By Tim Merrill | January 18, 2002

A college mathematics professor who has recently been mugged. An arrogant young lawyer involved in a hit-and-run accident. A
paranoid insurance adjuster beaten down by life. These are some of the interlocking characters in Jill Sprecher’s meditative and sincerely felt New York story “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing.” Sprecher explores the power of one unexpected event – usually traumatic – to change one’s life forever, with surprisingly enjoyable results.
“We’re more connected than we know,” another character muses late in the film, and that could well serve as this film’s motto. The math professor, played by John Turturro, splits from his wife (Amy Irving), and soon buys a used BMW from the young lawyer (Matthew McConaughey). The lawyer had recently been out celebrating a court victory, running into the insurance adjuster (Alan Arkin), who warned him about the dire caprices of fate. Hours later, a pretty house cleaner (Clea Duvall) is hit by that BMW, driven by that lawyer, and left for dead on the West Village cobblestones. But the lawyer can’t escape his guilt. Everyone here is forced to deal with the consequences of his or her choices, the paths fate has chosen for them.
Sprecher, who shares credit for the elegant screenplay with her sister Karen, began the script as a way of dealing with the repercussions of her own mugging in New York some years ago. That personal touch is evident throughout “Thirteen Conversations,” which utilizes the nonlinear, flashing-forward-and-back structure we’re seeing ever more of these days without ever seeming affected or self-important. There are moments of subtle brilliance, and the actors all do career-best work, Arkin best of all. But mainly “Thirteen Conversations” encircles the viewer in a comforting, open-hearted humanism. It’s a quiet, modest piece of work, but no less lovely for it.

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