Picks and Pans Review: Spider

updated 03/10/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/10/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne

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Playing a mentally ill man who speaks only in incomprehensible word fragments, Fiennes in Spider mumbles his way to one of the better performances of his already distinguished career. He can do more merely muttering than many actors can do with all of "To be or not to be."

This intriguing puzzle of a film by creepy director David Cronenberg (Existenz) takes viewers deep into the twisted mind of Dennis "Spider" Cleg (Fiennes). After being released from a mental institution to which he was sent at age 10, Cleg wanders through his old London neighborhood. Memories of his childhood with his folks (Richardson and Byrne) and a murder come flooding back, but are his recollections right? This is a strange film, requiring patience and attention from a viewer, but the pieces all fit by the end and the acting by Richardson and Byrne, in addition to Fiennes, is first rate. (R)

BOTTOM LINE: Weaves a fascinating web

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