You're Such A Critic

October 14, 2005


The biopic, long a Hollywood staple, is a form that is all over theaters these days, from last year's Oscar-winning Ray to new entries like The Greatest Game Ever Played, Good Night, and Good Luck (which opens today) and Capote (due later this month). The question: How much dramatic license should filmmakers be allowed in presenting these true-life stories?


The filmmakers can take as much dramatic license as they wish provided that they find the truth and the core of the person or persons from the truelife story. I only wish filmmakers and screenwriters didn't always map out someone's life in the traditional three-act format with a redemptive finish, such as Seabiscuit.The recent exceptions to this rule were The Aviatorand Man on the Moon- their narratives stemmed from the characters' emotions.

Man on the Moonplays with Andy Kaufman's own pranks and deconstruction of comedy - essentially, the whole movie plays like a prank. That is the risk factor - complementing a real-life character's emotional behavior to tell a story rather than conforming it to a straightforward narrative. It's a risk worth taking when you find the truth of someone's humanity or lack of it.


Whatever happened to the practice of thinly veiled biographical movies?

Producers seem to think that people won't go to see a movie about a real person unless the character is named after that person. Anybody ever hear of Citizen Kane? The fact that Charles Foster Kane was a thinly disguised portrayal of William Randolph Hearst made the film more attractive to audiences, not less attractive. Oliver Stone's atrocious Nixon,and the botched A Beautiful Mindwould both have benefited from the freedom that comes from the stated or unstated disclaimer, "loosely based on ..."

For me, an example of a recent biographical film that got it almost right is The Greatest Game Ever Played.



Many action movies have translated fairly well to the video game arena: Spider-Man, Star Wars (in its various chapters) and Minority Report, to name a few. So, having survived Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Resident Evil and with Doom the movie scheduled to arrive in theaters next week,we wonder why is it so difficult to go the other way? Please send your thoughts in a brief note with your name, city and daytime phone number (and "You're Such a Critic" in the memo field) to

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