Director Steve Kloves puts small-town ethics to work in Hollywood

November 05, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Washington -- You walk into the hotel room and there's this kid there, maybe to fix the phone or to work on the plumbing or something, but, you think, where's the director?

L Of course, in a second, you get it. The kid is the director.

In his early 30s, in blue jeans and work shirt, puffing on a Marlboro Light, Steve Kloves looks like anything but what he is, which is a veteran movie guy with a very good film blinking in lights behind him ("The Fabulous Baker Boys") and a very good one blinking in lights before him ("Flesh and Bone.") But . . . where's the attitude?

At his level, they usually have a sense of Godhood about them -- he's directed Michelle Pfeiffer, after all, and got her to lie on a piano in a cocktail dress while singing a torch song, inflaming the cerebellums of a generation -- and manage to communicate in subtle ways that the air they breathe is just a wee bit better than the air you -- you collectively, meaning all you jerks who haven't yet directed a major film -- breathe.

Not Kloves, under a mulch of blond hair and hiding behind absolutely nothing. He just looks you square in the eye, swings away at your questions as if nobody ever told him there was a slight difference between directing a movie and laying a carpet.

Now, Steve Kloves, you've made two movies in the big stupid studio system of exactly the sort the big stupid studio system doesn't like to make: small films of vision, with the stamp of your personality all over them and no cheap, market-driven, committee-invented "elements." Who do you think you are, Kloves, a genius or some other troublesome type?

"It's not genius," he says, "it's persistence. You have no idea how hard it was to get 'Baker Boys' made. I waited four years and I still don't fully understand the mechanics of it, the deals that made it possible. It was something Hollywood resisted. But then it got good reviews and it really found a life on video. So I was able to make this movie."

This movie means "Flesh and Bone." Kloves stands proudly for the old-fashioned kind of movie making -- character, real people, small-time settings, that sort of thing. He says he believes in the audience's ability to discriminate.

"I think Hollywood is wrong about the audience. This generic filmmaking is based on underestimating the audience. 'The Baker Boys' was seen as dark -- it was really just character-driven. I hope the audience is hungry for movies with a little more weight."

Thus the weighty "Flesh and Bone," a haunted Texas Gothic, part Greek melodrama, part film noir, about a father and son linked by a terrible crime in the past who play out their angst three decades later.

The movie is certainly original: Its genesis was a scrap of a short story that Kloves wrote when he was in his late teens, still in Texas.

"It was one of those pieces of writing I carried around with me. It was simply the story of a boy who helps his father rob a house. And the father kills everybody.

There's a point in the film where two parts of the story click together that Kloves worries will be torn apart by literal-minded critics as being too reliant on coincidence as a plot device.

"It's not about coincidence. It's about fate. It felt right to me. If you tattoo a star on a boy's head, you're clearly marking him as 'special' and the rules of his life will be different. It's about how an incident from 30 years ago can reverberate into your life today."

Kloves has been lucky in his casting. "I very much wanted Jimmy [James Caan] in the part of the father. No one believed that he could make it evil. But I knew that he could and that he could bring a special distinctiveness to the role. Not bland, generic evil but a specific way about him. But Dennis wanted the part badly, wanted to show that he had more depth as an actor than the usual Dennis Quaid role. And the same is true of Meg [Ryan]. Everybody sees her as this perfect little comic cheerleader. But she wanted to go beyond that, and show a darker personality. About Meg and Dennis -- the studio was worried that since they were married they'd lack the heat for the part. But Dennis said, 'I'll make them forget we're married.' And he did."

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