Gene Hackman

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987, Sidney J. Furie)

Roughly a third of Superman IV is missing, so it’s a little difficult to really form an opinion of the filmmakers’ intentions. I mean, it was an anti-nuclear proliferation movie… which suggests they were well-intentioned, but it’s impossible to know what they were trying to do with it as a film. For instance, it doesn’t have an ending. It also doesn’t have any real drama, but you can have an ending without any drama.

Some of the edits make me curious if anyone noticed, while it was being cut and recut and so on, if there’s the serious implication Lois Lane knows Clark Kent is Superman. There’s this weird scene at the beginning where we find out Superman takes Lois Lane out on flying dates then brainwashes her with the magic kiss (last seen in Superman II) whenever the date’s over. But the later scenes with Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve… it’s like they’re playing it like she knows. There’s a definite subtext. It’s nearly interesting.

The opening actually seems like the first real Superman sequel. It’s not awkward like II or gimmicky like III, as a tabloid tycoon swoops in to buy out the Daily Planet. It gives drama to the Clark Kent side of things and lots of opportunity for returning cast members Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure… then doesn’t do anything with them.

Furie’s actually got some good shots and the effects are–while terrible–occasionally ambitious.

And Hackman… even with terrible lines, he’s great.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney J. Furie; screenplay by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, based on a story by Christopher Reeve, Konner and Rosenthal and on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ernest Day; edited by John Shirley; music by Alexander Courage; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Superman / Clark Kent), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Jon Cryer (Lenny), Sam Wanamaker (David Warfield), Mark Pillow (Nuclear Man), Mariel Hemingway (Lacy Warfield), Damian McLawhorn (Jeremy), William Hootkins (Harry Howler), Jim Broadbent (Jean Pierre Dubois), Stanley Lebor (General Romoff), Don Fellows (Levon Hornsby) and Susannah York (Lara).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Superman II (1980, Richard Lester)

There are, now, three versions of Superman II. The theatrical, an extended television version (not officially released) and original director Richard Donner’s take on it. Unfortunately, Superman II is–as a narrative and a sequel–rife with problems. Drawing attention to these problems is a bad idea. And the version with the least emphasis on them? Richard Lester’s original.

Whatever Lester’s problem with the Superman character, it’s not really apparent here. Superman II feels like a good Superman movie should feel–some of the campy humor works, some of it doesn’t. I’d say about fifty percent of Terence Stamp’s lines fail. The successful ones, however, are great. And Sarah Douglas is fantastic.

Most importantly, Lester gets some wonderful acting out of Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve. The somewhat nonsensical romance doesn’t fit in the picture–and never will, no matter how many revisions people make–but it makes the film singular. Superman wasn’t a particularly long film series and the familiarity Lester gets out of Kidder and Reeve in this one, the first sequel, is something television shows usually have to go three or four seasons to achieve.

The special effects–particularly the flying sequences–are occasionally weak. There are a lot more complicated rear projection sequences than in the first film and they don’t work out very often.

Like I said before, Superman II‘s basically a bad idea for a movie. But it works out in the end, thanks to the actors and, yes, Lester.

That Paris opening’s great.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), Susannah York (Lara), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Superman (1978, Richard Donner), the director’s cut

If watching Richard Donner’s director’s cuts have taught me one thing, it’s Donner probably shouldn’t have final cut. His director’s cut of Lethal Weapon, for example, is atrocious.

He adds about nine minutes to Superman and, much like Coppola’s revision of Apocalypse Now, it’s a testament to the original film it can weather the additions. For the most part, Donner’s additions are small–I think the longest sequence is Superman versus Lex Luthor’s weapon gadgets–but these additions all go into the rather iconic sequences at the beginning of the film. In other words, Donner intrudes on the film in progress… it’s kind of like talking during the movie (or a big CG Jabba the Hutt all of a sudden appearing).

Worse, director’s cut editor Michael Thau can’t compare to original editor Stuart Baird (Superman‘s just an exquisitely edited film, an aspect I don’t think it ever gets recognized). And don’t get me started on the awful new sound mix.

But it can’t muck it up.

If anything, the director’s cut just shows Superman is bigger than the director and his troubles with the producers. The elements–the cast, the script, the effects crew and John Williams–are in place. Donner does a great job directing the picture, no doubt, but it’s never fit in his filmography. He’s never made anything half as good as a film and nothing a quarter as good as a director.

So, even though none of the additions add anything, Superman succeeds.

Wonderment outweighs bloating.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Young Frankenstein (1974, Mel Brooks)

Young Frankenstein does not feel like a Mel Brooks film. It’s so startlingly well-directed, one could almost believe he didn’t direct it himself. Brooks, for the film, has this way of keeping the camera mostly stationary and letting his actors and the sets do all the work–one can’t forget Gerald Hirschfeld’s amazing cinematography either.

Brooks–and Wilder, who co-wrote and runs wild with the film in the lead–have a sizable accomplishment here.

Wilder’s performance–and Brooks puts him in these insanely tight close-ups with an unwavering shot–is unbelievably good. Probably his best performance. He does so well alone, but also so perfectly with everyone else (Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn). It’s almost unfortunate when Young Frankenstein has to get moving with its plot, because it means it’s going to end.

Kahn’s got some hilarious moments in an extrovert role, while Garr’s a lot quieter but just as good. Garr might give the best straight acting performance. Feldman’s got maybe the flashiest role; Brooks’s tight direction keeps him from taking over the film, making sure it’s him, Garr and Wilder.

As the Monster, Peter Boyle does a fine job. It’s an almost entirely physical performance, but his facial expressions–even exaggerated–are ideal. It’s impossible to think of anyone else in the role.

Same goes for Gene Hackman’s cameo. It’s incredibly small, but it’s one of Hackman’s most memorable performances.

Reiterating, the only thing wrong with Young Frankenstein is it eventually has to end.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Brooks; screenplay by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, based on their story and a novel by Mary Shelley; director of photography, Gerald Hirschfeld; edited by John C. Howard; music by John Morris; production designer, Dale Hennesy; produced by Michael Gruskoff; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Wilder (Dr. Frankenstein), Peter Boyle (The Monster), Marty Feldman (Igor), Cloris Leachman (Frau Blücher), Teri Garr (Inga), Madeline Kahn (Elizabeth), Gene Hackman (Blindman), Kenneth Mars (Inspector Kemp), Richard Haydn (Herr Falkstein), Liam Dunn (Mr. Hilltop) and Danny Goldman (Medical Student).


The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

The Royal Tenenbaums is a profound examination of the human condition. It’s hard to think about Tenenbaums, which Anderson made as a precious object–he tends to put the actors on the right and fill the left side of the frame with exactly placed sundries, sometimes it’s the carefully placed minutiae, but he usually puts those items on either side of a centrally placed actor–as a character piece. The film tells the story of specific, highly fictional characters (I don’t think I’ve ever used highly to modify fictional before) in a very specific place–it’s New York, but it’s not New York. It’s an otherworldly setting. There are no “normal” people in the film until the end, and even then it’s questionable….

Watching Tenenbaums, the only thing I could think of as a comparison was something a writing professor once told one of my classmates. The student asked–after we just got through reading an interview with Faulkner–if he could write science fiction. The professor said sure, just as long as it was about the things (the human heart in conflict with itself, others and its environment) Faulkner had been talking about. The Royal Tenenbaums, with the meticulous sets, the strict composition and the exclusive characters, is like really good science fiction. The relationship between Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow (adoptive siblings in love) is not a Hollywood standard. Anderson and Owen Wilson’s script somehow makes such elements moving, but still funny (maybe not so much Luke Wilson and Paltrow, who are sort of the film’s protagonists–definitely the relationship between Gene Hackman and Danny Glover though).

Even Ben Stiller, who has the film’s easiest role (and gets the easiest out, which I always hold against him at the beginning of the film but never by the end), is irreplaceable. Stiller takes a backseat to Grant Rosenmeyer and Jonah Meyerson (as his sons); their interactions with Hackman are a much funnier way to spend running time, but the film still pulls Stiller in by the end, giving him one great moment in the film.

It’s incredible people–critics, the Academy Awards–didn’t recognize Hackman for this performance, because it’s the closest thing he’s ever done to a slapstick role and he’s perfect in it. It’s a magnificent performance, full of life–every time Hackman stops talking, there’s an anticipation for what he’s going to say next… the film’s a wonderful viewing experience, even after the drama takes over.

The way Anderson and Owen Wilson approach the drama is interesting. It isn’t the climax, which is a more comedic moment, it’s a little while before (I wonder if they used the same formula in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore–I know I should remember). Tenenbaums is so good it’s hard to write about, but five or six hundred words also can’t cover it all. I might never get around to mentioning the use of music–like the instrumental “Hey Jude” at the open or the Van Morrison at the close. I can’t remember it all.

Anjelica Huston’s great, Danny Glover’s great (why he doesn’t get more eclectic roles like this one I don’t understand), Paltrow and Luke Wilson are wonderful together–see, they deserve a few hundred words just themselves–and I haven’t even gotten to the narration read by Alec Baldwin.

I remember, going to see The Life Aquatic, wondering if Anderson could top Tenenbaums. He never will./p>

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Royal Tenenbaum), Anjelica Huston (Etheline Tenenbaum), Ben Stiller (Chas Tenenbaum), Gwyneth Paltrow (Margot Tenenbaum), Luke Wilson (Richie Tenenbaum), Owen Wilson (Eli Cash), Bill Murray (Raleigh St. Clair), Danny Glover (Henry Sherman), Seymour Cassel (Dusty) and Kumar Pallana (Pagoda); narrated by Alec Baldwin.


Class Action (1991, Michael Apted)

With Conrad L. Hall shooting it and James Horner (pre-Titanic and fame) scoring, Class Action is great looking and sounding. Apted’s composition is frequently excellent. But it’s a vehicle for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and it, rather unfortunately, eventually just works on that vehicle level. There’s no real surprises, no real content… just running time with good acting, directing and production values and nothing else. Class Action isn’t even an exciting courtroom drama. There are maybe three scenes in court. Most of the movie is Mastrantonio realizing she doesn’t want to be a heartless corporate lawyer and, given how evil her bosses act, it’s not a surprise.

There is one excellent underlying detail to the movie though–with Mastrantonio playing Gene Hackman’s daughter and Larry Fishburne playing his protégé, the film actually takes the time to acknowledge (but not explore, which is realistic but not necessarily the best move in such an anorexic story) their complicated relationship. The scenes with Mastrantonio and Fishburne are her best, mostly because her other relationships are generic. She’s mad at Dad, so those scenes have to play a certain way. The scenes with love interest Colin Friels are troublesome (as is Friels’s one note performance), because it’s unbelievable she’d ever be with him.

As for Hackman… he’s great in the scenes with Mastrantonio. Her worst and his best (she’s good throughout and excellent in parts, just not those). Even though Hall’s lighting is most loving for Mastrantonio (her skin glows), he’s very soft on Hackman too. The other Hackman scenes are somewhat standard Hackman material, but in the scenes with Mastrantonio, he’s exercising some of his other acting muscles.

The supporting cast–besides Jonathan Silverman (his performance in this one is indistinguishable from, say, Weekend at Bernie’s)–is solid, Jan Rubes, Fred Dalton Thompson and Matt Clark being the standouts. And Fishburne, of course.

Class Action is fine, but had it definitely gone either way–legal drama, family drama–it would have been in better shape. But for a movie written by a couple “Growing Pains” writers, it’s pretty good.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Apted; written by Carolyn Shelby, Christopher Ames and Samantha Shad; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Ian Crafford; music by James Horner; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Ted Field, Scott Kroopf and Robert W. Cort; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Hackman (Jedediah Tucker Ward), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Maggie Ward), Colin Friels (Michael Grazier), Joanna Merlin (Estelle Ward), Laurence Fishburne (Nick Holbrook), Donald Moffat (Fred Quinn), Jan Rubes (Alexander Pavel), Matt Clark (Judge R. Symes), Fred Dalton Thompson (Dr. George Getchell), Jonathan Silverman (Brian), Joan McMurtrey (Ann) and Anne Ramsay (Deborah).


Runaway Jury (2003, Gary Fleder)

I thought there were no anti-conservative Hollywood films for a long while after 9/11, so I guess Runaway Jury went under the radar. It appears to have been a significant bomb and, watching it, it seemed strange to see John Grisham’s name on screen. It’s been a long time since adaptations of his novels have been blockbusters… about as long as it’s been since Michael Crichton’s name was on blockbusters.

Runaway Jury went under my radar because I figured it wasn’t going to be very good and it isn’t. The plot’s unbelievable and annoying in its false complexity. Director Fleder and his four credited screenwriters play it like Coppola never succeeded in making Grisham good with The Rainmaker and… eh. Fleder is a mediocre director. His composition isn’t bad, he likes dumb editing and he shoots New Orleans poorly. Someone had a New Orleans guide book for the shoot and Fleder barely let the city, it being one of significant character, do anything. There’s more personality from the city in the background dialogue than in Fleder’s shots. But he’s not as bad as I assumed.

The acting is questionable. Dustin Hoffman can’t keep his New Orleans accent, Gene Hackman is playing a goofy bad guy from one of his 1990s movies–though the scene with Hoffman is nice, since Hackman lets loose with some Lex Luthor style fun lunacy (even though Hoffman just stands there). John Cusack is fine, playing John Cusack once again. Rachel Weisz is okay, if occasionally dubious in her emoting.

The best thing about Runaway Jury is the supporting cast–Guy Torry, Luis Guzmán, Nick Searcy, Cliff Curtis, Bill Nunn, Leland Orser and Bruce McGill. Joanna Going suffers from a bad accent as well. The supporting cast almost makes Jury feel like it’s a big event movie (like The Rainmaker). Almost.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Gary Fleder; written by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland and Matthew Chapman, based on the novel by John Grisham; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by William Steinkamp; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Nelson Coates; produced by Arnon Milchan, Fleder and Christopher Mankiewicz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring John Cusack (Nicholas Easter), Gene Hackman (Rankin Fitch), Dustin Hoffman (Wendell Rohr), Rachel Weisz (Marlee), Bruce Davison (Durwood Cable), Bruce McGill (Judge Harkin), Jeremy Piven (Lawrence Green), Nick Searcy (Doyle), Stanley Anderson (Henry Jankle), Cliff Curtis (Frank Herrera), Nestor Serrano (Janovich), Leland Orser (Lamb), Luiz Guzmán (Jerry Hernandez), Jennifer Beals (Vanessa Lembeck), Gerry Bamman (Herman Grimes), Joanna Going (Celeste Wood), Bill Nunn (Lonnie Shaver), Juanita Jennings (Loreen Duke), Marguerite Moreau (Amanda Monroe), Nora Dunn (Stella Hulic), Guy Torry (Eddie Weese) and Rusty Schwimmer (Millie Dupree).


All Night Long (1981, Jean-Claude Tramont)

There’s a certain tragedy about All Night Long. Not the film’s story or anything, but the film itself. It’s a debacle–Barbara Streisand is unbelievably terrible and the cuts made to the film (twenty minutes) significantly damage it–a painful to watch debacle. It’s such a chore to get through, I can’t imagine trying to watch it in the theater. IMDb’s trivia section is no help–Lisa Eichhorn, who’s excellent, was originally in Streisand’s role.

The tragedy aspect is Gene Hackman. It’s an amazing performance. Hackman’s performance is so good, it conquers the bad plotting, uninspired direction and annoying score. It just can’t beat Streisand. The funniest scenes–unintentionally–are the ones with Hackman acting well and Streisand acting horribly. One half of the screen is a good movie, the other half is All Night Long.

Further problems stem from the screenplay’s lack of emphasis on Hackman’s relationship with son Dennis Quaid. The two are fantastic together, something apparently the director didn’t realize when shooting the film. Diane Ladd’s also good (as the wife Hackman leaves for Streisand), but Kevin Dobson (as Streisand’s husband) leaves a lot to be desired once the plot requires anything from him.

Richter sets the film up as a comedy–it’s a real precursor to American Beauty–with Hackman managing an all-night pharmacy after losing his office job. Way too little time is spent in the pharmacy though, even though the film populates with odd-ball characters and appealing ones too. Once Hackman leaves, around halfway through, the rest of the film becomes the back and forth of pursuing Streisand.

Something about the script suggests a real lack of maturity (though Richter was thirty-six), particularly in the way all the good guys get a happy ending. The real problems the characters experience are never addressed. Hackman walks out on his wife of seventeen years immediately, though the film never shows any particular problems with their marriage, except her wanting him to apologize to his old boss and he doesn’t want to do it. It’s sloppy writing, sloppy editing and so forth. Director Tramont did very little else–maybe theatrical audiences couldn’t sit through it, no shock–and, as the film ended, I thought about who would have done a better job of directing it. Practically anyone is the obvious and glib answer… but also maybe the right one. Still, it sounds like (from the IMDb trivia page) the producers really wanted Streisand and she’s the overriding problem with the film.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jean-Claude Tramont; written by W.D. Richter; director of photography, Philip H. Lathrop; edited by Rachel Igel and Marion Rothman; music by Richard Hazard, Ira Newborn and José Padilla; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Leonard Goldberg and Jerry Weintraub; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (George Dupler), Barbra Streisand (Cheryl Gibbons), Diane Ladd (Helen Dupler), Dennis Quaid (Freddie Dupler), Kevin Dobson (Bobby Gibbons) and William Daniels (Richard H. Copleston).


Extreme Measures (1996, Michael Apted)

Thanks to a frantic trip through the New York skyline and Danny Elfman’s familiar score, Extreme Measures’s opening credits play like an unused Batman sequel opening… until the two naked guys run out on to the street. It’s an odd opening (and the naked guys and their plight are compelling enough one forgets Elfman until his credit comes up… then the opening makes more sense).

Strangely, Elfman quickly shifts gears and turns in a reasonable thriller score. Apted’s a great thriller director too–there’s one particular sequence I found myself getting agitated while watching, even though it’s perfectly clear the movie is not going to have some twist ending. In fact, the film gets off to a really unique start and keeps a solid quality pace until the resolution turns out to be a twenty minute, real time sequence. Really drags the movie down.

The reason for Extreme Measures being so damn peculiar is Hugh Grant. I’m not sure if he’s changed lately, but during his 1990s rise, Grant was actually rather unique–every movie, he played a variation on his Four Weddings and a Funeral performance. Had his British accent, that tight smile, the goofy hair. Extreme Measures is like watching some guy who ought to be bickering with Sandra Bullock instead get chased around by crazed FBI agent David Morse (Morse is fine playing a… crazed FBI agent, but I hate seeing him wasted in shallow roles). It’s hilarious and it really does work well for a thriller.

Unfortunately, besides Grant, the cast is questionable. Some of the problems stem from it being a thriller and everyone being a suspect, so there isn’t the opportunity for good character relationships (though a nice, lengthy build-up to a betrayal scene would not have hurt–however, Sarah Jessica Parker is terrible and the betrayal scene might have been centered around her and… it would have instead been awful). It wasn’t until the middle I realized there wasn’t going to be a romance between Parker and Grant. Then I realized it maybe wasn’t even giving the impression there was going to be one. I just assumed; it wasn’t so much anything in the movie, rather Parker was supposed to be playing a regular person… except, regardless of acting talent, Parker is a movie star… which probably made her performance even worse.

Gene Hackman is sort of around–I remember he was revealed as the villain in the trailer and it wouldn’t have been possible to show him as anything else. All of his scenes suggest great villainy and he’s a lot of fun when he’s being the villain, it’s when he supposed to be human too. Doesn’t work, makes Extreme Measures seem unaware of its place as a straight thriller with incredibly goofy aspects.

Bill Nunn’s in it a bit and he’s good, so is John Toles-Bey, so is Paul Guilfoyle. The ending’s failure could have been easily averted, but since Grant’s character actually had very little visual to lose or fight for (he’s doing it because he believes in being a doctor) there’s a bit of a quandary. But the ending they went with simply didn’t work following the twenty minute sequence. They sped the film up and then slowed it too suddenly. They needed to give things actual time to sit; instead the ending feels forced and empty.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Apted; written by Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Michael Palmer; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Rick Shaine; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Doug Kraner; produced by Elizabeth Hurley; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Hugh Grant (Dr. Guy Luthan), Gene Hackman (Dr. Lawrence Myrick), Sarah Jessica Parker (Jodie Trammel), David Morse (Frank Hare), Bill Nunn (Burke), Paul Guilfoyle (Dr. Jeffrey Manko) and John Toles-Bey (Bobby).


Wyatt Earp (1994, Lawrence Kasdan), the expanded edition

Thirty-nine years old when Wyatt Earp was released, all Kevin Costner needed to do to de-age himself twenty years was smile. During the young Earp days, Costner looks younger than costar Annabeth Gish, not to mention Linden Ashby (playing his younger brother).

The extended version of Wyatt Earp clocks in at three and a half hours. It’s not available on DVD, which is a shame, since it’s the only way to watch the film. Wyatt Earp is a tragedy, spending an hour setting up the character as an affable, hopeful (and a little simple) young man, then destroys him. If he weren’t destroyed, of course, he wouldn’t be much of a main character but I’d forgotten how affecting his destruction is to watch. The film is unique in its lack of acts–first, second and third–it follows the character from youth and, while it must skip some boring parts, contains little in the way of rising action. For example, there’s every indication Joanna Going is going to be as insignificant to the film overall as Téa Leoni. In fact, Leoni’s got more potential as a romantic interest than Going.

The romance between Costner and Going, the emotional reconstruction of his character, is one of the more singular things about the film, as is the friendship with Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holliday. For the first hour and a half, the strong emphasis on the Earp brothers (for someone who constantly derides the film, Michael Madsen has never been as good as he is in this film). The scenes with the brothers rarely allow for emotion in the first half (family being pre-decided) but the relationship with Holliday allows for not just wonderful scenes, but also a striking rumination on friendship.

Those scenes, the romantic ones and the friendship ones, allow Costner to act. After the first hour, he quickly becomes the uncompromising Wyatt Earp of legend. Only Going and Quaid provide an outlet for the emotion left behind. Except for when the film makes its big final change–the film goes through three major moods, which I guess could be used to mark act changes, but not really–and these moods are marked gradually. They’re the sum of what’s come before in the story… the last one is the best, because it allows Costner to visualize it for the audience, something the first one doesn’t provide.

Before I forget–a major aspect of Wyatt Earp is its condemnation of the West and its settlers. Not just the Indians, which is only barely suggested–the contrast between the scenes in civilized Missouri, the untouched West and the “settled” West are striking. It’s a lot like High Noon in its portrayal of (the majority) of the townspeople throughout.

The acting is uniformly excellent, though I suppose Quaid gives the best performance. I’d sort of forgotten he was going to be in it, since he doesn’t show up for an hour and twenty and then he has his first scene and I remembered what an exceptional performance he gives. Gene Hackman is the Earp family father for the first hour and he’s good (his performance might be what makes Costner’s as a twenty-two year-old more work). Like I said, Michael Madsen’s actually good for once and Linden Ashby’s great. JoBeth Williams, David Andrews and Lewis Smith all have some good scenes. Bill Pullman too. But I really could just list the majority of the cast, all of them have good scenes.

Kasdan’s direction is fantastic, both in the scenes between characters and the more epical, Western-type shots. Wyatt Earp is one of the last biopics I’ve seen–the genre seems to have petered out, but maybe I’ve just stopped seeing them because they all look terrible or something. Most are terrible, but there are some great films like this one. Still, even the good ones are often simple, and Wyatt Earp is exceptionally complex.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Dan Gordon and Kasdan; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Carol Littleton; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner and Kasdan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Wyatt Earp), Dennis Quaid (Doc Holliday), Gene Hackman (Nicholas Earp), David Andrews (James Earp), Linden Ashby (Morgan Earp), Jeff Fahey (Ike Clanton), Joanna Going (Josie Marcus), Mark Harmon (Johnny Behan), Michael Madsen (Virgil Earp), Catherine O’Hara (Allie Earp), Bill Pullman (Ed Masterson), Isabella Rossellini (Big Nose Kate), Tom Sizemore (Bat Masterson), JoBeth Williams (Bessie Earp), Mare Winningham (Mattie Blaylock), James Gammon (Mr. Sutherland), Rex Linn (Frank McLaury), Randle Mell (John Clum), Annabeth Gish (Urilla Sutherland), Lewis Smith (Curly Bill Brocius), Betty Buckley (Virginia Earp), Alison Elliott (Lou Earp), Todd Allen (Sherm McMasters), Mackenzie Astin (Young Man on Boat), Jim Caviezel (Warren Earp), Karen Grassle (Mrs. Sutherland), John Dennis Johnston (Frank Stillwell), Téa Leoni (Sally), Martin Kove (Ed Ross), Kirk Fox (Pete Spence), Boots Southerland (Marshall White), Scotty Augare (Indian Charlie), Gabriel Folse (Billy Clanton), John Lawlor (Judge Spicer), Michael McGrady (John Shanssey), Mary Jo Niedzielski (Martha Earp) and Ian Bohen (Young Wyatt).


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