Tag Archives: Dennis Quaid

Switchback (1997, Jeb Stuart)

I’m having a hard time understanding certain aspects of Switchback. Primarily, Dennis Quaid’s terrible performance. I’m wondering if Jeb Stuart instructed him to imitate a log or if it was just Quaid’s read on the character. To be fair (to Stuart, not to Quaid), the character is a pretend protagonist. Stuart’s more interested in his Texas county sheriff election or the men working the railroad than he is in his main characters. Switchback has four main characters–Quaid, Danny Glover, Jared Leto and R. Lee Ermey. In many ways, even though it’s part of the 1990s serial killer boom (ruined by Dino De Laurentiis turning Hannibal Lector into a superhero–I’m using ‘ruined’ lightly), it’s a 1970s road movie.

I mean, Stuart is so interested in Ermey’s election and Glover’s railroad stories, Quaid’s renegade FBI agent and Leto’s medical school dropout are essentially ignored. Both characters get speeches to other characters (big shock, Glover and Ermey) and I suppose one could read a juxtapose between the two duets (Quaid and Ermey, Leto and Glover). I hesitate to even suggest Stuart was going for it–past his somewhat neat plotting, his ambitions seem to run very low–except there is a lot of careful attention played to the changes in the killer’s behavior, his motives and his general cognitive reasoning. It’s real interesting stuff because Stuart plays it so casual.

Glover’s great, Ermey’s good, Ted Levine’s great–Leto’s better than I expected but probably because Quaid is worse than I could have imagined.

A big feature of the film, which was originally called Going West in America, is the lack of women. In fact, the film could be called… Men Without Women. The women in the film are either victims, secretaries or unheard voices on telephones (who are absolutely supportive of their rogue FBI agent husbands). Stuart’s just fascinated by these men who work only with men, who rely only on other men… and he seems somewhat aware of it, as there’s a scene with a waitress wondering why Leto’s so weird around her.

There might be something in Leto’s missing back-story about it.

But Switchback isn’t terrible–the election stuff is somewhat engaging and Glover carries his scenes wonderfully. He’s having a lot of fun. Stuart is not a bad director–he seems a wee bit uncomfortable with a Panavision frame however–and his composition and setting go a long way toward that 1970s feel….

Even if the whole thing feels like a movie Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford would have made.

And the end, surprisingly, is rather effective, even though it leaves lots unresolved and there’s an unbelievable character there–and a rather significant one missing (is that obscure enough–I mean, it is a serial killer movie).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jeb Stuart; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Conrad Buff; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, Jeff Howard; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Danny Glover (Bob Goodall), Dennis Quaid (Frank LaCrosse), Jared Leto (Lane Dixon), R. Lee Ermey (Sheriff Buck Olmstead), Ted Levine (Nate), William Fichtner (McGinnis) and Leo Burmester (Shorty).


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Wyatt Earp (1994, Lawrence Kasdan), the expanded edition

Thirty-nine years old when Wyatt Earp was released, all Kevin Costner needed to do to de-age himself twenty years was smile. During the young Earp days, Costner looks younger than costar Annabeth Gish, not to mention Linden Ashby (playing his younger brother).

The extended version of Wyatt Earp clocks in at three and a half hours. It’s not available on DVD, which is a shame, since it’s the only way to watch the film. Wyatt Earp is a tragedy, spending an hour setting up the character as an affable, hopeful (and a little simple) young man, then destroys him. If he weren’t destroyed, of course, he wouldn’t be much of a main character but I’d forgotten how affecting his destruction is to watch. The film is unique in its lack of acts–first, second and third–it follows the character from youth and, while it must skip some boring parts, contains little in the way of rising action. For example, there’s every indication Joanna Going is going to be as insignificant to the film overall as Téa Leoni. In fact, Leoni’s got more potential as a romantic interest than Going.

The romance between Costner and Going, the emotional reconstruction of his character, is one of the more singular things about the film, as is the friendship with Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holliday. For the first hour and a half, the strong emphasis on the Earp brothers (for someone who constantly derides the film, Michael Madsen has never been as good as he is in this film). The scenes with the brothers rarely allow for emotion in the first half (family being pre-decided) but the relationship with Holliday allows for not just wonderful scenes, but also a striking rumination on friendship.

Those scenes, the romantic ones and the friendship ones, allow Costner to act. After the first hour, he quickly becomes the uncompromising Wyatt Earp of legend. Only Going and Quaid provide an outlet for the emotion left behind. Except for when the film makes its big final change–the film goes through three major moods, which I guess could be used to mark act changes, but not really–and these moods are marked gradually. They’re the sum of what’s come before in the story… the last one is the best, because it allows Costner to visualize it for the audience, something the first one doesn’t provide.

Before I forget–a major aspect of Wyatt Earp is its condemnation of the West and its settlers. Not just the Indians, which is only barely suggested–the contrast between the scenes in civilized Missouri, the untouched West and the “settled” West are striking. It’s a lot like High Noon in its portrayal of (the majority) of the townspeople throughout.

The acting is uniformly excellent, though I suppose Quaid gives the best performance. I’d sort of forgotten he was going to be in it, since he doesn’t show up for an hour and twenty and then he has his first scene and I remembered what an exceptional performance he gives. Gene Hackman is the Earp family father for the first hour and he’s good (his performance might be what makes Costner’s as a twenty-two year-old more work). Like I said, Michael Madsen’s actually good for once and Linden Ashby’s great. JoBeth Williams, David Andrews and Lewis Smith all have some good scenes. Bill Pullman too. But I really could just list the majority of the cast, all of them have good scenes.

Kasdan’s direction is fantastic, both in the scenes between characters and the more epical, Western-type shots. Wyatt Earp is one of the last biopics I’ve seen–the genre seems to have petered out, but maybe I’ve just stopped seeing them because they all look terrible or something. Most are terrible, but there are some great films like this one. Still, even the good ones are often simple, and Wyatt Earp is exceptionally complex.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Dan Gordon and Kasdan; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Carol Littleton; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner and Kasdan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Costner (Wyatt Earp), Dennis Quaid (Doc Holliday), Gene Hackman (Nicholas Earp), David Andrews (James Earp), Linden Ashby (Morgan Earp), Jeff Fahey (Ike Clanton), Joanna Going (Josie Marcus), Mark Harmon (Johnny Behan), Michael Madsen (Virgil Earp), Catherine O’Hara (Allie Earp), Bill Pullman (Ed Masterson), Isabella Rossellini (Big Nose Kate), Tom Sizemore (Bat Masterson), JoBeth Williams (Bessie Earp), Mare Winningham (Mattie Blaylock), James Gammon (Mr. Sutherland), Rex Linn (Frank McLaury), Randle Mell (John Clum), Annabeth Gish (Urilla Sutherland), Lewis Smith (Curly Bill Brocius), Betty Buckley (Virginia Earp), Alison Elliott (Lou Earp), Todd Allen (Sherm McMasters), Mackenzie Astin (Young Man on Boat), Jim Caviezel (Warren Earp), Karen Grassle (Mrs. Sutherland), John Dennis Johnston (Frank Stillwell), Téa Leoni (Sally), Martin Kove (Ed Ross), Kirk Fox (Pete Spence), Boots Southerland (Marshall White), Scotty Augare (Indian Charlie), Gabriel Folse (Billy Clanton), John Lawlor (Judge Spicer), Michael McGrady (John Shanssey), Mary Jo Niedzielski (Martha Earp) and Ian Bohen (Young Wyatt).


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