"We all got it coming, kid."

The 65th annual Academy Awards for the film year 1992.

Best Picture:  Unforgiven

  • The Crying Game
  • Howards End
  • A Few Good Men
  • Scent of a Woman

Most Surprising Omission:  The Player

Best Film Not Nominated:  Last of the Mohicans

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #30

note:  If the Academy had nominated The Player instead of Scent of a Woman this year would rank #5.

The Race:  The team of producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory were back with writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and were again adapting an E.M. Forster novel.  This had been the formula for a Best Picture nomination and 3 Oscars for A Room with a View.  And from the minute they released Howards End, it looked like they were in for a repeat.  It opened just before the Oscars with Anthony Hopkins in a key role, but it was Emma Thompson, most known for starring in her husband Kenneth Branagh’s films, who was getting the most attention and had everyone talking Oscar.  For five weeks it only played in one theater – the Paris in New York City – but it kept drawing in the crowds.

By the time it was expanding, Howards End had a rival for critical attention.  Robert Altman hadn’t made a film that had gotten an Oscar nomination since Nashville in 1975, but his new film, The Player, which bitterly satirized Hollywood, also had its attention.  The film was getting rave reviews, in spite of the studio head’s disinterest, and Altman, in his late sixties, was suddenly a hot commodity again.

A summer full of bad films (three box-office champs in a row had been Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, Mo’ Money and Death Becomes Her) came to a halt the first weekend of August.  Westerns had long been considered dead in the water for box office and awards but Kevin Costner had changed all that with Dances with Wolves.  Now, Clint Eastwood was back, with his first Western in seven years.  Unforgiven was made from a script that Eastwood had sat on for over a decade until he decided he was old enough for it and it immediately became a hit when it hit the screen – Eastwood’s highest grossing film as an actor or director, the top film for three weeks in a row and critical acclaim the likes of which the actor / director had never seen.

The fall, as always, brought an onslaught of Oscar-oriented films.  There was Malcolm X, Spike Lee’s biopic of the slain Muslim leader, which Lee thought important enough that he encouraged African-American kids to skip school to go see.  There was A Few Good Men, Rob Reiner’s film version of Aaron Sorkin’s hit play, with big names Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson.  There was also a double-whammy from Al Pacino – as a supporting player in the film version of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and as the star of Scent of a Woman, a remake of the Oscar-nominated 1975 Italian film.

The LA Film Critics were the first out of the gate and they were all about Unforgiven.  Eastwood’s film took home Best Picture, Screenplay and Supporting Actor while Eastwood himself won Best Director and Actor.  But it had to content itself with only a Top 10 finish from the National Board of Review, which threw its support (and its award for Best Picture, Director and Actress) to Howards End.  Then came the New York Film Critics and they gave Best Picture and Director to The Player.  But the New Yorkers spread their wealth a bit, giving acting awards to Howards End, Malcolm X and Unforgiven.  But they also gave Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress to a new Irish film that was spreading the next day from 9 theaters where it had been doing very well to 88.  It was called The Crying Game and it was from director Neil Jordan, who had been critically acclaimed for Mona Lisa, but after coming to Hollywood and failing spectacularly, had gone back to Ireland and made a film that dealt with “the troubles,” and a bizarre mystery.

The Crying Game was quickly becoming the most talked about film around.  When the Golden Globes announced their nominations just after Christmas, it had managed to land alongside Unforgiven, Howards End, A Few Good Men and Scent of a Woman in the Best Picture – Drama race.  That was all it was up for, though, while Unforgiven, Howards End, A Few Good Men and The Player were all up for Picture, Director and Screenplay and The Player was almost assured of winning Best Picture – Comedy and Best Actor – Comedy.

But before the Globes could affect momentum too much, the National Society of Film Critics agreed with their LA brethren and gave Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actor to Unforgiven (though Crying Game won Actor and Howards End, like in every other race, won Actress).

The Golden Globes added much more drama than was expected.  The Player and Robbins did win as did Eastwood.  But Best Picture – Drama, Best Actor – Drama and Best Screenplay all went to Scent of a Woman, a surprise that became a scandal when it was revealed shortly after the show that the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press had accepted a large junket from the producers of Scent.  A film with mixed reviews had beaten the best reviewed films of the year and suddenly the Globes needed the Oscars to agree with them at least somewhat to regain some respectability.

The Writers Guild and Producers Guild both lent the HFPA some dignity when they both nominated Scent of a Woman, but the DGA didn’t see things their way.  The DGA nominees were all starting to look the front-runners: Unforgiven, The Player, Howards End, The Crying Game and A Few Good Men.  Of those five, A Few Good Men was bumped at the WGA and The Player was bumped at the PGA (by Scent).  Then, just before the Oscar nominations, the PGA announced their winner, a big deal, since all the previous winners had gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.  This time, it wasn’t the front-runner Unforgiven, but rather the indie Irish film, The Crying Game that took home the award.

The Results:  For the sixth time in seven years no film was in double-digits.  Unforgiven and Howards End both had 9 and both were expected to do well, not having to compete against each other in the acting or writing categories.  The Crying Game had six nominations, and was in for all the major ones, including Actor.  A Few Good Men was in the race, but had only picked up 4 nominations and wasn’t in the race for either Director or Screenplay – the first live-action film to miss out on both categories in 9 years.  Surprisingly, it was The Player that picked up those nominations – not surprising that it was nominated, but that a Best Picture nomination wasn’t alongside them.  It had been bumped from that race by Scent of a Woman, which only had 4 nominations, but made the best use of them – Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Actor.

The guilds started to heat up the race.  Unforgiven won the DGA, but The Player and The Crying Game won the two WGA awards.  And Unforgiven was out of theaters, while The Crying Game was picking up momentum, especially because no one could stop talking about the secret – people hushed up if they found out you hadn’t seen the film and critics were divided on whether or not to keep it, knowing, in a sense, that the Academy had already revealed it.  Suddenly the race was looking more wide-open than it had been.

But all of that ended on Oscar night.  Unforgiven did lose Best Actor to Scent and Best Original Screenplay to The Crying Game, but Howards End‘s big wins (Actress, Adapted Screenplay) were in the categories Unforgiven wasn’t competing in.  In the end, it was Eastwood who took home two Oscars – for Director and as the producer of Best Picture.  After 40 years in the industry, the Academy had finally welcomed him.

Clint Eastwood's masterpiece: Unforgiven (1992)

Unforgiven

  • Director:  Clint Eastwood
  • Writer:  David Webb Peoples
  • Producer:  Clint Eastwood
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor (Eastwood), Supporting Actor (Hackman), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction
  • Oscar Points:  440
  • Length:  131 min
  • Genre:  Western
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  7 August 1992
  • Box Office Gross:  $101.15  (#11 – 1992)
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #49  (nominees)  /  #19  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor (Eastwood), Supporting Actor (Hackman), Supporting Actress (Fisher), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Sound Editing, Makeup
  • Nighthawk Points:  515
  • First Watched:  at the old Hillsboro theater in Hillsboro, OR on opening day

The Film:  This is the film that Clint Eastwood was always destined to make.  All of his career, from Rawhide, to bit parts, to the Man with No Name, to the cop and Westerns he made in his first two decades as a director, all seemed to form a straight path.  He never could have played this role when younger – he needed to age properly into it, and he always knew that.  He sat on the script for over a decade before he decided to finally film it.  But then he not only decided to film it, but also to people it with several other actors who were also perfectly designed for the roles which they played.  In a film that is often remembered for one of the great supporting performances of all-time (the magnificent portrayal of the sadistic Little Bill by Gene Hackman, perhaps the greatest character actor outside of Claude Rains) and which stands out for the greatest performance in the over 50 years of Clint Eastwood’s acting career, this film is actually a remarkable ensemble piece.

Look at the quiet defeat in the eyes of Morgan Freeman when he knows that Little Bill is not going to let him live.  Look at the fear deep in the eyes of Richard Harris when he realizes that Little Bill has the drop on him and there is no way out.  Look at the quiet determination in the face of Frances Fisher (and what a brilliant idea of casting her – Eastwood’s long-time lover, who almost never is on-screen with him).  It is the way that all of these characters work together on-screen that transforms this into one of the greatest Westerns ever made (the second greatest on the list I wrote here).

But of course it is also about the masterful script and the way it is delivered.  There are so many brilliant lines, delivered in just the right way that I couldn’t possibly list all of them.  There is the great speech that Hackman gives to the poor, pathetic biographer who has swept into town with English Bob, only to watch him beaten and humiliated.  That speech functions much like this film itself, tearing down all those old-fashioned John Wayne myths about the Old West, and bringing in a stark, new reality.  Or the way that Hackman screams “You just shot an unarmed man!” and Eastwood calmly replies “Well he should have armed himself if he’s going to decorate his saloon with my friend.”  The first part of the line was used in the trailer to darkly humorous effect, but the whole line underscores the depth of friendship that leads to the final confrontation in the film.  “It’s a hell of thing, killing a man,” we are told.  “Well, I guess they had it coming,” comes the reply from the young cowboy who is in way, way over his head.  “We all have it coming, kid,” comes the dark reply that wouldn’t have sounded right from any actor other than Eastwood.

The greatest asset to this film wasn’t Eastwood the actor.  Nor was it even Hackman or Freeman or Harris, or even the magnificent script by Peoples.  It was Eastwood the director.  He knew exactly how much violence to show, exactly how to light the epic journey, how much darkness to bring in for the climactic fury.  He knew exactly how much to tell Hackman to give to his role and when to pull it back, how much to balance the charm and the sadistic flames.  Most importantly, he knew exactly what to tell Eastwood the actor.  When Little Bill is lying on the ground, complaining that he doesn’t deserve to die like this, it was Eastwood the director who told Eastwood the actor not to smile, not to give even a hint of satisfaction like Dirty Harry would have had when he gives that fateful line and pulls that trigger, the line that sums up so much about this film: “Deserve’s got nothin to do with it.”

don't tell anyone the secret of The Crying Game

The Crying Game

  • Director:  Neil Jordan
  • Writer:  Neil Jordan
  • Producer:  Stephen Woolley
  • Studio:  Miramax
  • Stars:  Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, Jaye Davidson, Forrest Whitaker
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor (Rea), Supporting Actor (Davidson), Editing
  • Oscar Points:  265
  • Length:  112 min
  • Genre:  Suspense
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  25 November 1992
  • Box Office Gross:  $62.54 mil  (#20 – 1992)
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2  (year)  /  #50  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Davidson), Supporting Actress (Richardson), Editing
  • Nighthawk Points:  290
  • First Watched:  at the Tanasbourne theater in Beaverton, OR with my sister, Alison in April, 1993 just before the theater was demolished

The Film:  This film could have ended one scene earlier.  It would have been a great ending.  We could watch the camera focus ever more tightly on poor Fergus sitting on the bed, wiping away the fingerprints, pressing his fingers to the handle of the gun and waiting as those sirens grow ever closer.  Then it would be all black and we can only imagine what the fate of him would come to.  Nothing more need be on screen and we would have a great ending.  But instead, we get something more.  Sometimes that is a bad thing.  L.A. Confidential would be a better film if it ended with Guy Pearce saying “You’ll need two,” rather than adding the final scene.  But what Neil Jordan does here is amazing.  He tops himself.  He gives us a great ending and then he adds an extra scene and instead of blowing it, he creates one of the all-time great endings.

“Life was such a wheel that no man could stand upon it for long.  And it always, at the end, came round to the same place again.”  Those are the last words of The Stand and I think of them anytime a film comes perfectly back around to itself (Danny Boyle comes to mind here).  That’s what Jordan does, as Fergus sits there and looks at Dill and explains, very calmly, about the frog and the scorpion.  It is exactly what needs to be said at the moment and that Jordan thought to do it is remarkable.

Good writing takes you where the characters are going.  Bad writing takes you where the plot needs to take you.  It’s why I don’t read most mystery novels – they necessarily must conform to the structure of the plot.  But Jordan here, takes us where the characters are taking us.  After all, if you were to just catch the first half hour of the film, to see the growing friendship between an IRA member and a captured British soldier, and then you were to just watch the climax, if not for the presence of the same actor, you would never be able to guess that this was the same film.  But this was where the characters had brought us.  They are fully-formed, well-written, interesting characters, and we come to care about them and what is going to happen next.

That’s the real key to The Crying Game.  It never really was about the secret – in fact, the secret gets lost in the act of compassion that brings Fergus to his all-important act.  The secret made for great marketing and it made for a wonderful shock deep into the film.  But hell, because of the Oscar nominations, I already knew what the secret was before I had a chance to go see the film and I still thought it was brilliant.  It’s about the journey and the journey is a magnificent one.

only connect . . .

Howards End

  • Director:  James Ivory
  • Writer:  Ruth Prawer Jhabvala  (from the novel by E.M. Forster)
  • Producer:  Ismail Merchant
  • Studio:  Sony Pictures Classics
  • Stars:  Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Thompson), Supporting Actress (Redgrave), Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Oscar Points:  380
  • Length:  140 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Literary Adaptation)
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Release Date:  13 March 1992
  • Box Office Gross:  $25.96 mil  (#48 – 1992)
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #5  (year)  /  #160  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Thompson), Actress (Bonham-Carter), Supporting Actor (Hopkins), Supporting Actress (Redgrave), Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Nighthawk Points:  375
  • First Watched:  on video  –  late 1993

The Film:  Only connect.  Those words are written as an epigraph to the novel Howards End, and the very thought hangs over the film.  The Schlegels and the Wilcoxes connect, far more often than they would prefer, and in ways they don’t necessarily enjoy.  But they do make that connection – son and sister, mother and other sister, father and other sister, house and sisters together.  And there, of course, are other connections – with poor Leonard Bast, with his wife, with the world that they inhabit that the Schlegels would consider an almost academic study.  The novel was a reminder that we are all, in fact, connected, that the actions we take have consequences far beyond what we can possibly imagine, and that sometimes things do come around to where they were supposed to be.  The film, one of the great examples of an adaptation of a great novel, does all of this in perfect stride, winning Ruth Prawher Jhabvala her second Oscar – both for adapting a Forster novel for a Merchant / Ivory film.

There are people out there who really can’t stand the Merchant / Ivory films.  There is an amusing little diatribe against them in the original novel High Fidelity, perhaps understandable from a Brit who is resisting what he is constantly being told is the height of British culture.  But the best of them – this, A Room with a View, The Remains of the Day – aren’t just high culture at its best, impeccable adaptations of great novels with remarkable performances and first-rate looks.  They are also wonderfully entertaining.  If Howards End was just a Masterpiece Theatre adaptation, without any real life to it, it would probably just get into my **** range or just below it and I would slowly forget what I thought was great about it.  But look at the relationship between these two very different sisters, the Schlegels, look at the performances of Emma Thompson (one of the great leading actress performances of all-time and rightfully the winner of every single award for the year) and Helena Bonham-Carter and watch the very real sense and sensibility of Margaret and the more down-to-earth sensuality alive in Helen.  Then look at the Wilcox family, the staid, true performance of Anthony Hopkins, in the same year as his enjoyably over-the-top performance as Van Helsing and think of how worlds away this is from Hannibal Lector.  And don’t forget about the wonderfully alive, passionate lover of her home, his wife, played so exquisitely by Vanessa Redgrave.  Thompson and Redgrave got all the attention from the awards groups, but Hopkins and Bonham-Carter deserved recognition as well.

This film works so well because it is everything that a Henry James novel is not.  Rather than being so obsessed with every thought of the upper class, it dares to look below the pinnacle of society and to note the differences.  Poor Leonard Bast tries so hard to make a better man of himself, and there are those who would help him and everything in life seems to conspire against him – perhaps he is a genius for if ever there is a confederacy of dunces, then this would be it.

It is perhaps to say enough about this film: that in the more modern era where films stay alive for a few weekends and then flame out, this film played for over a year at the KOIN Center in Portland, every week continuing to outlast whatever new art film came and was gone two weekends later.  It stayed because people wanted to see it and it’s out in the Criterion Collection because people continue to want to see it.

Rob Reiner finally gets a Best Picture nomination and doesn't get a Best Director nomination

A Few Good Men

  • Director:  Rob Reiner
  • Writer:  Aaron Sorkin  (from his play)
  • Producer:  David Brown  /  Rob Reiner  /  Andrew Scheinman
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Stars:  Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, Keifer Sutherland
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Supporting Actor (Nicholson), Editing, Sound
  • Oscar Points:  125
  • Length:  138 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Courtroom)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  11 December 1992
  • Box Office Gross:  $141.34 mil  (#5 – 1992)
  • Ebert Rating:  **.5
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #12  (year)  /  #241  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Nicholson)
  • Nighthawk Points:  70
  • First Watched:  with my entire family, Christmas weekend 1992 at the Westgate theater in Beaverton, OR

The Film:  From the first second that he appears in the film, Jack Nicholson takes it over.  As a powerful presence, it’s hard to compare with the performance of Nicholson as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup.  At Christmas of 1992, it was all anyone who had been to the movies was talking about.  And his line “You can’t handle the truth,” is still one of the best remembered lines in all of cinema history.  It’s a shame that it couldn’t have been in any other year than the one in which Gene Hackman gave one of the great supporting performances of all-time in Unforgiven, but that’s the way these things go sometimes.  And it’s not like Jack needed another Oscar.

But there are things about the film that are lost in the bravura of the performance.  There are things about what he is saying in that scene that still echo across the year – especially now that we can look at the film and not think of a small little Marine base on the edge of a hostile foreign nation, but as a word filled with shadow and fear and the larger story of what has gone on there.  I write this review on the morning of September 11, 2011 rather than watching all the remembrances on television and I think of what Guantanamo has come to mean.  And I think of what Jessup has to say in his courtroom scene.  Because it doesn’t end with those shouted out words.  Listen to the next line: “Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.”  Jessup was made for the current war on terror – the type of man to sit there, 3000 yards from Cubans trained to kill him and eat his breakfast.  He wouldn’t have cared what was going on inside Guantanamo – he would have seen that as part of the world order.  The key to understanding him is a later line: “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”  When he talks about honor, code and loyalty, he has very specific ideas about what they mean.  And, of course, what they mean is different to different people.  To some, it is a question of doing what they feel is necessary to provide that freedom.  To others, it is a question that you can’t do certain things, because that tarnishes the very idea of freedom in the first place.  Think of what Benjamin Franklin said: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  In many ways, this is a post-9/11 film, set in one of the key locations of the post-9/11 world, made a decade before these events would change us into that world.  But it also has that extra little point about honor and code and loyalty.  For, remember, at the end, Dawson and Downey are kicked out of the Marines and Dawson understands why.  It is about that very code – because they are supposed to protect those who need protection and sometimes that isn’t who you think.

So those are the great things about Nicholson’s performance – not only how amazing it is, but how much it speaks out on subjects that Sorkin never could have been imagining at the time.  But there is a slight drawback as well.  If you think of the film, odds are you are thinking of Nicholson’s performance, and that’s too bad.  This whole film is a great ensemble piece.  True, there is Nicholson’s over-powering performance and there is the fact that Sorkin writes it all so well that nearly everything that comes out of Tom Cruise’s mouth is pure gold – I can’t ever imagine the Tom Hulce performance on stage because Tom Cruise is the perfect person to play Danny Kaffee – the one actor who absolutely has the right mix of cockiness and naivete, knowing exactly how to deliver every line.  But this film also has the best performance of Demi Moore’s career, a great, more subtle performance from Kevin Pollak, a fantastic (as always) supporting turn from Kevin Bacon and a frightening performance of pure menace from Keifer Sutherland.

And if you want to think of the film and you want to remember something aside from Nicholson, here’s a moment to remember, a moment that says so much more than they could have been thinking at the time, that echoes through the years, and will continue to do so as the events of our lives unfold.  “Why do you hate them so much?”, Lt. Galloway asks Lt. Weinberg, about their clients.  “They beat up on a weakling,” he tells her.  “That’s all they did.”  Then he asks her the opposite: “Why do you like them so much?”  And she gives her own answer: “Because they stand on a wall and say, ‘Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.’ ”  And in that dichotomy is the division that still stands between so many as they look out at those walls that the men stand on with guns.

I still can't believe Al Pacino won an Oscar for this crappy movie

Scent of a Woman

  • Director:  Martin Brest
  • Writer:  Bo Goldman  (from the novel by Giovanni Arpino)
  • Producer:  Martin Brest
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Stars:  Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Pacino)
  • Oscar Points:  205
  • Length:  157 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  23 December 1992
  • Box Office Gross:  $63.09 mil  (#19 – 1992)
  • Ebert Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rating:  **
  • My Rank:  #93  (year)  /  #468  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Points:  none
  • First Watched:  on video – summer 1993

The Film:  In an effort to have a fresh view on all of the Best Picture nominees, I have re-watched every single nominee before writing about them.  That way they are still in my mind, I can remember what the hell happened and why I feel the way I feel about them.  But don’t be fooled.  Don’t think for a minute that just because I am re-watching all of these films that I am not making judicious use of the fast-forward button.

There was certainly no way I was going to sit calmly and endure this film for 157 minutes.  It makes me livid to think that Al Pacino, the man who gave us perhaps the greatest acting stretch of all-time, when in a four year stretch, he starred in The Godfather, Scarecrow, Serpico, The Godfather Part II and Dog Day Afternoon, won his only Oscar for this film.  It makes me more livid that such a brilliant, sly, witty film like The Player would get knocked out of the Best Picture category by this piece of crap.  We won’t even mention the Golden Globes.

The Academy has a long history of rewarding mediocrity.  We have only now finished the only decade in which the Academy didn’t nominate a single truly mediocre film.  But they rarely dip into the depth of bad films, at least in the Best Picture category.  But Scent of a Woman, quite frankly, is a bad film, the worst Best Picture nominee since the 1970 double whammy of Airport and Love Story.

Here’s the main question: would the film be so relentlessly bad if it had simply focused on Colonel Chase and his weekend?  If you haven’t seen it, the gist of the story is thus: Al Pacino plays Lt. Colonel Frank Chase, a blind veteran (blind through his own fault) who is being baby-sat over Thanksgiving weekend by a prep student on scholarship.  They go to New York, see Frank’s family and then embark on a crazy weekend that involves him driving, dancing, visiting a prostitute and generally making a nuisance of himself, at the end of which, he plans to blow his brains out (it’s hardly a spoiler to say this – it’s on the stupid poster).  Of course, because it’s a crappy weak-willed Hollywood film, there’s no way that Frank will actually kill himself.  Charlie, the prep student, will find a way to talk him out of it in an emotional scene.  Al Pacino plays Frank as a man on the edge and there are moments where we remember how truly talented he is, but this performance is way over the top, in that bad way that only a great actor like Pacino can do (for other examples of this see John Malkovich or Tommy Lee Jones).

That’s what the original Italian film was.  But for the American version we have a whole extra subplot.  Charlie has seen an act of vandalism on campus and is being pressed with either a bribe of getting into Harvard or possibly expulsion depending on whether or not he divulges the names of the culprits.  So now what we have for a conclusion is a ridiculous school committee meeting (held, apparently, in front of the entire school) without a single shred of realism in which, of course, Charlie will not divulge the names and Frank will defend him in scenes that take his over-the-top performance and sends it somewhere into orbit.  If you don’t know what the ending holds you have either never seen a single Hollywood film or you are as dumb as a rock.  There’s no question of how this film will end.

Which brings to mind another point.  The opening and closing scenes of this film are set in or around Boston.  There has been a rise in shirts in the Roxbury and Dorchester areas of Boston that say “No Rats.”  That seems to be Frank’s opinion in the film – Charlie should stand by and not name the culprits (even though they are not Charlie’s real friends).  So, to witness crime and hold fast is a good thing?  That’s the moral of the story?  No rats?  Where does that line get drawn?  If you are a witness to murder do you hold fast because it’s your neighborhood?  At what level of crime does it change from being a rat to helping solve a crime and making the world a better place?  Not only is this film too cowardly to provide any sort of decent ending but it is too morally vacant to even know what the right thing is.

Advertisements