Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Altman Project: Final Day

And with that, we wind it down. 

Altman’s adaptation of Herman Wouk’s play (from his famed novel) is smart and fast and rather wonderful, though the director seems a big hamstrung by the formality of the courtroom scenes, which don’t give him much of an opportunity to do what he does best. But the opening scenes and the thrilling closing sequence are a nearly perfect marriage of the Altman film and the theatrical adaptation. Ace casting across the board, with the exception of Midnight Express star Brad Davis, who just isn’t quite strong enough an actor for either the iconic role of Queeg or for the cast that surrounds him. He’s not bad, but he lacks a certain weight and maturity, and the loss is felt. That’s about the only complaint of note, though; this was the last film of Altman’s theatrical cycle, and it’s one of the best of that bunch.
REGULARS: You can tell this TV movie was shot around the same time as Tanner ’88, since it features several members of that show’s cast (including Michael Murphy, Matt Malloy, and Daniel Jenkins) in supporting roles. This was Peter Gallagher’s first film with Altman; he would return in The Player and Short Cuts. Danny Darst, who played Captain Southard, also pops up in O.C. and Stiggs, Short Cuts, The Gingerbread Man, and Cookie’s Fortune.
ALTMAN’S AMERICA: Not much to be found here, aside from (again) the general mistrust of unquestioned authority figures.

Altman and Trudeau revisited 1988 presidential candidate Jack Tanner for this four-episode mini-series, shot during the 2004 presidential campaign. I was a touch surprised by Cynthia Nixon’s top billing this time around (“Ah, the Sex and the City star threw her weight around a little”), but it’s actually accurate; this show is much more about Alex Tanner, who is now a documentary filmmaker trying to piece together a documentary about her dad’s campaign. “Everybody’s making pictures!” grins Martin Scorsese, who pops up in a near-perfect restaurant scene; Robert Redford’s cameo tops even that one. It’s a good piece of work, and a welcome epilogue to the original show. The final character turn is fairly shocking, as these things go, taking a turn to cynicism far more dire than even the original series.
REGULARS: Several members of the original cast return: not just Murphy and Nixon, but Malloy, Pamela Reed, and Ilana Levine—and Chris Matthews, who does brief cameos in both shows.
ALTMAN’S AMERICA: Come to find out, everyone’s for sale.

Well, that’s it; that’s all of the Altman I hadn’t seen. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting these and others as I work on the big piece, but now I’ve seen everything at least once, and feeling better than ever about the project.

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