Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Last Tycoon

(Elia Kazan, 1976)
As the profoundly enigmatic object of movie mogul Robert De Niro's affections, Ingrid Boulting presents a riddle you may not be patient enough to figure out. On the most obvious level, she is a real-life riposte to the perfect-woman idealism that De Niro demands of his scriptwriters, shaped and distorted by his sorrow for a lost love. Boulting is gorgeous and sensual, yes, but also contradictory, remote, and ultimately unknowable; and while her halting self-assurance and intrusively elusive backstory do prevent her scenes from getting too predictable, Kazan's mannered staging here is almost as remote as her character. At least Boulting gets two bookending scenes which partake of the otherwise pervasive razzle-dazzle - the disintegrating diagetic orchestra of the dancing scene and the eye-contact-through-the-lens of the finale are as perfect as the two-part earthquake gag that sets things up. The first act is all insouciant energy and satire, as a mind-boggling array of powerhouse performers fill the screen in perfect harmony and balance. Later on Jack Nicholson shows up to show everyone how to underplay with wit and energy, and De Niro responds well to his cue, finally turning his relentless deadpan to outright comic effect. Theresa Russell's inspired sassy kid plays Bel Geddes to Boulting's Novak, but while the middle third may be valid and even profound, I still wish that it was more entertaining.

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