Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack, 1934-2008

I don't have a lot of time to devote to this, but I just wanted to point out that filmmaker Sydney Pollack died at the age of 73 from cancer. Read Glenn Kenny's remembrance of Pollack here. I think the comparison to Alan J. Pakula is an accurate one. Both made classical American films that usually lingered a little too long, but you never cared because they contained wonderful acting. Pollack's films were never concise and he never really made anything that was a huge box office hit, even though he was known as a mainstream Hollywood filmmaker. His films have a strange aura about them and the length of the films create a reverie that lets you know you are in the company of a storyteller who demands attention and dedication to watching his films. Two examples are with the wonderful thriller The Firm and its unconventional score, and the romantic comedy Sabrina which had no business really being anything but a love letter by Pollack to a bygone era of filmmaking. However, the films work, and even though both are waaaay too long for their respective genres, you don't mind because the acting is so great, and it has all the qualities of a classical American film (great art direction, cinematography, score, and wonderful supporting characters and performances). His films have a sort of hypnotic pull to them -- sometimes that pull works as in The Firm or Sabrina, and other times its a mess as in Havana and Random Hearts, but rarely are his films uninteresting -- the viewer is pulled deeper and deeper into a state of reverie by his films lulls and wandering. If you haven't seen any of Pollack's films, check out...

The Firm -- a long and sometimes flawed film, but saved by great performances (a staple of Pollack's films) by Gene Hackman, Gary Busey, and Holly Hunter. All wonderful, eccentric supporting characters; like the ones that use to inhabit Hollywood thrillers in the 30's and 40's.

Three Days of the Condor -- one of nine films Pollack would work on with Robert Redford. The film is classical in its handling of the espionage/spy genre and you can really see how the pacing of the film translated into a film he would later star in and produce Michael Clayton.

Sabrina -- it's nothing special but it's an interesting addition to his filmography and it has a great looking cast doing some great acting. It's long and would overstay its welcome if it weren't for how endearing the characters are and how good looking and old fashioned the film looks.

Absence of Malice -- one of Paul Newman's best performances and wonderful script. A classic and probably Pollack's best film.

The Interpeter -- a flawed film and not one of my favorites, but it's the last film Mr. Pollack left us with. Check it out.

Changing Lanes -- Pollack was also a great actor, who had one of those great gruff and distinct voices, and I am sure most people will remember him for his most famous films (Tootsie and Out of Africa), but some of his roles as an actor have been just as impressive. Case in point: a small film with big actors, Changing Lanes is one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated films of the last decade. Yeah, it's a little contrived and heavy handed with its moral message, but it is some of the finest acting you'll see, and I love how Pollack plays one of the most evil and reprehensible characters I have seen in film, and yet, his character is really good at convincing you that he's doing the right thing. A wonderful performance.

He was also the producer for tons of amazing and award winning films, my favorite being The Talented Mr. Ripley which sadly was directed by the late Anthony Minghella who also died this year. Pollack's attention to detail and patient pacing were evident in the film which contains the best performances you will likely see from Matt Damon and Jude Law.

He will be missed.


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