Rating: The Good – 77.1 Genre: Drama, Satire Duration: 102 mins Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Mike Nichols turns his prodigious talent for satire to Aaron Sorkin’s clever adaptation of the true story of a Texas congressman’s attempts to secure the covert military funding that would ultimately tip the balance of the Soviet-Afghan war. Tom Hanks as the unorthadox good-time politician and Philip Seymour Hoffman as his irreverent CIA adviser form one of the best on-screen partnerships in recent decades as they bat Sorkin’s indignantly funny dialogue back and forth while Julia Roberts and Any Adams help to fill out the support roster intelligently rising to the spirit of Sorkin and Nichols’ storytelling as they go. The movie that unfolds is a delight of sardonic wit in both its writing and directing but, in typical Mike Nichols fashion, it effortlessly doubles as an engrossing political drama by perceptibly accounting for geo-political implications and character development alike. Sorkin’s feisty screenplay zips along at its usual pace but Nichols knows exactly when to channel that momentum or temporarily contain it so that its energy is maintained without dumbing down the drama. Unsurprisingly, Wilson comes out smelling like roses but only because Hanks and co. know exactly how to turn those warts into beauty spots and so, like the man himself, Charlie Wilson’s War charms its way into the audience’s hearts.
Rating: The Good – 75.8 Genre: Romantic Comedy Duration: 113 mins Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver
Of its time but in the best ways possible, Mike Nichols’ Working Girl is a superior rom-com starring Melanie Griffith as an ambitious secretary who, on discovering that her ruthless boss (a delightfully obnoxious Sigourney Weaver) has stolen her idea for a lucrative merger, assumes the role of an executive to close the deal herself. Along the way, she inevitably falls for the man helping her to put it together (Harrison Ford in top comedic form) while evading any and all situations that might disclose her real identity to him and everyone else. Working Girl achieves that priceless balance between the drama and romance by laying out a well developed plot and seamlessly weaving it with the various romantic angles. Nichols compensates for Griffith’s acting limitations by setting a comedic tone just wacky enough to forgive her flat delivery but not so much that it detracts from the relative sophistication of the story. Ford greatly assists him in this endeavour as he demonstrates, yet again, his impeccable timing and instincts for light comedy while Weaver proves equally critical with a brave and perfectly judged turn that she uses, like Ford, to coax the best out of Griffith. Nichols composes the entire thing with polish and remains master rather than victim to the business and fashion cultures from which so much of the humour is derived but the jewel in the movie’s crown is undoubtedly Kevin Wade’s witty screenplay that Ford in particular has a ball with. All that plus an electric Alec Baldwin as Griffith’s old squeeze, and some glorious cameos from Oliver Platt and Kevin Spacey ensure that Working Girl sits right at the top of that era’s genre offerings.
Rating: The Good – 78.2 Genre: War, Satire Duration: 122 mins Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Alan Arkin, Martin Balsam, Orson Welles
One of the great anti-war statements, Mike Nichols film adaption of Joseph Heller’s acerbic and outlandish satire is a tour de force in every respect. Alan Arkin couldn’t have been better as bombardier Capt. Yossarian, whose attempts to avoid duty due to insanity run afoul of a strange clause in airforce regulations. The supporting performances are equally sterling and there is an array of talent on show as nearly every big name from that era features to excellent effect. Catch-22 isn’t about story or plot but rather it attempts to frame the varied experiences of war from a distant and more clinical perspective and in doing so explore the construct of war in both heartfelt and hilarious ways. It’s completely refreshing and unlike anything we’ve seen in this genre and for that reason alone it’s probably worth a look. But like all great satires, once you go beyond the humour, there are some deeply cutting and perennially pertinent inferences to be made.
Rating: The Good – 73.7 Genre: Comedy, Drama Duration: 106 mins Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Matt Mulhern
Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical play is wonderfully brought to the screen by Mike Nichols and amongst others Matthew Broderick as Eugene Jerome. Taking a different slant on the boot camp days of a fresh faced bunch of recruits to the likes of Full Metal Jacket (released a year earlier) it offers a far more human and personal account of growing up to face the harsh realities of the adult world. The comedy is much softer also but no less effective as that scene with the prostitute is testament to. Broderick is somewhat in Bueller mode but that’s no bad thing as you’ll find yourself smirking your way through most of his lines. Christopher Walken gives us a typically original and unorthodox performance as the drill sergeant who the audience will find as difficult to work out as the recruits did. And truth be told, it’s in such reality-based ambiguity that Biloxi Blues properly triumphs.
Rating: The Good – 78 Genre: Comedy, Drama Duration: 106 mins Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
Mike Nichols’ iconic film is one of those rare gems that perfectly blends humour with serious character study. Whereas most comedies corrupt reality to generate laughs, The Graduate embraces it and in doing so exposes its inherent contradictions and natural absurdities. Dustin Hoffman plays the title character Benjamin, who becomes trapped in a malaise after graduation and instead of moving forward as everyone expects, he begins to regress. Ann Bancroft plays the infamous Mrs. Robinson who, drawn to his youth, takes advantage of his confusion for her own selfish purposes. However, Benjamin’s life is suddenly snapped into perspective with the arrival of Robinson’s daughter (Katherine Ross) and as the two of them grow closer, Mrs. Robinson’s desperation turns malevolent. Hoffman is brilliant in the lead role but his performance is complemented wonderfully by Bancroft’s. Ross scores well also with her comparatively smaller role. Nichols’ film is a totally original comedy that is flushed with symbolism and technical innovation. Despite the genuinely funny moments, it’s a very dark film that mocks the eternal search to fill life’s empty voids. Mirroring the inertia of Benjamin, it moves forward at a hypnotic pace thanks largely to Simon and Garfunkle’s seminal soundtrack which more than anything else captures the irony of this timeless masterpiece.