Sunday, August 23, 1998
By Ervell E. Menezes
THE best thing about Americans is that they know how to laugh at themselves. They also spare no one, not even their President. Knowing Bill Clinton and his weakness for women theyve used it to get at the man, the media and the system.
If theres a sex scandal, divert public attention to war. "War is show business," goes one of the lines in Wag the Dog, a film which begins promisingly but then runs out of ideas as it comes to a sort of dead-end.
The script says, "The dog wags its tail because it is smarter than the tail." So the title suggests that the tail is smarter than the dog or by implication the American people are smarter than the powers that be. And in this case it means the folks surrounding the President.
Of course, this is a satire on the media and how it manipulates the news. Less than two weeks before the President is to be elected for a second term, he is said to have made a pass at a girl scout. Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro) is the ultimate spin doctor because of his uncanny ability to manipulate politics, the press and most importantly, the American people.
Anticipating the reaction of a frenzied press corps, Brean deftly deflects attention by creating a bigger and better story a war with Albania. With the help of famed Hollywood producer Stanley Motts (Dustin Hoffman) and his irreverent entourage, Brean assembles an unlikely crisis team which orchestrates a global conflict like any that has happened in the past. Was the Gulf war not fought so that George Bush would be elected for a second term?
The verisimilitude is amazing. Actually the screenplay by David Mame and Hilary Hennin gets off to a fine start but by the halfway mark, the film gets bogged down in its own smart alecness. Then both Brean and Motts get caught in their super smartness apart from failing to clinch the issue. Director Barry Levinson is bold enough to take up daring subjects like this but he must know that once he starts a controversy he must see it to its bitter end. Unfortunately, this film peters off and not even two big stars like DeNiro and Hoffman can keep it together.
Scripts for films like this should be written backwards, meaning one should find a suitable climax and then get back to the beginning. The trouble with Hollywood these days is that it seems to be drowned in weak, mindless scripts or have one eye on the story and the other on the sequel.
Thats why so many films that start with promise, flatter, only to deceive.
In that respect Fallen is a much better film which deals with evil which is supposed to come in all shapes and sizes. Like Psycho this film (in the synopses) asks that the end not be revealed. It also quotes from the Book of Revelations: "...And the dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world..."
Like most good films which deal with after-life or the occult or evil spirits it is the atmosphere of fear-suspense that must grip the audience and for this, one needs a good director and a good script.
In the beginning, there was the word Nicholas Kazans spec script that told the story of homicide detective drawn into the continuing and never-ending struggle against faceless evil. It was a script that moved and excited Charles Roven, Dawn Steel and Robert Cavallo (the producers for Atlas Entertainment) so much so that the group acquired the script and moved quickly into the pre-production of Fallen.
"Its rare that you get a screenplay on the spec market that is so clearly ready to make. With Nick Kazan writing a thriller, you know that youre going to get more than a thriller. You are going to get characters who talk about important things in life that we think about but dont always share," says Roven.
Homicide detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) reels off this significant line almost at the start of the film: "something is always happening but when it happens people dont always see it, or accept it." It sets the mood which is enhanced by the prisoner, who is about to be put in a gas chamber, promising to keep in touch with detective John Hobbes.
"I believe human beings are basically good and that evil is a force that is communicated from one person to another. I started to think about a film in which evil passes from person to person. Fallen evolved from that image," says Kazan. And the passing of evil is succinctly put across by director Gregory Hoblit who sustains the eerie tempo right through the film.
"Cops are the chosen people," says another line but this is more tongue in cheek. But Hobbes colleagues, partner Jonesy (John Goodman) and Lieutenant Stanton (Donald Sutherland), are well rounded characters. Theology professor Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz), whose father ends his life, rounds off the list of fetching cameos and the narrative is so strong it keeps the viewer engrossed.
For a change Fallen is a film cleverly conceived and equally competently created with Denzel Washington once again proving his versatility.
"I want to tell you about the time I almost died," are the opening lines. Eerie again. There is a sustained thread of fear and suspense and Id rate it with some of the best eerie films Ive seen. Like The Innocents (Deborah Kerr) for example. Dont miss it.
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