered with local coffee houses and bars to provide opportunities for these supposed hour-long conversations.

The main trailer featured the tagline: "When he's around nothing adds up" and touted the film as the product of "the producers of Sling Blade" and "the writer of Blade Runner and The Mighty Quinn".


  1. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (September 24, 1999). "The Minus Man". Retrieved October 5, 2022.
  2. ^ a b "The Minus Man". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 5, 2022.
  3. ^ Thomas, Kevin (September 10, 1999). "Movie Review : 'Minus Man' Offers an Unsettling Look at an Affable Killer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 5, 2022.
  4. ^ Sarris, Andrew (September 12, 1999). "Blade Runner Scribe Concocts a Friendly Poisoner". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on October 11, 2009. Retrieved October 5, 2022.
  5. ^ Lovell, Glenn (January 26, 1999). "Minus Man". Variety. Retrieved October 5, 2022.
  6. ^ Berardinelli, James (January 31, 1999). "1999 Sundance Film Festival Update #5". Reelviews. Retrieved October 5, 2022.

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