So what did I learn from watching every single film by one of the most eccentric and quirky actors in the business? Well, one thing would be that being quirky and eccentric does not save you from having just as many duds (though, on average, less) as any other actor or actress in the business. Part of this is par for the course, every actor/actress has to make ends meet until they are sought after in Hollywood. Part of it is in redefining oneself between decades while tastes and film styles shift. Both of these played a significant role in the worst films of Cusack’s filmography, though it cannot explain all of the selections in the top ten.
On a more positive note, Cusack, with fewer hiccups (I would argue) than most actors/actresses, was able to reinterpret himself smoothly through the last thirty years. His popularity has only increased, but without him or the critics letting his recent stature overshadow the films and icons that he created and is remembered for from the past. Out of the three decades that he has been working, the 90s were quite possibly the most ill-defined period of his career. The 80s found him to be one of the most memorable and hardest-working actors of the decade (even without having a John Hughes credit to his name) and he still maintains the most iconic character of the 80s, Lloyd Dobler. Skip ahead to the 2000s, though he had a few more hiccups at the beginning of the decade, he was able to accomplish, arguably, an A-list stature and greatly sought-after presence. The 90s, however, are hard to explain. The decade is an enigma. For one, the decade contains six of my list of ten best films (including #1) and four of my list of ten worst films (including his worst film!). It seems like the 90s were a highly volatile period for Cusack. He exemplified my father’s favorite phrase for actors and actresses that he neither loved nor hated, “When they’re good, they’re real good, when they’re bad, they’re real bad.” Someone would have to watch his whole 90s filmography and, also, know the circumstances surrounding his life during that period to make any remotely accurate guesses at the ambiguity of this time. All I know is that if the Cusack films of the 90s were to be compared to highly unstable explosives, then we would all be meat carcasses splattered over an empty wasteland.
Did watching every single film in his corpus change my opinion of him as my favorite actor? No. Though it did make me realize that he was more prone to making bad films than I had originally thought at first, but that is far from an image-shattering revelation. More than anything, I actually respect him more now that I have seen his imperfect (and downright bad) works. He is still one of the hardest working actors in the business and one of the few Hollywood stars that still has credit and fans in both the underground (or cult) and mainstream circles. And, with the possible exception of Chuck Klosterman (read Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs), I don’t know of anyone who absolutely detests the man wholesale. Well, take that back, there might be a few in the Republican political machine that use his picture as a dart board, but that is solely on his politically-left leanings, not on his work in films.
And, yet, what remains to be said about John Cusack? I think it still comes back full circle to what made him great and memorable in the first place: he is an eccentric actor. I don’t think you could find any other actor or actress that can completely obliterate the genre stereotypes like Cusack can. I think the one genre that displays this the best (though the films themselves tend to be in the lower echelons of his career) is romantic comedy. I don’t think that you can honestly watch The Sure Thing, Serendipity, or Must Love Dogs (to name a few) without enjoying the creativity and freshness that he brings to the characters. In The Sure Thing he is an uncouth college student who woos the girl by teaching her how to shotgun a beer and acts like a psychotic killer to save her from a pervert giving her a ride. In Serendipity, he ends up obsessing over Kate Beckinsale’s character like Woody Allen over Mia Farrow’s adopted South Korean daughter. And, most eccentric of all, was Must Love Dogs where his character’s charm came from being wholly awkward, allergic to small-talk, prone to move too fast in relationships and addicted to the movie Dr. Zhivago. Show me another romantic leading man that is more eccentric than that. I think it is a futile search.
All of this is what makes, and continues to make, John Cusack my favorite actor. I may respect the works of several other actors, but, at the end of the day, I still would take a mediocre Cusack film over most of the films out there. And with that, I present to you my lists for the best and worst films of John Cusack, so far…
Top Ten Best Films:
1. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) - This choice was a given in my mind. Sure, his acting might have been far better in some of the other films in this list, but if you take the film as a whole, this one displays everything that is great about Cusack. Not only that, but it has something for everyone: action, romance, comedy, psychosis, philosophy, great music, etc. Nothing beats Martin Blank. Period.
2. The Thin Red Line (1998) - Some might say that this hardly counts as a John Cusack-led movie, however there is a huge ensemble cast and none of them are the main stars of the film, hence my placement of this film in the list. As far as cinematography goes, Terrence Mallick cannot be beat. His films are always beautiful, but not always interesting or entertaining. This one, however, is brilliant across the board. Easily beats out Saving Private Ryan which came out the same year. It is a quiet and thought-provoking work on war and the human condition.
3. Grace Is Gone (2007) - Easily Cusack’s most accomplished acting in any film. Somehow he was able to capture the “every man” while still retaining some of his iconic quirkiness. Not an easy film to watch, but well worth the endeavor. Also, proves that Cusack is not as driven to pick movies according to his political stance, but is willing to take on characters with whom he would probably not agree.
4. High Fidelity (2000) - Though not my pick for most entertaining film, this is ultimately a fan favorite and one which fought me hard to make it into the list. So much about this film is brilliant (I mean, it’s a Nick Hornby story after all!), but there is a lot of dissonance in the film for me. However, I think that is part of the reason I am placing it so high on the list is because I think, given multiple viewings, it could become one of my all-time favorites. The gloves have been taken off and I accept the challenge.
5. City Hall (1996) - This film blindsided me. If you had asked me before I did this whole thing which films I thought would probably make the list, this would not have been one. However, between this and True Colors, I realized that Cusack does amazing work on political thrillers. Plus, the acting chemistry between him and Al Pacino was as natural as I have ever see Pacino with anyone (a close second would be Chris O’Donnell in Scent of a Woman). This is a highly enjoyable and effective thriller.
6. Being John Malkovich (1999) - This is a film that I would not watch very often, but the acting by everyone is brilliant including (and, maybe, even especially) John Malkovich. Spike Jonze is a bizarre director and makes some thought provoking (if not totally pretentious) films. This is probably one of his shining stars. An eccentric film with a cast of eccentric actors/actresses (with the exception of Cameron Diaz, but even she pulled off strange well) which deals with an idea that only a group of drunken Philosophy majors could come up with. Cusack does an amazing job of being pitiable and awkward.
7. True Colors (1991) - Speaking of acting chemistry, James Spader (another fairly eccentric actor, just watch Secretary) and John Cusack are magnificent together. After watching this film, I wondered why that had not done more work with each other. Once again, a political thriller that displays Spader as the protagonist and Cusack, in a rare instance, as the antagonist. Cusack plays a manipulative, politically volatile bastard so well that you wonder whether or not he could actually shake things up in the US Senate in real life. Forgiving the original music in the film (most of which is hold-overs from the 80s), this is easily one of the best political thrillers out there.
8. Say Anything… (1989) - I will not be surprised if I get a lot of flack for putting this film so low on the list. It is a classic in Cusack’s film history and one for which he will always be remembered, but let’s not allow that status to get in the way of ranking it in its proper place. He has better films than this (though, really, only seven). Cameron Crowe has better films than this, as well (take for instance Almost Famous and Elizabethtown). That is not to take away from the brilliance of this film, but it is still bound by its 80s context and my generation will probably be the last to appreciate it fully.
9. Better Off Dead… (1985) - In the big scheme of 80s angsty-teen comedies, this one is probably in the great triad of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club. Full of great one liners and memorable scenes (“I want my two dollars!”), this film is just absurd, but intelligent fun. It is too bad that Savage Steve Holland’s next Cusack vehicle made it onto my worst films list.
10. 1408 (2007) - Picking the movie for the number ten spot was probably the hardest decision for me, because there was heavy competition between this, The Sure Thing, Identity, Max, and The Grifters. Ultimately, my choice came down to which movie showcased Cusack’s talent the best and, let’s face it, this film is the equivalent to Hanks’ Castaway and Reynold’s Buried. It is a one man show and those types of films live and die by how well the actor/actress can draw the audience in. I think this is Cusack unplugged. It would not surprise me if Hafstrom’s advice to Cusack when making this film was “do what you do best.” The ghosts only serve as something for Cusack to bounce off of. In the end, the creepiness lies in Cusack’s acting.
Top Ten Worst Films:
10. 2012 (2009) - Yes, John Cusack is the lead man in a blockbuster film. That aside, nothing could save this from its own apocalyptic destruction. Though watching Cusack escaping a crumbling runway makes for a good scene.
9. Must Love Dogs (2005) - Though, by no means, the worst rom-com out there, it is still fairly forgettable except for Cusack’s character’s obsession with Dr. Zhivago.
8. The Road To Wellville (1994) - Decent cast, but eccentric to the point of being absurd. The one film where John Cusack is the most normal character; never a good sign!
7. Serendipity (2001) - Though films 7-10 on this list are a massive step up from 1-6, there is still no excuse for this lame and overly cliched mess.
6. Hot Pursuit (1987) - Hey, is that a young Ben Stiller? Why, yes, it is. And he still isn’t funny!
5. One Crazy Summer (1986) - I don’t even remember this movie, that’s how bad it was.
4. America’s Sweethearts (2001) - Billy Crystal getting his crotch licked by a dog…’nuff said.
3. Anastasia (1997) - I wanted to root for Rasputin during the whole movie, but not even Rasputin was interesting enough to root for.
2. Con Air (1997) - Normally Nicolas Cage-led blockbusters go straight to the bottom of my list. However, not even this film could beat out Money for Nothing.
1. Money For Nothing (1993) - I think the title of this film probably doubles as the general feelings shared by those unlucky enough to watch it in the theater.
Best Cameos or Minor Roles
1. Roadside Prophets (1992) - Delightfully zany and off-kilter. The only saving grace to this film.
2. Elvis Stories: “Elvis Patties” (Short) (1989) - Plays a mentally challenged fry cook who claims to cook patties that look like Elvis. Insanity.
3. Shadows and Fog (1991) - Has an extremely minor role in this Woody Allen film, but he is the character that delivers the crux of the philosophical meaning behind the film.
The Cusack Chronicles: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Considering this is technically the last movie of the series until Shanghai (2010) comes available to watch, it seems anti-climactic to end on a movie like this. I will say that it is not in the top ten worst Cusack films, but it is probably in the lower half of his career. There are several elements to this film that are quite humorous, but where the movie could have amped up the comedy more, they, instead, settled for cheap laughs and raunchy sexual humor (and it wasn’t even funny raunchy sexual humor!). I get the feeling, like The Contract, this was a favor film to Steve Pink for John Cusack. Considering what his career had achieved at this point, there was no legitimate reason for Cusack to make this movie unless he was doing it for a friend.
Although, impressively enough, they were able to get the ever kooky Crispin Glover to play the one-armed bellboy which admittedly made up at least half of the funny material in the movie. I think part of the reason why this movie did not really work in the end was because I truly detest Rob Cordry and I really do not know how he is getting as many TV and movie roles as he does. Plus I constantly get him and David Koechner mixed up, because they look similar and neither one of them is even remotely funny. The other actors, including Craig Robinson, did decent jobs. If this movie had taken itself more seriously and fired the script writers to get new ones, then it might have had a chance at being a nice retro throwback to the 80s with modern style comedy. However it did neither.
When I first heard about this film, I was thinking, “Great, another disaster film with little to no storyline and based on some thinly veiled scientific explanation. Not gonna see it.” Then I saw the preview and there was John Cusack driving a limousine (reprising his role in Identity?) down a crumbling road, weaving around falling buildings, it was at that point that I realized that I had been suckered in to going to see this film. This was mainly for the simple fact of seeing John Cusack playing lead male in a summer blockbuster film. If you had asked me if Cusack would have ever taken a script for a summer blockbuster, I would have told you no. He is just too eccentric to simplistic summer blockbuster male leads. However, I was once again proven wrong and to my surprise he makes a formidable blockbuster star. I can’t say that about 2012, though.
From the same guy that directed The Day After Tomorrow (which I found to be surprisingly entertaining), this apocalyptic tale about the end of the Mayan calendar has a lot of possibility but it ends up killing itself with its own pretension. All of the character interactions could have been intriguing, but instead the writers went for cliches instead of realistic dialogue. The scientific explanations are laughable at best and ultimately leave the film impotent in making any kind of serious point. The highlight of the film, however, revolved around Cusack’s and Harrelson’s characters who were by far the most interesting and even they were tamer than they should have been. That being said, there is nothing better than seeing Cusack crawl out of a crack in a landing strip in order to run towards a moving plane while the ground is crumbling behind him. Great scene, made the movie worth watching right there!
So in a kingdom that makes its profit from creating evil inventions in order to sell them to the rest of the world, what happens when an igor (the lowest class of society) creates a monster who is good (though, admittedly, by mistake)? That is the premise behind this CGI film. It is a massive improvement over Cusack’s last attempt to do an animated film, Anastasia. There was nothing incredibly unique about his voice work, but he does do a good job of the stereotyped hunchback slurred speech. His two buddies, however, were great characters. Scamper, the Camus-esque immortal, but suicidal rabbit, and Brain, the stupid, but heartfelt brain in a jar, were the key to the humor of this film. Voiced by Steve Buscemi and Sean Hayes, respectively, these two did great jobs and were the most interesting characters in the film.
Overall this film is an enjoyable one for the whole family, though it does start to wear a little thin in the last third. Questions of good and evil arise, which is always interesting, however, they, as Hollywood tends to do, made the discussion a little too shallow and started off with a wrong premise. People are not inherently good and in the words of St. Paul, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Sometimes we drawn to evil because it is in our nature and we are not strong enough to overcome it in any significant or lasting way. There was a lot in this film that could have been good foundations for a deeper and more interesting discussion of good and evil, but, instead, they went for the cliche, happy ending. The other interesting subtext that struck me was how much it seemed to be an analogy for the Bush administration and the wars that he began. Considering Cusack and the others definitely took this view, it would not be a far stretch for that subtext. Especially when Cusack’s igor states “He lied to us. He tricked us into believing that we need to be evil to survive. But we don’t! None of us do.” Sounds like a political statement in disguise. Funny enough, I don’t necessarily disagree with it either, however, I bet we would disagree on the solution to that problem.
Welcome to purely commercialized and privatized American occupation. In an exaggerated, and intentionally comical, portrayal of what happens when imperialism is brand operated under the informal control of nations. Strangely enough (and scarily enough), this film parallels some major trends in American cultural and political imperialism. John Cusack took the gloves off in making this film in order to address some pretty weighty political issues about privatized military para-troops and cultural coercion in the Middle East. Not only this, but this is the closest to a sequel that Grosse Pointe Blank that Cusack fans can expect. Joan Cusack and Dan Akroyd make appearances which is only the beginning of the blunt and subtle similarities between the two movies. Hauser (Cusack) is a hit man who is hired by the ex-vice president (Akroyd) to delete a Middle Eastern oil minister while under the disguise of a trade show producer pawning Tamerlane (the privatized American company in charge of the occupation and military presence) products. He must also deal with the marriage of an Eastern Britney Spears (Duff) and a left-wing journalist (Tomei) in the midst of it all.
The comedy reaches absurd levels in this film, to the point of being truly absurd, at times. However, that being said, there are some truly inspiring potshots at the state of America’s presence and perception by the world. Privatized military and occupation is not as far-fetched at one might think and, so, the laughs are tinted with a healthy dose of serious contemplation. This film is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it anyway as classically funny as Grosse Pointe Blank, but, with all of that aside, it is an entertaining and often humorous film to watch. Think of it as Martin Blank on an international level with more at stake, both in narrative and in message. This review was brought to you by Tamerlane.
What happens when you adopt a child who thinks that he is a martian? That is exactly the premise behind this film. So many aspects of this film could have easily led it down a very cliched and emotionally shallow path, but Menno Meyjes, the director of Max, another Cusack vehicle, is able to keep the messages of the film from being overly simplistic, which these types of family films often fall into. They take shortcuts in finding solutions for conflicts between the kids and the parents. However, even though it does fall into this at times, the overall point of the film has a much deeper, introspective meaning. The emotional and psychological effects of child abandonment and abuse present themselves in relatively realistic ways in the film. David (Cusack) is a widower who is just figuring out life without his beloved wife and decides to adopt a child, because it had always been a wish of his wife’s. The creative side of the film is that it does seem, at times, that Dennis may in fact be what he says, though the viewer already knows the inevitable conclusion.
John Cusack does a great job as a single father who finds a portion of his heart that needs to be expended to this adopted child, but, knowingly, does not have it all together. He is often figuring out how to survive in the same world. It is the interaction between John Cusack and Bobby Coleman (who also was in Must Love Dogs) that makes the film. There is a natural ease in how they act together. I think the strongest point of the film is the very pro-adoption stance that the film takes. At one point, David states, “I don’t want to bring another kid into this world. But how do you argue against loving one that’s already here?” That line alone expresses a very Christian theme that we often overlook in this world. Yes, it is good to have your own children, but there are tons of children out there that don’t have families, people who love them, role models, etc. Whether they can be found in America or overseas, there is a need there and to not, at least, weigh that option of giving love to those who are orphaned, abused, abandoned, or so forth is, in fact, selfish on our parts. The movie provides something challenging to people to open their hearts to children who are already living that are in need of love and a home. This is ultimately the message that makes this movie a solid effort by all involved in it.
A sure sign that you have made it to leading man status is when you are signed on to do a movie that is basically a one man show. I don’t even know why they put Samuel L. Jackson’s name on top billing, he was only in it for about 10-15 minutes. The rest of the time it is John Cusack being eccentric and cynical as ever. Tom Hanks had Castaway (with Wilson, the volleyball), Cusack gets 1408 (and “an evil f****** room”). Mike Enslin (Cusack) is an author of guide books to haunted hotels, mansions, etc., but he doesn’t actually believe any of it. He doesn’t believe in ghosts or anything else supernatural (including God). But there is something in him, driving him to find evidence for something which we find out later in the film. He receives a postcard from the Dolphin Hotel and it simply reads Don’t Enter 1408 (which he quickly notices that the numbers add up to 13) and so, naturally, he goes to stay in the room in search of “ghosties, ghoulies and long-legged beasties.” What happens to him during his stay is the majority of the film.
The beauty of this film, which is based on a rather dull and unimaginative short story by Stephen King, is that it is claustrophobic, simple (not simplistic!) and it allows everything eccentric about John Cusack, as an actor, to come out in full force with few checks. Cusack delivers this film on a platter to the audience and it looks like he had a blast making the film. Mikael Halfstrom, the director, was integral to the success of the film as well. He did not rely on big shocks or CGI-ed ghosts, but instead let Cusack be the source of the suspense. The multi-level story drawn by the writers was something that King only wishes he could do as a writer (much like Darabont’s work on The Mist, The Green Mile, and Shawshank Redemption). This is a wonderful “haunted house” movie that can even be enjoyed by most of the family, though there are still some pretty disturbing scenes at times. I would say that this was definitely in the top ten films for John Cusack and easily one of the most enjoyable to watch.
This is an extremely tough movie to watch and it is not because it is bad, actually it is just the opposite. It is a tough movie to take in because of the subject matter and how delicately the director and writers handled it. Stanley (Cusack), the husband of a woman in the military, receives the news that she was killed in action. Instantaneously, he decides to take his two daughters on a trip to Enchanted Gardens because his youngest wanted to go there. The movement of the story revolves around the wrenching agony of when Stanley is going to break the news to his daughters when the rest of the immediate world already knows. The movie is tough because of the emotional tension felt in Stanley’s character and its resolution in the inevitable conclusion. Regardless of Cusack’s political views and more than likely most of the views of the people who worked on this film, they avoided making politically volatile statements. Instead they let the story (the story of hundreds and hundreds of families in the US and in the world) speak for itself. The only statement that is made in this movie is that war inevitably ends in devastation in one form or another, regardless of whether it is justified or not. Life is taken, and the survivors are left to pick up the pieces.
The absolute beauty of this film is the acting by Cusack and the two girls who played his daughters. All of them did amazing work and made it realistic AND emotionally powerful. The movie never succumbed to what I call emotional manipulation (aka Nicholas Sparks syndrome) where the whole movie was just a means to a predetermined end (oftentimes crying and saddened mothers, wives and daughters). Yes, you are supposed to have an emotional response to this movie, especially by the end, but that response will not be the same for everyone. All I could think of during the film was the promise of God wiping away our tears and healing our sorrows on that not so distant day. We are stuck in a world where death is inevitable. It is also the final enemy of God, but He has promised to overcome it. Yes, the wounds are deep and serious and, oftentimes, violent, but just as the man and his two daughters sit on the beach watching the sun go down, there is a sense of hope in the film. And this hope is the feeling that one day there will be no pain, no tears, no violence, no war, and no death. This is easily in the top five John Cusack films. It is brief, but emotionally intelligent. A must-see for anyone.
This film, in all honesty, wreaks of being a “favor film” for both Cusack and Freeman. Both actors are better than this film required. Chances are they owed a favor to someone who was working on this film and to deliver on the debt, here they are. This is not to say that there is nothing redeeming about this film, but it is to say that there is nothing in this film that would have appealed to either actor and you can tell it from the quality of their acting. Freeman falls back into a form of acting that he does naturally without even trying: the stoic, wise older black man. The viewer can tell that he is putting no more effort than he has to into the role. The same goes for Cusack who is unusually stiff in a rather ordinary and simple role. Neither one appears to want to be there.
The rest of the acting, on the other hand, is pretty bad. Stiff is an understatement and the script-writing is deplorable with cliched lines, one after another. On the bright side, it is not devoid of any form of entertainment. There are some decent action scenes and some good shots here and there, but it is nothing to write home about. If this film had been put into the hands of another director and writer, then it might have been something other than straight-to-video quality. Like I said before, this films just wreaks of debt-fulfillment in some form or another. However, I would still place it above America’s Sweethearts and on par with Serendipity.
This is probably the one movie of John Cusack’s that is the hardest one to reconcile with his career. It is oddball. There are so many reasons to love it (As Witchita falls, so falls Witchita Falls; Oliver Platt; “Turkey lurkey” as some examples), but for some reason I don’t really like it. However, for some reason I think it is an important film in his career, but I can’t place my finger on why that is. Maybe eventually it will hit me like a brick to the head and I can come back and make an addendum to this post. For now, you all get to deal with the tension of the significance of this film and its utter failure at being a good film. Look on the bright side, Oliver Platt and John Cusack together in film should be compelling evidence for the existence of God.
Harold Ramis adapted this story into a strangely cynical comedy about the folly of men in attempting to yield to their basest desires. The setting of the film (Witchita, KS) is brilliant and may, in fact, be the best character in the movie. Its ice storms and nature signify desolation (in the sense of just the violence of nature), but, also, justice (in that it takes part in the folly of man’s plans). Even with some very interesting imagery, the movie just is not satisfying beyond that measure. I hope all of you will watch it, not because Cusack is great in it or anything, but just to help figure out my dissatisfaction with it. I ultimately do not know how to place this film.
"(in response to Dr. Zhivago) [this is a movie about a] love so real, that even after you are dead, it still hurts.”
Rom-Com #3 for Mr. Cusack, post-2001. This, however (regardless of the title), is a huge improvement over Serendipity and America’s Sweethearts. The movie does follow the same cliches as every other rom-com: two guys/one girl choosing between them/one is evidently the good guy and the other is an asshole/overly involved family/etc. However, the only reason why I give this film credit is because of Cusack’s character. He is, by no means, the guy you would expect to be “that-guy-she-will-end-up-with.” He is awkward and a little creepy, but underneath it all, it is iconic Cusack. Diane Lane’s character is flat and without much depth or interest. Her family is goofy and mere caricatures, like is the case in all rom-coms. Cusack’s buddy is a stereotype, the executive horn-dog. John Cusack does not fit in this scenery. He is too strange. Too interesting. Too real. He watches Dr. Zhivago every night almost. He tells his dates to cut past the surface conversation to be real. He insults people without meaning to insult. And he brought back the trench coat.
Cusack saved this film from being total trash and unrecognizable from any other romantic comedy. He was the only funny part and the only interesting character. To this day, John Cusack and Ryan Reynolds are the only leading males I have seen that can make a romantic comedy enjoyable. Everyone else seems to blur into the anonymous romantic leading man of the month. Would I recommend this film to you as a must see? No. If you have to watch a rom-com with your girlfriend/wife, would I tell you to run out and get this one? Yes. At least the audience can laugh at the always quirky and entertaining John Cusack.
By the way, unlike Dr. Zhivago, this is the type of love that you wake up next to after a rough night of hard liquor, hoping that you didn’t pay anything for.
Based on a John Grisham novel of the same name, this film changes the subject matter of the court case from tobacco to guns in response to the school shootings and rising gun-related deaths in the US. Seemed like a relevant change to the storyline, though tobacco would have still worked (take Thank You for Smoking, for instance). No matter what the advocates on either side of gun-control claim, this is a film about legal and business ethics. I watched this film in my business ethics class that I took when I was a senior in college. When the audience gets past the shallow political message of the film, they realize that there is only one strong ethical character in the whole movie and that is Dustin Hoffman’s Wendall Rohr, the prosecuting lawyer. All of the other major characters are trying to manipulate or buy a verdict. Hackman, Cusack, Weisz, and, even, Piven end up, or attempt to, work the system to their desired end. Only Hoffman attempts to work IN the system to right a wrong that he saw. At the end, whatever you believe led to the verdict given, Rohr came out looking clean; his conscience is not burdened. And THAT is the point of the film.
That being said, the verdict does make a political statement about what at least a majority of the east and west coasts think about the gun control issue. I personally do not have a problem with people owning guns (though not semi- or fully-automatic), because the Scriptures talk of man’s depravity and if a person wants to kill somebody else, they will find a way, with guns or something else. On the other side, do I think that people should vote for a candidate according to (and in several cases, solely because) their stance on gun control? No, because no one should vote according to one issue alone. Period. I personally don’t own a gun, or ever really desire to and I don’t support the NRA. But I don’t think guns should be banned completely either. Though better education standards need to be met in order to own one, I think. But I digress.
Cusack’s character is nothing interesting. He is just playing the character and, really, him and Weisz are just foils for the dichotomy presented between Rohr and Fitch (Hackman), ethical vs. unethical, respectively. This is a great film to watch and discuss, not politically, but ethically. Because there are some definite ethical issues raised that still hold sway today. This film is a good companion to the William Holden classic, Twelve Angry Men. Both of which address the problems inherent in the American justice system and present questions that transcend our justice system to point toward a more universal ethical standard.
As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he’d go away.
These are the first lines of the movie and after you have watched the film, the audience realizes how close this phrase comes to giving away the plot of the whole film. James Mangold, though not a director that you will find on the Oscar bill very often, does excellent work on what films he picks to do. This one is no exception. Though panned by some critics to be too much of a “flash-in-the-pan” thriller (in the same vein as Shyamalan), this movie has more to it than just a twist ending. Yes, there is one, but it is not there just as a plot device but as a means of shifting the whole landscape of the story for the rest of the film. This movie plays out like an Alfred Hitchcock film. Nothing is as it seems. Mangold, also, cleverly tossed in every cliche that is usually in these kinds of supernatural who-dun-it films only to show how absurd those actually are (including a brilliant jab at Spielberg’s massacre of the Tobe Hooper-helmed Poltergeist with the suggestion of the Indian burial ground). Once the audience gets past the “trick” of the film, they are not just left with a clever ending, but a challenge as to the nature of identity in general. What constitutes identity and how does it manifest itself in the average person. Nonetheless, there is a lot that is good and intelligent about this movie, including an ensemble casting of mainly character actors to fill out the film.
The one thing to notice about Cusack in the 2000s is his willingness to star in thrillers and how he transforms his eccentricities into the real strengths of those characters he plays. This is the first film that the audience really sees the beauty of having an eccentric actor in a leading role. He is able to tell more about his character and endow the script with his mannerisms and facial expressions. I think, as far as acting goes, we will see that the 2000s is Cusack’s most important decade as an actor. Not every film is great, but his acting is stellar and he is able to figure out how to best use his eccentricities to his advantage in acting instead of just allowing them to bring a certain odd, but enjoyable awkwardness to the film. Identity is my first case in point for this argument. Watch it several times and you will be surprised at how many layers you will find in the film.
This would have to be considered one of the harshest turnarounds for any singular actor between any two movies: going from a sugary-sweet, but empty romance to a period piece centering around the near-artistic life of Hitler. Cusack knows when to throw curve balls and this one could not have come at a better time. This tiny little film revolves around a little known (or largely ignored) fact about Hitler: that he was at one time a striving artist before he entered into politics. The main crux of the film is the relationship between Hitler and Max Rothman, a Jewish modern art seller, both of which were veterans of World War I. Rothman attempts to inspire Hitler to paint according to how he felt about the war instead of being stuck in merely representing it on the canvas. Rothman constantly tried to pull Hitler away from his studies in propaganda and politics into the world of art, but, as history shows, to no avail. The question that this film puts forth is: would art have been powerful enough to change the fate one of the most hated men in history? We know now that it was not, but it makes for an interesting thought if he had been given a legitimate chance at an art career. Nonetheless, history is a harsh mistress. It is frozen in the past and “what if” questions are nothing more than hopeful thinking and kitsch.
Noah Taylor and John Cusack do quite well in their respective roles and Menno Meyjes directs with excellent control and a minimalism that is seldom seen in period pieces. At times, the cinematography becomes artistic in itself. The one flaw of the film is that John Cusack hardly even attempts a German accent, so it almost becomes a tale of how an American art seller tried to sway a soon-to-be dictator into the art world. Beyond that this is a well-done film, however it does not have enough draw to make me want to watch it again. But it was an excellent comeback from the rather dull land of forgettable romantic comedies for Cusack.