In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Who knew that 2015 would turn out to be a great year for biopics? The End of the Tour, Love & Mercy, and Straight Outta Compton, are not only great within their genre, but are fantastic films outright. And while the biopic is considered a sure fire way to get critical love (even Gary Busey got an Oscar nom for The Buddy Holly Story), sometimes they just don’t work. Here are 5 biopics that missed the mark.
Beyond the Sea (2004 – dir. Kevin Spacey)
Kudos to Kevin Spacey for writing, directing, and starring in this biopic of singer, Bobby Darin. Spacey puts on an excellent show here, even going so far as perform the songs himself. Sadly, it’s at the center of a dramatically inert film. It’s certainly not bad, but it’s not really about anything. Beyond the Sea is simply a recreation, and a structurally unsound one at that. One thing is for sure: Spacey’s reverence for his subject matter is unmatched.
Alexander (2004 – dir. Oliver Stone)
Oliver Stone is pretty well-known for his biopics, the unifying trait amongst them being that they are unabashedly fictionalized. His attempt at telling the entire life story of Alexander the Great is one of cinema’s ultimate endurance tests. With the Stone-preferred director’s cut coming in at just under three hours, this sprawling epic commits perhaps the most egregious sin a film is capable of: it’s bland. Like, sooooo bland. Colin Farrell is working very hard here, but is woefully miscast, with a pretty poor dye-job to boot (those sad-puppy eyebrows do not belong to a blonde). After Gladiator kicked off a run of swords-and-sandals epics, audience fatigue was starting set in by this point as well. Alexander is the definition of “noble failure.”
Hitchcock (2012 – dir. Sacha Gervasi)
The early days of Hollywood, especially those surrounding the celebrity of famed director Alfred Hitchcock, should be ripe for an interesting tale. There are shades of it here, but the film is bogged down by the central performance. Sir Anthony Hopkins gives his all, but is so plastered in cartoonishly false prosthetic makeup that, try as he may, his Hitchcock feels like an impersonation rather than an embodiment.
- Edgar (2011 – dir. Clint Eastwood)
Much like Hopkins in Hitchcock, DiCaprio spends a decent portion of this film in ridiculous prosthetic makeup (why anyone thought to have DiCaprio play Hoover at age 77 is a mystery), and while the old-timeyness of something like Hitchcock somewhat helps to gloss over such things, J. Edgar is a wishy-washy half-condemnation of a deceptive and monstrous man. The combination of a non-committal script, and the cheap stage-production vibe, results in an ugly, pointless effort that could (and really, should) have been much more.
The Conqueror (1956 – dir. Dick Powell)
John Wayne as Genghis Khan. I’ll say it again. John “Howdy Pardner” Wayne, cast as Genghis “Not even remotely American” Khan, with all the racial sensitivity of a film made in 1956. This film truly has to be seen to be believed. Not only does Wayne look supernaturally ridiculous, but he doesn’t alter his standard cowboy character at all. Not even a little bit. Not only is this film widely considered to be one of the worst ever made, it also has the distinction of causing the death of much of the cast and crew, including Wayne himself. The film was shot on a highly radiated nuclear test site, and after the location shots were completed, truckloads of sand were transported to the studio for interior shooting. Needless to say, many people involved in the film (as well as others who just popped in for a set visit) ended up being diagnosed with cancer, many of them dying within years of the film’s completion. Bummer, eh? Don’t worry, there will eventually be a John Wayne biopic to sort it all out.