People hate The January Man, just hate it. It’s famous for being hated, in fact. It’s one of the earliest movies I can remember real bile about. Dune’s another one, but Dune deserves it. The January Man gets a lot of it because it’s from the pen of John Patrick Shanley, that screenwriting whirlwind behind Congo and Moonstruck. Oh, Moonstruck, that Academy Award-winning overrated embarrassment. Going after The January Man so hard–saying it’s unbelievable Shanley wrote this one and that one–provides an excuse… The January Man is about well-written as Moonstruck and it’s about as well as Shanley can write.
I started it with an open mind, I really did. I thought maybe I was wrong about Shanley and I was all set to hurry to watch Moonstruck and queue up John Versus the Volcano. But I wasn’t wrong about Shanley. When I saw Susan Sarandon’s name, I assumed she would be terrible–I was wrong, she’s solidly mediocre. When I saw Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s name, I assumed the same and I was much wronger. And wronger is a word, I thought it might not be. Mastrantonio is excellent in the movie. She gives, easily, the best performance and now I’m thinking about queuing a couple of her movies.
It’s not well-written, the mystery is uninterestingly investigated, and the character melodramas are pat and standard and were tired in 1933. Man in love with his brother’s wife and, oh, what a shock, turns out the bad brother framed the good brother and on and on. When Wallace Beery made these movies, there were at least guns.
It being an incredibly standard exercise, The January Man is actually believably set in New York City and that facet makes–by today’s standards, when Hollywood shoots LA for New York–somewhat unique. It’s a welcome aspect, I suppose.
Kevin Kline’s not particularly good. He has accent in some scenes and in other ones he does not, but he carries the film. He’s particularly bad whenever he and Mastrantonio talk about her being so young (at thirty she’s playing Hollywood twenty-three) and their romance is only made palatable by her performance. Kline’s best when he’s bickering with Danny Aiello (who gets the film’s worst dialogue) and Harvey Keitel (who gets the film’s lamest character… well, him or Sarandon).
Rod Steiger’s not particularly good, but he’s real funny–the movie tries to be a comedy but Shanley wrote it, so it isn’t funny… Alan Rickman has a little bit more fun, with only two really terrible lines, which is quite an achievement in this film. Brian Tarantina has a small role, but he’s good.
The big problem with the film is the present action. It takes place over five days, in which time, Kline–in three nicely directed scenes–learns more about the case he’s been on for twenty hours than the entire NYPD did in a year. It’s convenient. It’s all contrived and all convenient.
But it’s not that terrible.
And, except a handful of bad parts, Marvin Hamlisch’s score is nice.
Directed by Pat O’Connor; written by John Patrick Shanley; director of photography, Jerzy Zielinski; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Norman Jewison and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Starring Kevin Kline (Nick Starkey), Susan Sarandon (Christine Starkey), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Bernadette Flynn), Harvey Keitel (Police Comissioner Frank Starkey), Danny Aiello (Captain Vincent Alcoa), Rod Steiger (Mayor Eamon Flynn), Alan Rickman (Ed), Faye Grant (Alison Hawkins), Kenneth Welsh (Roger Culver), Jayne Haynes (Alma), Brian Tarantina (Cone), Bruce MacVittie (Rip) and Bill Cobbs (Detective Reilly).