Christopher Walken

Biloxi Blues (1988, Mike Nichols)

Biloxi Blues has some rather peculiar, rather significant third act problems. Like, it doesn’t have a third act. Did they cut a bunch to keep the PG rating or something? Because at a certain point the rising action stalls out and the film goes into montage summary overdrive. After giving lead Matthew Broderick and ostensible love interest Penelope Ann Miller an amazing “meet cute” first dance, full of chemistry and energy, Miller never gets another line. She’s in a few montage shots, as Broderick romances her, but she’s not even present in the film, just visible. It’s a very weird development, especially considering how phenomenally director Nichols shoots that dance scene.

And Nichols has a lot of very thoughtful direction in the film, which is another reason it feels like it doesn’t have a third act. None of the direction is thoughtful. In fact, it’s tonally regressive. The end of the film—the last real scene—turns everything into a smile, with writer Neil Simon and Nichols running as far away from every question or difficult thought they raised as fast as they can. It just doesn’t make any sense. Unless Simon didn’t have an ending to the movie and for some reason everyone—Nichols, the producer, the studio—just shrugged and said, “Yeah, Matthew Broderick can sell it with narration, he’s Ferris Bueller, it’ll be fine.”

Is Broderick’s narration read good? Yeah… it’s not bad. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. It’s also not his fault because Simon doesn’t give him anything to say really. Whatever lessons Broderick learned from his time in boot camp in 1945 Biloxi don’t come through in the narration. Or Broderick’s onscreen performance. It also turns out he’s supposed to be narrating it from the present, which seems weird with the accompanying shots. There’s got to be a story behind Blues’s production. There’s just got to be.

Because no one has a full character arc in the entire film. Not even Christopher Walken, who’s about one great scene away from a fantastic performance. He never gets his great scene, never unconditionally. It’s usually a combination of script and Broderick; Broderick, not in performance or in role as written, never gets to honestly react to Walken. Walken hounds Broderick for much of the film, because Broderick’s a New York smart-ass and, well, he’s also Jewish. Walken’s not going to take a cheap shot about the Jewish thing, but it’s there. Anytime Walken and Broderick have some kind of showdown where you want to see Broderick’s reaction—or, hell, Walken’s—the action goes to the rest of the platoon.

The rest of the platoon is alpha Matt Mulhern, wannabe alpha Markus Flanagan, average guy Casey Siemaszko, popular but good guy Michael Dolan, and super-nerd (and fellow Jewish guy) Corey Parker. All of the performances are good. It’s exceptional Parker’s able to get away with such an exaggerated stereotype, especially since there’s not a lot of consistency with the character in the script. He starts the film constantly farting and having to take a crap. Apparently it stops being a problem after he starts eating the army food. He’s also supposedly having all sorts of run-ins with Walken; we see some of them, but never the fallout. It’s just like with Broderick… Simon’s not interested in the characters developing from their experiences in Blues.

But Nichols directs for it. The way he positions the actors—Broderick, Parker, Mulhern, Flanagan, Siemaszko, Dolan—Nichols has got a distinct focus. Only then the script goes somewhere else and Nichols lets the film lose that focus. As a result, it always feels like something’s missing. Especially with Walken; especially after the “third act” reveals on Walken. Biloxi Blues should given Walken a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and doesn’t.

Mulhern’s really good. Dolan’s really good. Flanagan and Siemaszko are sort of flat good; the script doesn’t really give them enough. In Siemaszko’s case, Simon forgets about him too.

Great cameo from Park Overall. Good photography from Bill Butler, good music from Georges Delerue, great production design from Paul Sylbert. The forties soundtrack selections aren’t great and tend to be during the ill-advised “for laughs” sections, but they also make the film seem artificial and vaguely insincere, which is definitely not what it ought to be doing.

Biloxi Blues should be really good. It’s got the pieces to be really good. Instead, it’s decent, but a misfire.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mike Nichols; screenplay by Neil Simon, based on his play; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Sam O’Steen; music by Georges Delerue; production designer, Paul Sylbert; produced by Ray Stark; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Matthew Broderick (Eugene Morris Jerome), Christopher Walken (Sgt. Toomey), Matt Mulhern (Joseph Wykowski), Corey Parker (Arnold B. Epstein), Markus Flanagan (Roy Selridge), Casey Siemaszko (Don Carney), Michael Dolan (James J. Hennesey), Penelope Ann Miller (Daisy), and Park Overall (Rowena).


Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

There’s a lot of great moments in Pulp Fiction. There’s not a lot of great filmmaking–the taxi ride conversation between Bruce Willis and Angela Jones is about as close as director Tarantino gets to it–but there are definitely a lot of great moments. There’s the chemistry between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. There’s the Christopher Walken monologue, which is hilarious.

It’s also beyond problematic in terms of Tarantino’s force-feeding of racism to the audience; at a certain point, very, very early on, the viewer either has to accept Tarantino’s conceit racist language doesn’t make one a racist or just stop watching the film. Because the real racists are actually literal monsters, something the criminals of Pulp Fiction usually aren’t (at least on screen). Oh, and Tarantino’s wife in the film is black. So his slur-laden monologue–terribly delivered, of course, as Tarantino’s a horrific actor–means he really isn’t racist. It’s just supposed to be funny. You know, agree with him about it.

There’s probably lots written about Tarantino and racism. Lots excusing him, I’m sure. But Pulp Fiction doesn’t want to talk about racism or much else. It’s another stool Tarantino steps on to deliver the film. It’s not about the real world or real people, it’s about Tarantino’s version of “pulp fiction,” which involves magic and so on. Anyway, I’m off topic. A look at the film’s place in mainstreaming “post-racial” racist humor deserves a serious discussion, which I’m going to do here.

Wow, after that lede, how do I get back on track with saying a lot of nice things about the film and Tarantino’s writing….

He gets phenomenal performances from Travolta and Willis. Travolta somewhat more than Willis, even though Willis gets better material to himself. Travolta’s good solo, but nothing compared to when he’s with Jackson and Jackson gets the only real character role in the film. Everyone else plays a caricature or worse, but Jackson gets to stop and look around at the world and figure out how to live in it. He’s amazing, whether he’s delivering Tarantino’s comical expository dialogue, the tough guy threatening, the soul searching; Jackson does it all.

There’s some solid support from Maria de Medeiros as Willis’s girlfriend. The film’s in three sections–Travolta goes on a date with crime boss Ving Rhames’s wife, Uma Thurman in the first, Willis rips off Rhames and is on the run in the second, then the third part is just an amusement chapter for Jackson and Travolta. de Medeiros is barely in the film, doesn’t get to leave a crappy motel room set, yet she still makes more of the character than Thurman makes of hers.

You can say Thurman’s got a well-written role, but you’re wrong. Sorry. Tarantino doesn’t want to ruminate on masculinity, but he gets in the ballpark (Willis as the classic Hollywood hero). The female characters, Thurman in particular, get thin material. You need to think about it. Pulp Fiction is, like I said, rather problematic. It doesn’t help Thurman her wig has to do most of the acting with the way Tarantino directs her. His direction of her talking heads scenes with Travolta is his worst work as a director in the entire film. Like I said, problematic. It’s a good, very problematic motion picture.

Would it be better if cinematographer Andrzej Sekula weren’t really boring? Maybe. Sekula lights the picture to emphasize the performances, which is fine, only it’s not all close-ups or medium shots where it’d be appropriate. The solid, but not startling, editing from Sally Menke helps things a little though. There’s an energy to the film and when it goes slack, Fiction gets a little too long in the tooth. Since it’s three separate chapters, it’s particularly annoying when it goes slack right off with Thurman and Travolta’s date. Willis and Rhames’s story immediately saves the picture. Jackson and Travolta basically coast through on the last one.

Oh, and Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer aren’t good enough. Some of it’s the writing, some of it’s the directing, but quite a bit of it is their performances. It’s a strange misstep too, since Tarantino’s attention to narrative tone is one of the best things about the film.

Pulp Fiction is a solid, often troubling film. Tarantino doesn’t bite off more than he can chew, however–it’s assured, but not ambitious in anything but its length and bravado–because he doesn’t chew off much of anything with it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Quentin Tarantino; screenplay by Tarantino, based on a story by Tarantino and Roger Avary; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Miramax Films.

Starring John Travolta (Vincent Vega), Samuel L. Jackson (Jules Winnfield), Uma Thurman (Mia Wallace), Bruce Willis (Butch Coolidge), Harvey Keitel (The Wolf), Tim Roth (Pumpkin), Amanda Plummer (Honey Bunny), Maria de Medeiros (Fabienne), Ving Rhames (Marsellus Wallace), Eric Stoltz (Lance), Rosanna Arquette (Jody) and Christopher Walken (Captain Koons).


Eddie the Eagle (2016, Dexter Fletcher)

Eddie the Eagle is charming. It’s assured–great script from Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton–and a wonderful sense of time and place (eighties UK and Europe, then Canada) from director Fletcher. Fletcher’s got some problems I’ll get to in a bit but Eddie’s got a phenomenal feel. It’s a deft homage to eighties popular filmmaking, with an ecstatic synthesizer-ish score from Matthew Margeson. It’s also extremely self-aware of how films have changed since then. Fletcher’s use of sports montage and one-liners–he’s a competent director, but he has a hard time with the first act.

Eddie’s an inspiring, true story movie. It’s about this British guy (Eddie) who, while not an athlete, ended up in the Olympics. I’d never heard of it because… you know, sports. Taron Egerton is the lead, Hugh Jackman is his trainer. Jo Hartley and Keith Allen are his parents. All of them give great performances. Jackman’s giving a really strong movie star performance. Hartley and Allen have to be comic relief but also entirely human and relatable. Egerton’s performance is thoughtful and deliberate. He’s playing a colorful (in reality) person and he gets past the color.

In some ways, Eddie makes fun of its own Britishness to get by. It’s well-produced Britishness, but there’s a wink about it all. It’s oddly appropriate, as the action moves to Germany, because it orients the audience quite comfortably. We’re in the British perspective, we’re looking in on the European, just like Egerton would be if the character had time to do anything but ski jump.

The ski jumping is where Fletcher gets into his most trouble. He’s better directing the actors than he is shooting scenes of the actors, but that problem is far less significant. Eddie is about the sport of ski jumping; it seems like it should be an important thing to show. Fletcher botches most of it. He and cinematographer George Richmond love the scale of the film–the mountains, the mountain ski villages, the ski jumps–and they convey it well. There’s just nothing in the filmmaking when it comes to the jumps. They get better, but they get better because they’re less ambitious (mostly just close-ups on Egerton) and the audience is identifying with Egerton more and more throughout the runtime.

Fletcher, Macaulay, Kelton, Egerton, Jackman, everyone–Margeson, he needs another call out–they do strong work. Fletcher’s inability as an “action” director aside, he is the one who makes the film so frequently rewarding. Eddie the Eagle’s really good.

And awesome cameos from Jim Broadbent and Christopher Walken.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Dexter Fletcher; screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, based on a story by Kelton; director of photography, George Richmond; edited by Martin Walsh; music by Matthew Margeson; production designer, Mike Gunn; produced by Adam Bohling, Rupert Maconick, David Reid, Valerie Van Galder and Matthew Vaughn; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Taron Egerton (Eddie Edwards), Hugh Jackman (Bronson Peary), Jo Hartley (Janette), Keith Allen (Terry), Iris Berben (Petra), Rune Temte (Bjørn), Tim McInnerny (Dustin Target), Jim Broadbent (BBC Commentator) and Christopher Walken (Warren Sharp).


True Romance (1993, Tony Scott), the director’s cut

The best thing about True Romance is some of the acting. The biggest problem with the film is who’s doing that great acting. It’s not leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, who the film eventually just ignores in order to further its supporting cast (which is sort of fine, as they’re better–especially than Slater–but it doesn’t do the film any favors).

Instead of it being Slater and Arquette amid this awesome supporting cast, instead it’s Slater and Arquette moving from place to place to encounter further awesome supporting cast members. Eventually, the film’s just bringing them in without the leads. At that point, however, it’s stopped being about Slater and Arquette, if it ever was about them.

The film opens with Slater, then immediately goes to a voice over from Arquette. Her narration, which suggests a far better character than she gets to play and a far better film, comes back at the end. In between, Dennis Hopper, Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek, James Gandolfini, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Tom Sizemore, and Chris Penn all get great scenes. Supposedly Gary Oldman gets one too, but not really. If there’s not material for the actor to connect with, it’s not like director Scott helps make the performance. He doesn’t do much of anything, except not know how to direct this movie. Not its action, not its cast, none of it.

All of the aforementioned actors have excellent scenes. Sometimes two, at least one. Arquette almost gets a few good scenes, but not really. After beating her up, in an exceptionally violent sequence (Scott’s got no subtext to his action, he’s painfully oblivious to questions of genre and viewer expectation), her character pretty much stops speaking. It’s weird.

The script’s oddly paced–an hour build-up, thirty minutes of play (not counting Arquette and Gandolfini’s vicious scene), thirty minutes of violent wrap-up. That front heaviness needs to define Slater and Arquette and it doesn’t. Slater, for example, can’t hold up against Hopper. The film goes off its rails, something even Scott seems to get. Of course, he just keeps going with it instead of making any adjustments, leading to a lot of humorous moments, some decent dialogue, but a really lame story.

It isn’t until the finish everything collapses under its own weight. Maybe if Michael Tronick and Christian Wagner did anything with the editing, or if Hans Zimmer’s music was any good (though he does rip off the Badlands theme to some success), but the film’s a technical yawn. Jeffrey L. Kimball’s photography is more than competent, Scott just doesn’t do anything with it.

Still, even if Scott were better, the script’s got problems with how it treats the leads. Especially Slater, who becomes less and less sympathetic as times goes on. Just like Romance itself.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Scott; written by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Michael Tropic and Christian Wagner; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Benjamín Fernández; produced by Gary Barber, Samuel Hadida, Steve Perry and Bill Unger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Slater (Clarence Worley), Patricia Arquette (Alabama Whitman), Michael Rapaport (Dick Ritchie), Bronson Pinchot (Elliot Blitzer), Saul Rubinek (Lee Donowitz), Dennis Hopper (Clifford Worley), James Gandolfini (Virgil), Gary Oldman (Drexl Spivey), Christopher Walken (Vincenzo Coccotti), Chris Penn (Nicky Dimes), Tom Sizemore (Cody Nicholson), Brad Pitt (Floyd) and Val Kilmer (Mentor).


Batman Returns (1992, Tim Burton)

Batman Returns is one of those films I always hope will end a little differently. Tim Burton gets such wonderful performances out of Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer, their penultimate scene always has this glimmer of a different outcome. There’s so much energy between the two actors, such rich characters, it’s tragically unfair they don’t make it.

Keaton and Pfeiffer–actually, more Pfeiffer and Keaton–take up a quarter of Returns’s glorious mess. Burton and screenwriter Daniel Waters don’t have a natural way to tie all of the film’s plots together and they don’t bother trying to find one. Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is the connective tissue, in a lot of ways, to the villains, Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito. Keaton’s Batman just gets thrown in the mix from time to time. Trying to imagine a plot chart for Batman Returns… I think of spaghetti.

But, like I said, Burton doesn’t try to fix that problem. He just makes it the best spaghetti he can. For every plot problem, there’s some amazing visual or wonderful little moment or maybe just DeVito. DeVito’s performance is spellbinding. He creates a villain who’s without humanity and the lack is part of his performance’s appeal. It’s funny.

Great performances, wonderful music from Danny Elfman, beautiful Stefan Czapsky photography, Bo Welch’s amazing production design.

Burton creates a space for these grotesque, complicated, beautiful characters to play with one another. He loves them and doesn’t care if the viewer doesn’t.

Batman Returns is a singular motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Daniel Waters, based on a story by Waters and Sam Hamm and characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bo Welch; produced by Burton and Denise Di Novi; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Keaton (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Danny DeVito (Penguin / Oswald Cobblepot), Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman / Selina Kyle), Christopher Walken (Max Shreck), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Pat Hingle (Commissioner James Gordon), Michael Murphy (The Mayor), Vincent Schiavelli (Organ Grinder), Andrew Bryniarski (Chip Shreck) and Cristi Conaway (Ice Princess).



Seven Psychopaths (2012, Martin McDonough)

One could say a lot about Seven Psychopaths and how McDonough teases the fourth wall to propel the plot. But such a discussion would distract too much from the film. McDonough gleefully avoids profundity with Psychopaths, though he does occasionally find it. At those moments, he allows the briefest pause before continuing with the relentless, savage humor.

McDonough isn’t discreet about these plotting decisions either–he draws attention to them so jokes pay off better. Psychopaths jokes range from situational to phonetical. He takes great advantage of each actor, whether it’s Sam Rockwell (who gets the most to do in the film) or Christopher Walken (who gets the second most, but has the best revelations in his character). The actors fully inhabit their characters, even Woody Harrelson, who has the weakest part.

Of course, the lead’s not Rockwell or Walken (they just carry the movie away with them), it’s Colin Farrell. And Farrell’s playing a screenwriter named Martin–just like McDonough, playing up the pliable fourth wall. Farrell’s job is to provide some stability and his greatest achievement is not getting lost amongst the more dynamic performances. He has an analogue in an underutilized Zeljko Ivanek. Both are playing straight men (Ivanek to Harrelson, Farrell to everyone); both do rather well at it.

Also excellent are Linda Bright Clay and Tom Waits. Look fast for Crispin Glover.

McDonough’s Panavision composition is strong, ably assisted by Ben Davis’s photography. It’s occasionally too crisp.

Psychopaths is an excellently acted, excellently written amusement.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Martin McDonough; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Lisa Gunning; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin and McDonough; released by CBS Films.

Starring Colin Farrell (Marty), Sam Rockwell (Billy), Woody Harrelson (Charlie), Christopher Walken (Hans), Tom Waits (Zachariah), Abbie Cornish (Kaya), Olga Kurylenko (Angela), Linda Bright Clay (Myra), Kevin Corrigan (Dennis), Zeljko Ivanek (Paulo) and Long Nguyen (The Priest).


Sleepy Hollow (1999, Tim Burton)

For the majority of the running time, at least Sleepy Hollow isn’t boring. Burton gets in an event every ten minutes, which keeps it moving. It often gets really stupid and watching Johnny Depp’s histrionics get tiresome after the first five minutes, but at least it moves. Until the finale, which drags incredibly. Since the film is constructed as a mystery, once the villain’s identity is revealed, it becomes a lot less interesting. Burton could have done something better, but not much in Sleepy Hollow suggests he cares enough to bother.

Besides the supporting cast and the production design—and Emmanuel Lubezki’s photography, which is lovely—there’s nothing special about the film. For a lot of it, Depp is running around with costars Christina Ricci and Marc Pickering, looking like their babysitter. Ricci’s playing the love interest though, which would come off as odd if Depp was for one moment trying to create a believable character. Watching him primp around—his facial expressions could power a small town alone—is mind-numbing.

But the supporting cast features some excellent performances—Michael Gough, Ian McDiarmid and Richard Griffiths are all wonderful. Michael Gambon doesn’t do well though, neither does Jeffrey Jones. Miranda Richardson has some good moments and some awful ones.

The script’s stupid, but it’s unclear if any of the problems are Burton’s fault. His sensibilities—besides the production itself—are reined in. He even rips off a moment from Total Recall.

It’s a lame, worthless movie… but not intolerable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, based on a screen story by Kevin Yagher and Walker and a story by Washington Irving; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Chris Lebenzon and Joel Negron; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Scott Rudin and Adam Schroeder; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Ichabod Crane), Christina Ricci (Katrina Van Tassel), Miranda Richardson (Lady Van Tassel), Michael Gambon (Baltus Van Tassel), Casper Van Dien (Brom Van Brunt), Jeffrey Jones (Reverend Steenwyck), Richard Griffiths (Magistrate Philipse), Ian McDiarmid (Doctor Lancaster), Michael Gough (Notary Hardenbrook), Marc Pickering (Young Masbath), Lisa Marie (Lady Crane), Steven Waddington (Killian), Claire Skinner (Beth Killian), Christopher Lee (Burgomaster), Alun Armstrong (High Constable) and Christopher Walken (Hessian Horseman).


Last Man Standing (1996, Walter Hill)

Before Last Man Standing came out–when it was, presumably, going to be a hit because Willis was on one of his career upswings–I remember seeing Walter Hill say this film, his film, was going to improve on the source material (that source material being Kurosawa’s Yojimbo).

Hill borrows more liberally from the first remake of that film, A Fistful of Dollars, and adds some idiotic ingredients. The narration from Bruce Willis is atrocious, which isn’t a surprise, but worse is Willis’s performance. He got a big payday for this one and he’s clearly not interested in it, which isn’t surprising. It’s visibly–thanks to terrible performances from Bruce Dern, Ned Eisenberg, Michael Imperioli and Leslie Mann–a disaster. Hill’s script is full of lousy dialogue and is poorly paced, as he doesn’t seem to understand the viewer is going to recognize some of his “homage” to Dollars.

The music, from Ry Cooder, is awful. The opening, with it and Willis’s narration, would be enough to get up and walk out of the theater and demand a refund. It was a huge bomb (it barely made enough money in the States to cover Willis’s paycheck, let alone the other costs).

Hill doesn’t seem to understand what he should and shouldn’t be doing. Instead, he makes this confusing reality where the viewer has to participate instead of enjoy… and Willis brings zero charisma to the role. He does a lousy Clint Eastwood.

It’s not even worth watching as a curiosity.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Hill; screenplay by Hill, based on a film by Kikushima Ryuzo and Kurosawa Akira; director of photography, Lloyd Ahern II; edited by Freeman A. Davies; music by Ry Cooder; production designer, Gary Wissner; produced by Hill and Arthur M. Sarkissian; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Bruce Willis (John Smith), Bruce Dern (Sheriff Ed Galt), William Sanderson (Joe Monday), Christopher Walken (Hickey), David Patrick Kelly (Doyle), Karina Lombard (Felina), Ned Eisenberg (Fredo Strozzi), Alexandra Powers (Lucy Kolinski), Michael Imperioli (Giorgio Carmonte), Ken Jenkins (Capt. Tom Pickett), R.D. Call (Jack McCool), Ted Markland (Deputy Bob), Leslie Mann (Wanda) and Patrick Kilpatrick (Finn).


Last Embrace (1979, Jonathan Demme)

Last Embrace goes a long way in showing what’s wrong with Hitchcock homages. Most of Last Embrace isn’t even a real Hitchcock homage–it’s a Niagara homage and Niagara was Henry Hathaway–but Embrace is supposed to be Hitchcock, down to Miklos Rozsa’s score (but he never did any Hitchcock). So it’s kind of a second-hand Hitchcock homage, a homage to Hitchcock homages, only without being funny about it. Last Embrace shows why location shooting and accurate film stock (versus Technicolor) miss the majority of the point to the Hitchcock film. Oh, geez, I just remembered the last two references (I forgot the earlier ones, because the Niagara realization threw me). Psycho and Suspicion.

The problem with the bad Hitchcock homage is Demme, but the problem with the film overall is the screenplay. The film’s missing its denouement, sure, but it fails to tell its two stories–one, of a secret agent who has a breakdown and, two, of a man who’s on a mysterious hit list for something he doesn’t know he did. Last Embrace is from a novel and I’m sure the novel went deeper in to some of the particulars, but for the film to ignore the first plot once the second one takes over (much more entertaining, thanks to a wonderful Sam Levene). It’s a pointless ninety-seven minutes and not even an amusing experience.

Some of the acting is fantastic. Since Roy Scheider doesn’t have much to do–and he’s Cary Grant from Suspicion for the last fifteen minutes–his performance is best in pieces. Demme shoots New York beautifully and Scheider works great in New York, so it works out more often than not. Like I said above, Levene is a wonderful presence in the film and it’s impossible to imagine it without him. Janet Margolin, who I remember from nothing, is absolutely fantastic in the film. She really holds it together until Levene shows up. John Glover is–strangely–bad and annoying as an annoying professor, which is too bad.

The film runs ninety-seven minutes, but I doubt there’s a superior hundred and ten minute version out there. Demme tries to go for style above substance (or story) and when the best thing about your style is transitional shots of New York City… well, the movie’s in definite trouble. But most of the fault–there not being a main character, just someone who has different reactions to different people and different situations–falls on the script (and seeing screenwriter Shaber’s credits, Last Embrace is a singular achievement).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Demme; screenplay by David Shaber, based on a novel by Murray Teigh Bloom; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Barry Malkin; music by Miklos Rosza; produced by Michael Taylor and Dan Wigutow; released by United Artists.

Starring Roy Scheider (Harry Hannan), Janet Margolin (Ellie Fabian), John Glover (Richard Peabody), Sam Levene (Sam Urdell), Charles Napier (Dave Quittle), Christopher Walken (Eckart), Jacqueline Brookes (Dr. Coopersmith), David Margulies (Rabbi Josh Drexel), Andrew Duncan (Bernie Meckler) and Marcia Rodd (Adrian).


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