November 29, 2011

Justify My Netflix: The Stunt Man

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Stunt Man

Today's movie: The Stunt Man, 1980 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because I have fond memories of watching this as a teen on early-'80s cable television; and now that it's finally out in an enhanced edition on DVD this year, after a 30-year delay, I thought it'd be good to catch up on all the things about it that I missed when I was fourteen and originally watching it.

The reality: Astounding! And that's because, as Scott Tobias mentions as well in his great write-up at the AV Club, this is not just an action film about a 1970s production company making an insanely expensive World War One biopic, the only way my teenage mind was able to process it when it first came out; it's also a sly, brilliant look at the '70s "film school brat" auteurs who were allowed to run rampant and unchecked throughout Hollywood in those years, with Peter O'Toole as the film-within-the-film's director taking equally heavy cues off Michael Camino, David Lean and Francis Ford Coppola, and with his troubled production resembling not so much a typical modern Hollywood actioner during its behind-the-scenes shots but more Apocalypse Now, a monster of an event so big and all-encompassing that no one person can afford to let it shut down. After all, the main premise of this film is that a stunt man accidentally dies during production, which O'Toole decides to keep a secret until the shoot is actually over, recruiting instead a Vietnam vet and police fugitive who accidentally wanders onto the set during his flight from the law, charged with assuming the dead man's name and duties until the damn movie can finally be finished; and if that's not a genius comment on the unbridled hubris that defined such legendary '70s shoots as The Deer Hunter and Heaven's Gate, I don't know what is. A simultaneous ode to filmmaking and criticism of the trillion-dollar industry that eventually sprung up around it, plus ironically a fine big-budget action flick just unto itself, this is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of '70s cinema (as well as those who enjoy seeing O'Toole in his lean, smoldering, sexually ambiguous prime), and it comes highly recommended.

Strangest piece of trivia: During the mesmerizing camera-crane ride where O'Toole waxes poetically about the magic of filmmaking illusion, in the real world the start and stop points of the shot are actually fifteen miles apart, one of many "meta-meta" moments found throughout this surprisingly complex film.

Worth your time? Hells yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:56 AM, November 29, 2011. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |