Cinema: Stanislavski would love Clint Eastwood
Sunday 16 May 1999
Clint Eastwood; 128 mins
Eternity and a Day (PG)
Theo Angelopoulos; 130 mins
Best Laid Plans (15)
Mike Barker; 93 mins
Get Real (15)
Simon Shore; 111 mins
A Price Above Rubies (15)
Boaz Yakin; 116 mins
Twin Dragons (12)
Tsui Hark/Ringo Lam; 95 mins
The Chess Players (PG)
Satyajit Ray; 113 mins
Parting Shots (12)
Michael Winner; 99 mins
Watching a film directed by Clint Eastwood reminds me of Stanislavski saying that "the person one is, is a thousand times more interesting than the best actor one could become". Eastwood is fixed on character in a way that supersedes second-rate concerns about technique. He seems involved with everything that might happen to his characters, even after the cast has gone to dinner, like a kind of Bagpuss mourning over not being able to monitor their whole lives. All his films are thick with peering.
At the same time, Eastwood is practical, logical, specific. As a director, he doesn't idolise, he entertains. In True Crime, he also plays Steve Everett, an investigative journalist on the Oakland Tribune. He is sent to write a piece about a convicted murderer, Frank Beachum (Isaiah Washington), who is scheduled to die that evening by lethal injection. Everett spots what he feels is a discrepancy in the testimony of the main witness, and starts barking Beachum's innocence.
His boss Alan (James Woods) is unimpressed. Everett used to drink, which meddled ruinously with his investigator's nose, and once got the paper to fight for the exoneration of a man who ultimately confessed to being a rapist. Actually, nobody is impressed. Not his wife, preoccupied with years of Everett's philandering, and not his daughter, who just wants her dad to take her to the zoo for a good look at the hippopotamus.
The film starts at eight o'clock in the morning, and Beachum is to die at one minute past midnight. With both deliberate laziness (lunch, placating the wife) and fierceness (Everett driving like a maniac, Everett trying to sober up), the film watches the clock. Eastwood sees the day itself as a character. You really recognise that strange, dragging time between two-thirty and four o'clock, or when it's suddenly six and you're hungry, and wish you hadn't thrown away that half bag of crisps, and if it wasn't an open-plan office you'd go through the bin. It feels very much like a Thursday, though I don't think it's ever specified as such.
True Crime is brilliantly atmospheric. Eastwood takes his time with every exchange, every glance, doting on feeling-tone and silence, and then noise and deadlines, and this day growing dark, and Beachum eating his last supper of steak and chips.
It's a witty film (Colleague: "More and more workers are campaigning about their right not to breathe second-hand smoke." Clint: "More and more scumbags don't care"), but very much in a ragged, end-of-an-era way. Everett is an old-fashioned hack, an off-white man, probably in off-white underwear, not quite at home with computers and pagers and seat belts. God knows what he makes of the Internet.
Which is where Stanislavski comes in. It's rare to feel that the lives in a film could occur concurrently with your own. There is nothing vacant about the people here, nothing glossed over to render them remote and unfascinating. Throughout, Eastwood delivers - in ways beyond simple narration - just enough of each character to give his film all kinds of sides, not least the most unhysterical stand on capital punishment I've seen. Meanwhile, the viewer gets to play both psychiatrist and pen-pal. It's a genuinely sensible, conscious piece of work.
Theo Angelopoulos's Eternity and a Day, winner of last year's Palme d'Or at Cannes, has Bruno Ganz playing a writer with a few months left to live. On his melancholy way to the sanatorium, he meets a young Albanian orphan (Achileas Skevis) and the pair embark on a largely wretched emotional journey.
The only worthwhile moments are those involving Skevis, who seems to be acting from his bowels. In one scene, faced with the tiny body of his friend at a mortuary, Skevis hides his tears from the camera with his hand, as though ashamed. It's a disturbingly accurate gesture - one that belongs to childhood, but is rarely remembered by child actors. The rest, although much lauded as haunting and full-toned, seemed to me to be tedious and suffocating. And its rapturous meanderings on history and art are naive and wholly uncertain.
Best Laid Plans is set in Tropico, anywhere USA. Nick (Alessandro Nivola) works for a local garbage company. The only thing he has going for him is his girlfriend, Lissa (Reese Witherspoon), who is blonde and rich- souled. Nick gets involved in a disastrous heist that renders him answerable to the local hard man. Desperate to help Nick raise the cash to buy his way out of trouble, Lissa offers to blackmail an old college friend. Here, the trouble really starts.
British director Mike Barker is meticulous in his plotting, so much so that you begin to wonder where all this is going and certainly how things will wind up. Tropico looks like a nightmare - poodle parlours and one woman eating a waffle in a diner - so you really do root for the charismatic couple, and back their dreams of escape. It's an exciting, clever film, and rewards us with a gloriously unusual finale.
Get Real is, in theme and spirit, somewhere between Grange Hill and Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing. Ben Silverstone plays a delicate 16-year-old, in love with the seemingly straight head boy at his Basingstoke school. The film is issue-deep, and compassionate towards gay teenagers who are petrified of not only other people's responses to their sexuality but, to a certain extent, their own.
A Price Above Rubies, a forced, oddly impassive emancipatory drama, has been hanging around for a couple of years. It's easy to see why. Renee Zellweger plays a young Jewish mother, doubting her suitability as the partner of a religious scholar. Melodramatic and ill-played, it sourly and irritatingly exaggerates its Jewish milieu.
Twin Dragons has identical twins (both played by Jackie Chan) separated at birth. The two are eventually reunited and mistaken for the other by their girlfriends. Hee hee. The whole film is quite simply a showcase for Chan's martial arts talent, and when I say whole, I mean it. Kick, whack, yelp, finito, phew.
Satyajit Ray's The Chess Players (1977) was aimed specifically at India's Hindi-speaking audience. Set in 1856 in Lucknow, it parallels the tale of chess players with the political tactics of the East India Company. This is a noble, thoughtful film, if a little spoilt by its more manic moments. The print itself isn't that great, which is unusual for the scrupulous NFT.
Prepare yourself for Parting Shots. A "jolly" (my arse) version of Death Wish starring ex-crooner Chris Rea and made by Michael Winner was never going to be much cop. But if you ever needed proof that the sight of active humanity actually fills Winner with nausea, then here it is. The human tangerine strikes again.
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