Friday, October 31, 2008

What Happened? Barry Levinson made a great film, that's what happened

There's nothing like a Hollywood Funeral for an agent who makes 10%
Robert De Niro and John Turturro star in Barry Levinson's What Just Happened, an Alliance Films' release.

If you think you’ve had a bad two weeks, ask Ben (Robert De Niro), an executive producer for a number of major Hollywood pictures. He’s got two issues in particular. First, his latest project, Firefly, starring Sean Penn, has received horrible reviews with the test audience. The money people want the film edited. The director wants his vision respected. The film is set for Cannes at the end of the week… Second, Bruce Willis has shown up on the set with a Grizzly Adams beard and about 20-30 extra pounds. The money people are going to pull out if the beard isn’t gone by Friday. Mr. Willis thinks his artistic integrity is being compromised.

Minor problems, perhaps, but with $25 million dollars on the line for each film, along with the livelihood of directors, gaffers, agents, and a whole host of supporting staff… Ben has a heavy load on his shoulders.
As he drives from place to place in his SUV Porche, Ben attempts, at least on occasion, to find a moment or two for intimacy with his ex-wife, his teenage daughter, and a woman who straddles the border between elite call girl and… um… actress. However, the cell phone takes precedence, and any attempt to have a meaningful connection with others, outside of work concerns, is back burnered.

De Niro delivers an amazing performance as Ben, the man who will lie if he needs to, bullshit when necessary, and hustle to please those who must be pleased. Without explicitly stating it, he wrestles with his conscience. Should he allow addicted director Jeremy to keep Firefly as is? Should he strike a film deal with someone who has been sleeping with his ex wife? Does the situation change if Brad Pitt has agreed to be in the film? With the same contained violence about to explode that he brought to Raging Bull and the Godfather, De Niro’s character conveys a man barely graceful under intense pressure. His brooding silence is sometimes all he has left in most circumstances, as his brain calculates what must be done to make the show go on.

Hollywood usually does a wonderful job parodying itself. The film is sharp and witty from start to finish and manages to show the drama inherent in everyday situations. Gripping drama is created over such topics as an argyle sock, and, of course, the multi-million dollar question: Will Bruce Willis shave his beard? The film also manages to raise questions about sincerity, or rather, it points out that truth is relative to one’s immediate needs and one’s situation. Ethics are something one must balance against the attention of the reigning hierarchy. Discomfort is a constant theme, especially how much a man will endure in his quest for money and power. The cast does an incredible job fleshing out the supporting roles by Bruce Willis (as himself), Sean Penn (as himself), directors (Michael Wincott), agents (John Turturro), script writers (Stanley Tucci), money people (Catherine Keener), associates, and, of course, family members.

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