Another Day in Paradise

             There just isn't another American actor who can play tightly-wound
     characters in the same way that James Woods can. I can recall seeing him
     in 1979's
THE ONION FIELD as a cop killer and making note of his name.
     He looked vaguely familiar then (I guess he made some impression as
     Barbra Streisand's college boyfriend in
THE WAY WE WERE), and I wanted
     to follow his career. It helped a bit that he was raised in the same state
     where I grew up so he was a local hero, of sorts. By the time he was doing
     his patented bad guy shtick in films like
     become clear that Woods knew just how temper a malevolent character with
     charm. When he shot
SALVADOR there were reports of his conflicts with
     director Oliver Stone, but out of that seemingly difficult situation emerged
     a full-bodied brilliant performance for which Woods was justly rewarded
     with a Best Actor Oscar nomination. In interviews, Woods made passing
     reference to the skirmishes on the set of
     Well, there must be something in conflict that brings out the best in this

             Photographer-turned-filmmaker Larry Clark had only helmed one
     feature, the controversial
KIDS before he signed on to direct
       ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE. One can easily see why Clark would be
     attracted to the material. Adapted from the novel by Eddie Little, the
     film is about junkie thieves in the Midwest in the 1970s. Clark's own
     life informed his direction and his seminal photographic essay
     undoubtedly served as inspiration.

             The plot is fairly simple: Bobbie (Vincent Kartheiser), a teenage
     runaway and petty thief, and his girlfriend Rosie (Natasha Gregson
     Wagner) join with Mel (Woods) and Sidney (Melanie Griffith), an older,
     more experienced couple, in a life of crime that promises big bucks
     and low risk.

             Bringing a surer touch to the craft of moviemaking, Clark delivers
     a more coherent and straightforward story. As expected, there are
     several sequences that are both brutal and breathtaking. The opening
     borders on kiddie porn as the camera lovingly rests on the androgynous
     Kartheiser as he dresses for a night making money by ripping off
     vending machines. When he is caught, the bloody and brutal violence
     that erupts is difficult to watch. Returning home, injured but successful,
     he is tended to by Woods' Mel, who makes the kid an offer that the
     kid clearly cannot refuse. Joining forces, the foursome create an
     unholy familial alliance. Sidney, of course, invokes
     and the shadow of that film hangs over this one. They pull off a big job
     but unloading the drugs comes at a cost. The price is a run-in with a
     gang of Neo-Nazi bikers. While recovering, Mel plots their next big
     score which strains "the family" to the point of breaking.

             While on the surface, this may seem like another film about
     druggies, but what ratchets it to a higher plain are the performances.
     In the central role of Mel, Woods delivers a dynamic performance.
     True, a stronger director may have reined in the histrionics a bit, but
     his character calls for a larger-than-life quality that the actor has in
     spades. He brings a vitality and power to the role and makes palatable
     a character that in lesser hands would be unlikable.

             Matching him with a world-weariness and pathos is Melanie Griffith.
     Casting off her sex kitten persona, she proves an actress of surprising
     depth, particularly in one scene where she confronts Woods about allowing
     the younger couple to leave them. As teenagers, Gregson Wagner frankly
     left me cold. I've been rather unimpressed with her in most parts she
     has played. Like her mother (Natalie Wood), she sometimes comes across
     as wooden and inexpressive. Kartheiser has the prepubescent look of a
     Calvin Klein model wannabe and seems to have some talent, but projects
     a wildness, like a horse yet to be tamed. In an uncredited bit as a gay
     gangster, Lou Diamond Phillips projects the appropriate mixture of
     feyness and menace. Special mention should also be made of the
     expert lensing of Eric Edwards and the terrific soundtrack which includes
     a contribution by blues great Clarence Carter.

               ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE may not be to every audience
     member's taste. There are violent scenes that are quite disturbing
     and Clark has not fully mastered the art of pacing, letting some
     sequences run on a bit too long and curtailing others. The film,
     however, marks a step forward for Clark (who checked himself
     into rehab shortly before the film's release) and who may yet prove
     himself as a director. Woods, who also served as one of the film's
     producers, pulls no punches when he spoke about the filming, but
     out of the chaos and strife has emerged an intriguing and at times
     powerful portrait of the effects of crime and drugs.

                         Rating:                 B+
                         MPAA Rating:        R for strong violence, sexuality,
                                                       drug use and language
                         Running time:       101 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.