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Friday, 4 February 2011

The Stuntman - 1980 Short Review

I am always intrigued by films that deal with film making, such as Powell's "Peeping Tom", Fellini's "8 1/2", Eastwood's "White Hunter Black Heart", Tim Burton's "Ed Wood", Spike Jonze's "Adaptation", Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" and Altman's "The Player".
All of these are great films, but all of them deal with a specific domain of film-making, such as Adaptation deals mainly with scriptwriting, The Player deals with Hollywood studio's etc...
The Stuntman however deals with stuntmen, as the name implies. This was very intriguing for I had never seen a film that dealt with stuntmen before and they were often the backbone of older action films such as Mad Max and Predator. But naturally the stars received all the praise.
But although now advanced CGI has changed the way films are made, stuntmen still play a important part and are often injured (most recently a stuntwoman was injured while filming Transformers 3 and a stunt double was injured filming the latest Harry Potter film), so I was interested in learning more about them.

This film was directed by Richard Rush who hasn't really directed anything else worth noting, and stars Peter O'Toole, Barbara Hershley and Steve Railsback. It received a very limited release even though it was nominated for several Academy Awards. But despite the limited release it received much praise from critics, some even saying it was one of the best film about film making ever made, now I disagree with this statement and with much of the praise this film received and I will explain why:

Fantastic poster
The Stuntman tells the tale of a wanted Vietnam Veteran who, while fleeing from the law, stumbles across a film set, he is recruited as a stuntman in order to replace one who recently died during a stunt and hopefully to cover up his death from the authorities. He then becomes involved in the making of this film, the director becomes fascinated with him for some reason and the lead actress falls in love with him, for an equally puzzling reason. He then becomes increasingly stressed with his tasks and believes the director is trying to cause his death.

The Stuntman failed to work as an interesting study of film making, in my opinion. It was well directed, and Peter O'Toole was excellent as always, Barbara Hershley also gave a very good performance but one of  the film's main flaws was Steve Railsback, he gave an atrociously bad performance, making his character seem slightly mentally challenged, his portrayal of a Vietnam Veteran was unconvincing to say the least and the presence of such a superior supporting cast only made him look worse, he really brought the whole film down.
But of course Steve Railsback's performance can't be blamed for all the shortcomings of this film, I also thought that as a whole it lacked a certain edge, it was too mild in it's portrayal of the mysteries and eccentricities of film making therefore failed to make any truly intriguing or original points, the scenes with Peter O'Toole's character the director are an exception but sadly he was only a supporting role, the film was mainly centred on the Stuntman.

The fact that the film dealt with stuntmen was most intriguing and one of the main reasons I saw this film, but sadly the film doesn't concentrate enough on the stuntman, I would of liked to see a film revealing their dangerous work even if it was dramatised but this film cannot seem to decide what it is, is it a film portraying stuntmen's experience's and the fake aspect of all films? or is it a thriller involving a disenchanted Vietnam Veteran on the run from police? or is it an astute look at film making and a directors eccentricity? or is it a Romance that happens to take place during the shooting of a film?
It is all of these yet none of these, the stuntman's experience's were shown only superficially and although some elements were interesting it failed to be informative or truly show the "make-believe" of films,  the Thriller aspect worked towards the beginning of the film but slowly fizzled out and became mundane, the elements involving the eccentric director were some of the best of the film and if it would of stuck to those it would have been far superior, the Romance aspect wasn't exactly unnecessary but it did take up too much screen time and was needlessly ambiguous.

Overall it is a well made and well acted (with one notable exception) film that, I thought, despite it's interesting elements  failed to provide any interesting insight into film making or stuntmanship but also failed as a mystery/thriller type film.
Not really recommend although it might be worth seeing for Peter O'Toole's performance.

That concludes my short review of this film, I would have wanted to elaborate more on this film but I am writing a review for a far more interesting one that also happens to deal with film making, albeit in a very different way, Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie" 1971.

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