The Morning After: Apr. 14, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Mirror Has Two Faces

Looking back at 1996, I can see why many people ignored The Mirror Has Two Faces. This is an unconventional romantic comedy that toyed with conventional archetypes and forged a different path through the overused cliches and tropes famous in the genre. Director Barbara Streisand’s third stint behind the camera doesn’t idly mimic the traditions of the medium, she does so with purpose and finesse. It’s surprising the film was as maligned as it was considering it’s a lot better than what’s been produced in recent years.

Streisand plays a frumpy philosophy teacher who wants more out of life, but cannot seem to find it. An opportunity to live a romance-less relationship with a idealist mathetmatics teacher (Jeff Bridges) gives her an opportunity to coax the beast out of its shell. Yet, as his unflinching adherence to his belief structure, one which he thinks will ideally lead to the perfect marriage, cripples their relationship while he haplessly misses all the clues that suggest perhaps he is falling in love and that his relationship with Streisand’s Rose could be more than he expected.

Streisand gets a bit obvious with her references to old movie romances, referencing It Happened One Night on at least two separate occasions. That film, which put a careless reporter into a platonic, guarded relationship with an heiress eventually leads to more. The similarities aren’t covert, but they are fitting. Bridges delivers an able, believable performance, employing his wit and charm to sell a character that would otherwise seem pointless. Streisand does fine, but reminds me of another singer-turned-actress who couldn’t cope with the genre better on subsequent occasions. Lauren Bacall delivers some catchy one-liners. There isn’t much to her performance, but it’s an engaging, perfectly capable one.

Marathon Man

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the likes of John Frankenheimer and Schlesinger’s prior films, but Marathon Man tries too hard to ratchet up the tension while forgetting that the audience wants more that just tense moments.

Based on William Goldman’s novel, the film surrounds a simple graduate student (Dustin Hoffman) training to be a marathon runner, hoping to live up to the expectations of his idol Olympic Gold Medalist marathon runner Abebe Bikila. After his secret agent brother (Roy Scheider) inadvertently brings his pursuers into Hoffman’s life, risking his destruction, Hoffman begins the race for his life.

Schlesinger’s prior outing, The Day of the Locust is a fascinating, tense departure from the traditional thriller motifs. With Marathon Man, he tries too hard to relive those moments and makes a film that has some delightful elements, but which is hindered by its slavish devotion to traditional techniques and reliance on actors who aren’t always up to the task.

Hoffman has been good before, but this isn’t one of his particularly great performances. He’s handily outclassed by Scheider and, expectedly, by Laurence Olivier as the former Nazi wanting protection from all parties while he absconds with boatloads of diamonds he pilfered from Jews during World War II. Olivier is a world class actor and even when given a villainous role, he infuses vulnerability and credibility. William Devane is Schlesinger’s real albatross. Devane had a decade of work leading up to his appearance in this film, but his overbearing grinning distracted from a performance that was questionably fitting.

While Marathon Man is engaging from beginning to end, it just doesn’t feel as exciting as it should and for a thriller that’s important.

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