Louis Gossett Jr.

Watchmen (2019) s01e04 – If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own

I’m not sure what would be a more unpleasant way to spend an hour, listening to “Watchmen”… “creator” Damon Lindelof talk about Alan Moore or listening to him talk about way too influential screenwriting professor Robert McKee. McKee has some profoundly insipid advice on writing and the creative process in general, which Lindelof seems to have imprinted on his DNA, if this show is any indication. Because this episode is all about the show’s “stakes.” Turns out they’re really low.

It starts with the reveal last episode’s OMG moment with the space junk falling out of the sky is actually a message for Regina King and not Dr. Manhattan still caring about vigilante turned Fed Jean Smart, which just teams up King and Smart, who have even less chemistry as strong women working together than they did as strong women not working together—most of it is the writing (starting last episode and continuing into this one, “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” is shaping up to be far more what one would expect than the first couple episodes). But then there’s also a draining of the import of Don Johnson’s secret Klan history. Of course he’s a racist in the Klan, he’s a white man in Oklahoma. What did King actually expect? It seems like it should be a problematic plot point but… it’s not. It also seems like it’d piss off the Oklahoma film office and the tax breaks but maybe they demanded any white man in Oklahoma be shown to be in the Klan.

Anyway. There’s a scene with Tim Blake Nelson, because all he gets are single scenes. It’s nice to see him out of costume since you can’t see him act in the costume. And he and King do have some solid rapport.

Much of the episode involves new player Lady Trieu (played by Hong Chau, and named liked Lindelof telling you how he’s better than Alan Moore would be worse than the McKee mansplain); she’s building some mysterious giant clock in rural Oklahoma because it’s all connected. She also knows Lou Gossett Jr., who it’s still nice to see in such a big production but it’s wasting his time. In some ways, wasting Gossett’s time is worse than wasting King’s time, since King will go on to good projects after this one. “Watchmen” could be it for Gossett and non-Christian movie projects.

What else… oh, Jeremy Irons. We get more about his situation. Lindelof and co-writer Christal Henry are all about revealing the weird stuff in Irons’s life, which is all just for shock value. Steampunk-y shock value. Eh.

At least Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is still good. And it’s not like King is ever not going to be excellent, she’s just wasting her time. Also… does Lindelof really think the tick tock clock motif is the most important thing from Watchmen? He did go to NYU film school back before it was clear NYU film school wasn’t actually going to produce many good, much less great, filmmakers… so… yes?

Watchmen (2019) s01e03 – She Was Killed by Space Junk

So the first couple episodes of “Watchmen” have only hinted at having an actual Watchmen character in it; it took until this episode for the show to confirm, in fact, Jeremy Irons is playing architect of the end of the world and therefor its savior, Ozymandias. He even puts on the costume. And, you know what, he’s not great. He gives a very standard Jeremy Irons performance. You get a little Claus von Bülow in there, maybe a little Simon Gruber, but you don’t get anything special. Some of it’s the part, which is juxtaposed like a subplot but really just escalating asides. What could he be building? Will it be interesting? Blah. Nope. Because you can only get away not being a Republic Serial villain once and “Watchmen” is devoted to its faithful sequel status.

Then the A plot is Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, formerly Laurie Juspeczyk but has since taken rapist dad’s name because… anti-mask pride, also formerly Silk Spectre but now FBI agent, and formerly Dr. Manhattan’s squeeze but now he’s on Mars and she sends him voice mail messages because everyone hopes the god cares but she knows he doesn’t. She’s also got a Dr. Manhattan dildo because

Damon Lindelof does, in fact, suck. Even if “Watchmen: The TV Show” ends up being all right, it could have been better. And it’s a long way from home plate at this point and Smart’s not a good sign. She’s good, but her part’s real thin. There’s some implied subplot about Laurie’s rebound from Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, being in prison and presidential candidate James Wolk saying he’ll pardon him out if Smart will go to Tulsa and look into the situation there.

Once she’s in Tulsa, she starts butting heads with ostensible series regulars Tim Blake Nelson and, thought-she-was-the-lead, Regina King. Smart and King’s big blowout scene is good for King, not for Smart, worse for the narrative so therefor not a win for King. King has to suffer through the scene, while Smart’s resignedly all in on her character. “Watchmen: The TV Show”’s Achilles heel is, no surprise, Watchmen. No wonder the first two episodes were Lindelof telling Alan Moore to “fuck off;” because when it actually comes to sequel fan fic, Lindelof’s just as uninspired, obvious, and insipid as everyone else. You can lie all you want Dave Gibbons or Len Wein making Watchmen; the fundamental point of spinning off or sequeling Watchmen is it means Alan Moore doesn’t think you got it.

Lindelof didn’t get it. What’s a shock is how much potential the non-Watchmen: 30 Years Later has going, mostly thanks to King. But also that music, which is excellent again this episode. But mostly King, who gets wasted this episode.

Oh, and Lindelof’s attempt at the Moore-esque anecdote interspersed with the present action?

Well-acted (by Smart) but an utter writing and emphasis fail. Stephen Williams’s direction is not on par with the other two episodes.

With this episode, “Watchmen: The TV Show” shows its hand, potential-wise, which is good for establishing expectations but also disappointing because they could’ve just skipped it and not lost the King, Don Johnson, Nelson momentum.

Eh.

Watchmen (2019) s01e02 – Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship

As good as “Watchmen” gets at dissecting the comic book, learning from its anatomy, figuring out how to adapt it to live action—though this episode is nowhere near as uncanny as the previous one with composition—the show, pardon my French, fucks with the viewer. Alan Moore comics don’t fuck with the reader, they explore and they reveal (without ever being about the reveals). “Watchmen: The TV Show” is all about narratively cheap but big budget cliffhangers. It’s not exactly frustrating or disappointing—because it’s HBO after all—but means whatever the show creatives learned from the comic… they didn’t learn enough. And “Watchmen: The TV Show” is going to suffer from it. This episode, written by Nick Cuse and show creator Damon Lindelof, is all about surprises, even when they should be obvious to the characters if not the audience.

“Watchmen: The TV Show,” like a TV show, is going all in on the money shot reveals, where it’s stage play Dr. Manhattan’s junk or the clone reveal or… the flashbacks to the cops getting attacked by the white supremacists. Turns out Regina King and husband Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (he’s really the guy from Aquaman, I can’t believe it, he’s good in this show) didn’t adopt some white kids because it’s a better reality but because the kids are her dead partner’s kids. It’s One Good Cop. But without Michael Keaton and Rene Russo.

Makes you wonder how their Batman Forever would’ve been.

Anyway.

The show also reveals—again, the show’s exposition is all about the reveals too, whether it’s DNA tests or tough talking cops—the reparations are for victims of hate crimes or descendants of hate crimes. The show opens with a newsreel about the destruction of Black Wall Street. It’s not clear how Black Wall Street is going to figure in to the Watchmen aspect of the show, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a good plot device and, actually, completely reasonable for big budget Watchmen fanfic. I don’t think Moore would’ve ever done it because Lindelof’s exploiting the idea whereas Moore never exploits things. So Tulsa because White people in Oklahoma are racist who aren’t ever going to take responsibility for their great-grandparents’ murderous racism so they Klan up to take on the federal government only with Rorschach masks. Kind of a big deal, but also something the show is happy to keep as ground situation, which is concerning. How seriously is “Watchmen” going to take this aspect of the story, which is the whole point of Regina King so don’t end up giving her a shit part.

Like Tim Blake Nelson. He’s maybe going to have a shit part. Or not even enough of a part to have a shit part. Don Johnson’s got some “say it isn’t so” reveals in this episode but you know he’s going to come out of it fine because Don Johnson can do amusing shit-stain.

All of a sudden I really want to watch Tin Cup, which isn’t out on Blu-ray, which is dumb.

Yeah, Nelson… Nelson’s either going to really pay off or he’s going to be a waste. He can be a waste in a few ways, but so far it’s unclear how he could pay off. “Watchmen: The Limited TV Series” is nine episodes; we’re almost a quarter done. There’s only so much time; the longer the show goes on more concerned with turning Easter eggs into plot points… the less it seems likely the show’s going to add up to anything. And there’s a very low bar here. “Watchmen” just has to not screw up its actors’ performances, it just can’t screw up the production design as far as the adaptation, it never actually has to be good. It just can’t be embarrassing. DC and Warner Bros. have been humiliating themselves on Watchmen adaptations for what seems like decades but really has only been eleven years.

King is shouldering the globe, but it’s far from steady.

It also doesn’t hurt, despite not great material, Lou Gossett Jr. is awesome.

Watchmen (2019) s01e01 – It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice

The only times “Watchmen” doesn’t feel calculated are when you can’t imagine the shot as a David Gibbons comic panel. Every couple minutes you can feel how the sequence of shots would feel as a Watchmen comic, showing how just because DC Comics could never figure out how to do it without the original creators doesn’t mean episode director Nicole Kassell and show creator Damon Lindelof can’t figure out how to do it while adapting it to another medium. Though, to be fair, the secret might be in adapting it. Especially since the show creators don’t just have decades of comic book adaptation tropes to avoid they’ve also got the actual Watchmen: The Movie as one hell of an example of terrible Watchmen adapting.

The show figures out what the movie couldn’t, primarily in terms of acting (get good actors and then get good performances out of them) and come up with a sound design not focused around selling a soundtrack album. “Watchmen: Episode 1” often sounds a little like an eighties John Carpenter movie, just with less synth. It’s disquieting in all the right ways.

In fact, there’s nothing the show does wrong but only because it’s positioned itself rather securely. Its ambitions are only in delivering itself as a product. “Watchmen” doesn’t allow itself performance anxiety, just a base execution anxiety. The show doesn’t worry about giving stars Regina King and Don Johnson great parts, it just worries about never giving them bad ones. It also gives Johnson Frances Fisher for a wife, which does a lot of immediate character development. Everyone else is background, even Tim Blake Nelson who seems like he’ll be great as the thing progress. So far Yahya Abdul-Mateen II—as King’s homemaker husband—is perfectly fine, which I was initially worried about because he was so bad in Aquaman. But, no, having a director who cares about acting helps.

The only Watchmen comic character to show up so far is probably Jeremy Irons as Ozymandias. Probably because they’re teasing it. “Watchmen: The TV Show” might try to get away with not explaining all the pertinent history. Lindelof has utterly changed the context—the show’s set in 2019 in the Watchmen: The Comic Book universe, some thirty years after the events, with Robert Redford being president for thirty years (vs. Nixon) and having gotten reparations through, which has led to a Rorschach-inspired white supremacist organization. So in “Watchmen: The TV Show” universe it takes actual reparations (and Black people apparently not having to pay taxes) to get white men so steamed up but in reality it only took a Black president, which would make for great, pseudo-intellectual water cooler talk, which is what “Watchmen” is sort of all about.

Lindelof, Kassell, and everyone else do their corporate overlords great service with the show… they’ve finally turned Watchmen into a crossover property, something not a single DC Comics creator could do.

Also, given the Black Wall Street massacre finally getting mainstream coverage… can we stop listening to white centrists from Oklahoma yet?

Enemy Mine (1985, Wolfgang Petersen)

Enemy Mine has one great performance from Louis Gossett Jr., one strong mediocre performance from Dennis Quaid, one adorable performance from Bumper Robinson (as a tween alien), and terrible performances from everyone else. The film’s most impressive quality is a tossup. It’s either Gossett’s performance (and makeup) or it’s how well Mine hides director Petersen’s ineptitude at directing actors for so long.

The film opens with Quaid narrating the history of the future. Humans in a space war with aliens. There’s some human fighter pilot stuff; not great acting, but it’s hurried and the emphasis is on the sci-fi. Petersen’s a lot more comfortable with showcasing the sci-fi setting than doing anything in it. Anyway, in the first act, the terrible performances from the actors are passable. Their presence is brief; once Quaid crashes onto an uncharted planet, they’re gone.

For a while, Enemy Mine then becomes this xenophobic look at Gossett’s alien–all from Quaid’s perspective–until the two finally clash. Some speedy contrivances lead to the two marooned warriors realizing they need each other and teaming up. There’s a lot of bickering, with some particularly mean stuff from Quaid (the movie opens with some casual misogyny from Quaid’s character, so the mean streak is well-established), but they learn to get along.

Despite being awkwardly plotted, the second act of the film is a big success. The scenes with Quaid and Gossett are fantastic, always because Gossett’s performance is so exceptionally good. It doesn’t matter how silly the scenes get, or how thin Edward Khmara’s dialogue for Quaid gets. Enemy Mine all of a sudden delivers on promise the first act didn’t even suggest it had.

The plot eventually comes in and takes away screen time from Gossett. Quaid goes on an exploration quest with troubling result. The exploration scenes are where some of Petersen’s narrative distance issues start to present. Petersen’s only comfortable with extreme long shot–to showcase the filming location–and reaction close-up. And the reaction (for Quaid) has to be to something dire. Otherwise, Petersen has no interest in how Quaid’s experiencing the exploration. Strange since he’s the narrator.

As the film goes into the third act, with Robinson coming into the film, it’s in a weaker condition. Not because of Robinson, who’s good (and gives Quaid something new to do with the performance), but because Khmara doesn’t write summary well and Petersen doesn’t direct it well. Then comes the action-packed third act, where Petersen is only comfortable in his extreme long shots. There are some close-ups to the action, but it’s poorly choreographed and terribly edited (by Hannes Nikel).

All of those third act long shots are of spacecraft. There’s the space station, there’s the bad guys’ spaceship. Somehow Quaid manages to never go anywhere with cramped quarters. And the production design is great. Rolf Zehetbauer’s production design on Enemy Mine is outstanding. All the set decoration. Just not Petersen’s direction of that design or decoration. Petersen’s misguided and committed.

Technically, Enemy Mine is a mixed bag. Tony Imi’s photography is all right. It doesn’t have any personality, but its lack of intensity slows down the rushed summary sequences in the first act. It helps give the film character. As does Maurice Jarre’s somewhat infectious and saccharine score. It too gives the film character. Not good character, as Jarre’s score is way too indulgent and detached, but character. Enemy Mine isn’t the most original film, but it’s distinct.

Terrible supporting performances. Brion James is worst because he’s in it the most. Then Richard Marcus and Scott Kraft. There’s something seriously wrong with how Petersen directed the supporting actors on Enemy Mine. Everyone’s bad but those three are just godawful.

But Quaid steps up for the third act and makes up for it. As much as he can. The film’s against him. It goes from the poorly directed Petersen action to a rushed finale. Quaid ingloriously loses his narration privileges for the denouement. A new, omnipotent (uncredited) narrator closes off Enemy Mine on a rather low point.

It’s unfortunate but not a surprise given how much trouble Petersen and Khmara have with, you know, the storytelling.

Great performance from Gossett. Truly amazing given the make-up and so on. Quaid provides able support to Gossett, stepping up when he’s got to do the same for Robinson. They make Enemy Mine something special.

Well, them and Chris Walas, who does the makeup.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; screenplay by Edward Khmara, based on the story by Barry Longyear; director of photography, Toni Imi; edited by Hannes Nikel; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, Rolf Zehetbauer; produced by Stephen J. Friedman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Davidge), Louis Gossett Jr. (Drac), Bumper Robinson (Zammis), Brion James (Stubbs), Richard Marcus (Arnold), Carolyn McCormick (Morse), Lance Kerwin (Wooster), Scott Kraft (Jonathan), and Jim Mapp (Old Drac).


Jaws 3-D (1983, Joe Alves)

Jaws 3-D is one part advertisement for Sea World, one part disaster movie, one part monster movie, then figure the rest is character stuff. It does really well as the Sea World ad, not so well as a disaster movie, a little better as a monster movie… and shockingly well on the character stuff.

Alves’s direction of the big shark attack stuff is nowhere near as good as his character moments. Obviously, there’s time in the script to develop these relationships between the cast members–there’s a great slight moment with Bess Armstrong and Louis Gossett Jr. who otherwise barely interact. And it’s just better for Armstrong and Dennis Quaid. Jaws 3-D is a silly movie about a giant shark but Armstrong and Quaid are always sincere.

So’s Gossett and, to some degree, Simon MacCorkindale. He’s not good, but he does try. As his manservant, P.H. Moriarty is terrible. John Putch plays Quaid’s visiting little brother who romances Lea Thompson. They’re both fine, they just don’t have anything to do except to quickly make Quaid and Armstrong more likable. The movie’s far from art, but screenwriters Richard Mathewson and Carl Gottlieb know how to make it work.

There are some good effects towards the end. Great music from Alan Parker. Alves does an adequate job throughout but he does have his moments. The way he stages some of the non-shark action sequences is fantastic and he always takes time for the actors.

It’s not bad at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Alves; screenplay by Richard Matheson and Carl Gottlieb, based on a story by Guerdon Trueblood and characters created by Peter Benchley; director of photography, James A. Contner; edited by Corky Ehlers and Randy Roberts; music by Alan Parker; production designer, Woods Mackintosh; produced by Rupert Hitzig; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Mike Brody), Bess Armstrong (Dr. Kathryn ‘Kay’ Morgan), Simon MacCorkindale (Philip FitzRoyce), John Putch (Sean Brody), Lea Thompson (Kelly Ann Bukowski), P.H. Moriarty (Jack Tate) and Louis Gossett Jr. (Calvin Bouchard).


Toy Soldiers (1991, Daniel Petrie Jr.)

While Petrie’s a decent director, it’d probably be hard to screw up Toy Soldiers. The movie mostly relies on Sean Astin, who’s more than capable of carrying it, so long as one likes Astin.

So, if you like Astin and think Keith Coogan’s funny… it works. I’m not sure how one’s supposed to respond to Wil Wheaton. Probably like him. Though when Wheaton tries to do an Italian accent, it’s problematic to say the least.

The supporting cast is very solid–Mason Adams, Denholm Elliot, Andrew Divoff.

Robert Folk’s musical score is excellent, which his filmography doesn’t suggest.

It’s difficult to talk about the film as it’s just Die Hard at a prep school. It’s one of the first “Die Hard at” pictures, but Astin has sidekicks so it’s not exact.

The bad guys are South Americans who don’t approve of Hispanic Americans assimilating into white culture, which is interesting. Not sure if Koepp and Petrie came up with that detail themselves or if it’s in the novel. The Mafia and the U.S. Army are the good guys here (the FBI are sort of good guys).

After Astin, the film rests on Lou Gossett. Gossett’s perfect here. This film really showcases his ability–even though he’s a character actor with a persona, he adapts it for any role. It works beautifully here as the tough… but caring dean. Gossett and Elliot only have one scene, but it’s great.

Toy Soldiers is a competent film. It’s just not really any good.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Daniel Petrie Jr.; screenplay by Petrie and David Koepp, based on the novel by William P. Kennedy; director of photography, Thomas Burstyn; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Robert Folk; production designer, Chester Kaczenski; produced by Jack E. Freedman and Wayne S. Williams; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Sean Astin (William ‘Billy’ Tepper), Wil Wheaton (Joseph ‘Joey’ Trotta), Keith Coogan (Jonathan ‘Snuffy’ Bradberry), Andrew Divoff (Luis Cali), R. Lee Ermey (General Kramer), Mason Adams (FBI Dep. Asst. Dir. Otis Brown), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Robert Gould – Headmaster), George Perez (Ricardo Montoya), T.E. Russell (Henry ‘Hank’ Giles III), Shawn Phelan (Derek ‘Yogurt’), Michael Champion (Jack Thorpe) and Louis Gossett Jr. (Dean Edward Parker).


The Deep (1977, Peter Yates)

I’m a little surprised Donna Summer did the theme song for The Deep, seeing as how she’s black and, according to The Deep, every black person is a villain of some kind or another.

Even with his blond locks, I’ve never thought of Nick Nolte as particularly aryan (maybe because his eyes are so brown), but he really comes off like a, well, honky in this one. He calls Louis Gossett Jr. a basketball player as a euphemism for black. Seriously. I think, the last time I tried watching it, I turned it off at that point.

But I struggled through this time and, for that last shot, it’s almost worth the torture. It’s an awful conclusion, maybe the second worst I can think of (after the second Planet of the Apes).

Yates’s Panavision composition is boring, seemingly ready for the TV version (since The Deep was pre-video). John Barry contributes a wholly inappropriate but exceeding lovely score. It’s hard to say if it’s all Yates’s fault or if it’s just a bad production. I’m sure Peter Benchley’s novel wasn’t good, so his screenplay would be similarly dubious. But there’s nothing thrilling about it, there’s no excitement. In fact, it might be the only big Hollywood picture I can think of without a single likable character.

It’s a long two hours, mostly because of the lengthy exposition and then the boring underwater scenes. It’s an anti-thriller film, almost worth examining.

Even Robert Shaw is phoning it in here.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Yates; screenplay by Peter Benchley and Tracy Keenan Wynn, based on the novel by Benchley; director of photography, Christopher Challis; edited by David Berlatsky; music by John Barry; production designer, Anthony Masters; produced by Peter Guber; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Robert Shaw (Romer Treece), Jacqueline Bisset (Gail Berke), Nick Nolte (David Sanders), Louis Gossett Jr. (Henri Cloche), Eli Wallach (Adam Coffin), Dick Anthony Williams (Slake), Earl Maynard (Ronald), Bob Minor (Wiley), Teddy Tucker (the harbor master), Robert Tessier (Kevin) and Lee McClain (Johnson).


Diggstown (1992, Michael Ritchie)

I forgot MGM still made movies in the 1990s. The aura of bankruptcy and failure has surrounded Leo for so long… it’s distracting. I remember my Diggstown laserdisc sleeve. It’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen the movie. It’s still a great time and I’m left, as I always was when finishing it, perplexed. How did James Woods not have a successful film career as a leading man? Diggstown might have even his last major lead role.

Diggstown has a large cast–figure twenty recognizable cast members–and the casting is brilliant. It might have been the first movie I ever saw Oliver Platt in. The film’s broken up into three parts (not the acts, however). The prison prologue, the set-up, then the long boxing sequence (Louis Gossett Jr. fighting ten guys, which is why the cast is so large). Each section feels different, with Woods owning the prologue, but Platt getting the most attention in the opening of the set-up. It’s a bombastic role and Platt’s perfect for it. There isn’t a bad performance in the entire film (Ritchie’s a fine director of actors), but the acting from Platt, Woods and Gossett is just amazing. Each one of them turn in singular performances–so it’s unfortunate Diggstown doesn’t offer them much more to do.

The film’s funny, endearing and constantly enjoyable, but there’s a certain lack of depth to it. There’s nuance in the film–when Gossett and Woods meet up at the beginning, they’re having an intricately guarded conversation, combining the acting, the direction and the editing. But the nuance doesn’t carry over to the film. It has a simple close. There isn’t much opportunity for a deeper story here, but there’s some (the flirtation between Woods and Heather Graham evaporates as the boxing part of the film begins).

Instead, it’s just a good time, with a great, self-aware performance from Bruce Dern. I’m not always a fan, but when Dern’s on, he’s really on. The supporting cast–John Short, Duane Davis, even Michael DeLorenzo–has some standouts as well.

Diggstown is a well put together film–Ritchie doesn’t have a single unsure directorial moment, every move is confident–and it makes Diggstown one of the finer junior members of the era’s films. Diggstown is a contained, inclusive filmic narrative–the viewer isn’t supposed to engage with Woods as a celebrity, only his performance. There’s even a “Roots” reference and, even if it was supposed to be an in-joke with Gossett, it doesn’t come off as one.

Before I finish up, I need to mention James Newton Howard’s score. The score’s great, really changing pace as the film does–not only does Diggstown have those twenty or so characters for the viewer to remember, it has a lot of locations too–Howard keeps up with everything, developing the score inline with the narrative.

On one hand, I wish Diggstown had a little more depth–the film has room for it, Ritchie and the cast can certainly handle it, but maybe not… It’s a solid, smart, well-made comedy. I remember when I first saw it, on videotape, I couldn’t wait to see what Woods and Platt did next. Platt did well enough, Woods provided a frequent disappointment. Even this time through, sixteen years after it came out, it’s hard not to be excited at the talent on display in the film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; screenplay by Steven McKay, based on a novel by Leonard Wise; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Don Zimmerman; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Stephen Hendrickson; produced by Robert Schaffel; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.

Starring James Woods (Gabriel Caine), Louis Gossett Jr. (Roy Palmer), Bruce Dern (John Gillon), Oliver Platt (Fitz), Heather Graham (Emily Forrester), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Wolf Forrester), Thomas Wilson Brown (Robby Gillon), Duane Davis (Hambone Busby), David Fresco (Fish) and Willie Green (Hammerhead Hagan).


A Good Man in Africa (1994, Bruce Beresford)

A Good Man in Africa is about the British practicing a modified form of the age-old British diplomacy in Africa (duh) in modernity. As such, when I saw John Lithgow’s name in the credits, I did not expect him to be playing a Brit. However, Lithgow does play one and he does so quite poorly. Lithgow doesn’t really create a character in Good Man, he just creates a posture. He’s annoying but not really in the film often enough to hurt it. Unfortunately, the film’s made with the same approach. Colin Friels’s philandering, hard-drinking assistant to the diplomat (Lithgow) is not a likable character, certainly not one the audience can identify with. Friels’s performance is likable–and good–but it’s a losing battle. Watching A Good Man in Africa is like watching a long, drawn-out error. It misfires immediately and never recovers, nor makes any attempt to do so.

The film’s based on a novel and the novelist wrote the film. I’m not a fan of such behavior because it usually doesn’t work right. I have no idea if A Good Man in Africa is a good novel, but after seeing the movie, I’ll never know. The film toys with having Friels narrate it, but appears to have inserted that narration as an afterthought. If it were going the whole way through, it might work better. Friels is barely the film’s protagonist, since all of the scenes are about other people.

As for the other people, while Lithgow is easily the worst, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer is pretty awful too. The titular Good Man is actually Sean Connery, who gives a better performance than usual, but again, it’s certainly not anything of note. The film’s most underused resource was Diana Rigg and I spent the last act wishing she and Friels would run off together so I’d at least get to see fifteen minutes of good acting and chemistry.

I only watch Good Man because of Friels and knew, given Bruce Beresford directed it, the film would be severely lacking. Maybe that lack of any expectation dulled me to the film’s more obvious deficiencies. Or maybe they were just too dull to care about.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bruce Beresford; screenplay by William Boyd, based on his novel; director of photography, Andrezj Bartkowiak; edited by Jim Clark; music by John du Prez; production designer, Herbert Pinter; produced by John Fiedler and Mark Tarlov; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Colin Friels (Leafy), Sean Connery (Murray), John Lithgow (Fanshawe), Diana Rigg (Chloe Fanshawe), Sarah-Jane Fenton (Priscilla Fanshawe), Louis Gossett Jr. (Adekunle), Maynard Eziashi (Friday) and Joanne Whalley (Celia).


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