Monday, September 14, 2009

TIFF 2009 Reviews: Solitary Man

This late festival schedule has really messed with my internal clock. With Labour Day a full week into September the festival is running as late in the calendar as it ever does and I keep feeling like things ought to be winding down. They're not, really, this is only day five of ten. personal screening schedule is a bit front-loaded this year (I'm two thirds done) and now that a fair chunk of the festival screenings are second showings, that sad autumn sense of clearing out of town is already creeping in.

Today, for instance, I had an early morning show of Solitary Man, one of a bizarre type of independent movie that seems to exist solely for the purposes of festivals, that one can only imagine being financed with pieced together foreign pre-sales. I wanted to check it out solely for the cast: Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Danny DeVito, Jesse Eisenberg, Jenna Fischer...this is one heavy-hitting collection of actors. Not a single one of which were at the screening, nor were the co-directors. Something is very noticeable as the movie unspools: except for Douglas, none of the actors has more than three or four scenes. That tells me this was a hiatus movie, something the actors signed up for because they had a couple of weeks off as some point between other bigger projects or TV seasons. Before I sound churlish, let me add that I don't see anything at all wrong with this. Solitary Man has a good script, and these fine thespians obviously responded to the material. As well, I can testify from my experience with actors that in general, they jump at any chance to hone their craft. A serious actor doesn't check out for a month's vacation; if their agent says "Since you're in New York anyway, do you want three days on this picture? Soderbergh's producing." it's a no-brainer. For all the crap that actors take, the good ones work as hard as anyone, and as often.

Michael Douglas is an interesting guy to watch, but for the past few years I've seen all his performances through an odd lens. I crewed on The In-Laws when it shot here in Toronto, and saw him acting from up close most days for three straight months. Douglas was never a favorite actor of mine--he does hold a certain iconic place in my mind for Romancing The Stone--but I was a huge fan by the end of the shoot, mainly for his personal character rather than the performance (The In-Laws had a sensational cast and a very good director, yet anyone who's seen it can testify how lifelessly it just sat there on screen...I'm still mystified what went wrong there.) Douglas was an absolute pro, fascinating to watch in process, as well as being a very classy guy with fans. I never had a full conversation with him in three months, but I gathered that he appreciated my not crowding him and was ultra nice to my date at the wrap party. So anyway, whenever I see him in a movie since, I find it hard to just sit back and watch the performance, instead I watch his scenes unfold and envision him pacing in front of his trailer holding the sides (shrunken script pages for the day), committing every word and pause to memory, playing out the body language. Douglas isn't really the type to vanish into a role, which is fine, most aren't, but throw in my own experience and I always see him acting.

Anyway. The movie is fine, it sort of reminded me of The Girl in the Park from TIFF '07 in that it's set among a certain strata of New York society and is directed in very sleek and classy way. It's a solid actor's showcase, and everyone in the cast gets a solid scene or two to shine without playing to the rafters. Susan Sarandon is as glamourous and stunning as ever; she's going to be a knockout at eighty, I suspect. The story of a profoundly self-destructive man on his final slide from Captain of Industry to pariah is touching and more than a little timely--economic fear informs almost every scene and despite Douglas' character having brought it all on himself one does feel sympathy for him. Its ending is one of those final shots that's simultaneously perfect yet also frustrating in its open-endedness, which is pretty much par for the course with these movies. Not a classic, but I'm sorta glad I saw it. (***)

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