Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: Drama Duration: 138 mins Director: Rob Reiner Stars: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore
One of the most quoted movies in recent decades, Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin’s legal drama pits Tom Cruise’s talented young JAG Corps officer against Jack Nicholson’s tyrannical Marine Corps division commander. Cruise excels as the plucky lawyer faced with the task of defending two marines on trial for murder. However, this one will always be remembered for his co-star’s scenery-chewing turn as the defendants’ base commander and the man behind their illicit orders to “train” the soon-to-be victim. A host of top names fill out the rest of the bill with both Demi Moore and Kevin Pollak (as Cruiser’s legal team) playing more grounded roles than was typical of their careers at that point. Kevin Bacon is his usual safe pair of hands as the prosecutor while a nasty Kiefer Sutherland and the late great J.T. Walsh offer strong support as Nicholson’s underlings. Sorkin’s sharp script is best remembered for its relentless courtroom dialogue but it’s laced with subtleties that augment the drama from all angles. From its nods to the various character’s backgrounds to the unspoken enmity between the Marines and the Navy, they provide a rich subtext to the plot. From the director’s chair, Reiner generates a palpable tension and swift pace from the screenplay with much help from composer Marc Shaiman’s exciting score and, of course, his two leads. Though “Colonel Nathan Jessup” has probably gone down as Nicholson’s most famous role and though he certainly provides the lion’s share of the movie’s dramatic thump, it’s not the most nuanced piece of acting we’ve seen from the screen legend. Playing up to a caricature of his own celebrity, he never attempts to escape his “Big Jack” persona and is content to let his famous sneering delivery and scathing smile do most of the work. Not that it hurts the movie in the slightest but it seems a relevant footnote when discussing one of modern cinema’s most memorable characters.
Rating: The Good – 85.2 Genre: Fantasy Duration: 126 mins Director: Tim Burton Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger
Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson go toe to toe on the streets of Gotham as Batman and the Joker respectively in Tim Burton’s ingenious re-imagining of the famous comic book. Christopher Nolan and his films may be surfing on a wave of popularity at the moment but Burton’s original (and indeed his follow-up Batman Returns) is a far superior film to Batman Begins and even The Dark Knight. Coming from the mind of Burton, Batman’s darkness seems somehow more authentic than Nolan’s, yet it also remains more faithful to the comic book idea which Nolan was clearly moving away from. Burton’s vision of Gotham City and its colourful inhabitants are sumptuously brought to life through visionary set design, some of best dialogue in the business (seriously!), and terrific performances from all concerned. Nicholson’s Joker has one immortal line after another to chew on while Keaton’s hugely under-appreciated Batman is the most layered and intriguing portrayal of the Caped Crusader to date. Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Michael Gough, Billy Dee Williams, and Pat Hingle all offer strong support but this is Keaton vs Nicholson all the way. The action set-pieces are all masterfully directed with the museum-escape sequence in particular standing out. Danny Elfman’s score quickly became the template for all subsequent superhero movies and the film as a whole changed the genre forever. Fantastic!
Rating: The Good – 82.2 Genre: Horror Duration: 144 mins Director: Stanley Kubrick Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Kubrick raises a brilliant Stephen King novel to a whole new stratosphere of terror in this sublime horror masterpiece. Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall arrive at the isolated Overlook Hotel as winter caretakers with their young clairvoyant son (Danny Lloyd) in tow. As the days and weeks drift by Nicholson becomes increasingly uncorked as he threatens to emulate his predecessor, who ten years previous murdered his family with an axe. Along with 2001 and Barry Lyndon, The Shining was the film that was complemented most by Kubrick’s sense of visual symmetry and whether static or moving there isn’t a shot in the film that isn’t breathtaking. While the aesthetics transfix you, his balance of diegetic and non-diegetic sound (with the latter coming in the form of harsh mechanical sounds) steadily lures you into their increasingly scary world. As you’d expect from Kubrick, the production design is magnificent and the sight of the three family members pottering around the splendidly captured expanses of the hotel adds significantly to their sense of alienation. Nicholson is of course excellent in a role tailor made for his style of acting but he is matched all the way by Duvall while young Lloyd is damn near perfect as their beleaguered son. A last word should go to that astonishingly foreboding Wendy Carlos/Rachel Elkind score which ensures the opening to the film is so completely memorable.
Rating: The Good – 94.4 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 130 mins Director: Roman Polanski Stars: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Roman Polanski’s masterpiece sees Jack Nicholson’s private eye becoming embroiled in a conspiracy involving a wealthy widow, her father, and the water department. Nicholson is nothing short of brilliant as Jake Gittes and balancing as he does the hard-boiled grittiness of the best noir detectives with an enigmatic vulnerability, it remains his greatest performance. Faye Dunaway is also superb as the woman with the secret and her performance is intuitively tempered by the immense but complementary turn of John Huston as the grotesque Noah Cross.
The real stars here though are the director and the writer Robert Towne. Polanski nurtures the script with a repertoire of assured but delicate touches. This is crucial because it’s a script that grows. The characters are richly drawn yet each of the main players has an essential inscrutability which is integral to the mystery that pulses at the lower depths of the movie. Giving all this its shape and form is a structure that has rarely been equalled in the history of screenwriting and one that, on its own, seems to spawn and carry the bristling sense of fatalism that gradually emerges.
Like all great film-noir, this film is at the same time both eminently watchable and deeply dark. It seduces the audience with its palette of soft colours, its sumptuous set and costume design, and the cutting repartee of its protagonists so much so that we barely notice the stain underneath until we are faced with it in its entirety. Film-noir has always been about achieving such balance between the seductive and the dark and Polanski and Towne do it so well that Chinatown lingers longer than most.
Rating: The Good – 82.9 Genre: Western Duration: 82 mins Director: Monte Hellman Stars: Jack Nicholson, Cameron Mitchell, Harry Dean Stanton
“Man got hung.” Jack Nicholson wrote and starred in this subtle and perceptive tale of three cowboys who after been mistaken for outlaws are hunted down by a large posse. Monte Hellman was just the maverick to direct what was already an unorthodox script and he captures the simple brilliance of Nicholson’s words in exactly the right tone. There’s plenty of decent action and hillside chases but the beauty of this film is in the dialogue, performances, and the quiet eye of Hellman. For a genre that was almost invariably mythologised, it’s a rare treat to come across one so honest. There’s not a hint of melodrama as the three men (soon to be two after one is gunned down) make short shrift of emotional quandaries or unfair twists of fate in the face of death. Nicholson is remarkably good in a type of role he has played far too seldom in recent years. Harry Dean Stanton owns some of the earlier scenes as one of the outlaws the three cowboys are mistaken for. However, most impressive is Cameron Mitchell in one of the most real and touching performances ever committed to celluloid. Pure class.