|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 AGAINST ALL ODDS, it had
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 ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE.
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 Tulsa
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 BONNIE AND CLYDE,
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.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, sexuality,
drug use and language
Running time: 101 mins.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.