Sunday, September 30, 2007

In Search of Curtis Hanson

In a He-Watches-It-So-You-Don't-Have-To post, Daniel Fienberg's review of Lucky You confirms that the movie is every bit the limp biscuit it appeared to be when it wilted in theaters a few months ago--particularly disappointing if you happen to be a fan of Curtis Hanson's work. Talented directors who stage career-threatening epic screwups (William Friedkin's Sorcerer, George Miller's Babe: Pig in the City, Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate) invariably make those movies more interesting than the mediocre pap that Hanson has been churning out lately. This would be easier to forgive were Hanson not the director of L.A. Confidential, for my money the best cop movie ever made--the film that put Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce on the map and offered Kevin Spacey's finest performance to date, its screenplay by Hanson and Brian Helgeland as perfect a distillation of an "unfilmmable" novel (reshuffling James Ellroy's story structure, expanding on his good ideas, getting rid of the clunkers) as you're likely to see.

To his credit, Hanson, who could have joined the rarefied-air establishment of Oscar-bait material, instead pursued off-beat projects that has made him a genre-hopper along the lines of James Mangold, another hard-to-peg craftsman without a distinct theme to neatly bow-tie his collective works. Nonetheless, Hanson's comedy gem Wonder Boys featured the most creative work of Michael Douglas's career, (indeed, the highest compliment I've heard paid to this film came from a female colleague, who said that it made her "feel sorry for men"), while the gritty semi-fictional biopic 8 Mile proved that the sixtysomething Hanson wasn't afraid of rap music or ditching his vivid classicist framing and experimenting with digital film.

Hanson is a late bloomer in Hollywood, formally the editor of Cinema magazine (known then as Curtis Lee Hanson, of whom an amusing and affectionate anecdote is related in Harlan Ellison's Watching), then a B-movie director who finally caught his big break in what is for most filmmakers the twilight of a career. Even after the dud chick-flick In Her Shoes and now, evidently, Lucky You, there is still much I admire about the man, namely his unpredictable choices of projects and his willingness to work with bad actors (Kim Basinger, Cameron Diaz), non-actors (Eminem, Drew Barrymore) and stiffs (Eric Bana). Before all of his creative collateral is used up, I would love to see Hanson return to--if not another L.A. Confidential--the kind of Hitchcockian thrillers with which he launched his career, only with a bigger budget and a better cast. The Bedroom Window without Steve Guttenberg--imagine the possibilities.

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