Sunday, September 20, 2009

"What Just Happened?" (2008) - Movie Review

The reason “What Just Happened?” feels to not have the intensity of a dark satire is because the “Wag the Dog” producer Stanley Motss is not out here. It is Robert De Niro playing the role he is given of a producer Ben. Ben might be the living depiction of an existing originality in the industry but the rarity in the opportunity of his entertaining display when he is ticked off is the place the film is expected to be. Despite that, “What Just Happened?” has the suspenseful comic timing in the artistic adamance and the scene behind the scenes which not just lift the screens but provides pain and the comic out of it simultaneously.

Written by producer Art Linson and directed by Barry Levinson, as I was writing this line watching the interviews, Levinson mentions that it is not a satire and is only a little tweak of the chaotic world of Hollywood. I agree upon the state of the nature and it has become natural to expect that genre when a film about film gets made. It would be curious to see a serious eye to this field of maximum attention which I am not aware of any film trying it out. Even Francuois Truffaut’s “Day for Night” has the movie making set as a backdrop than its actual subject. Here the take is real, the situations are funny because the Ben’s suffering arises from trivial aspects for a person who is not in this field from an audience standpoint. Bruce Willis with a full grown beard is a movie kill for a studio, a director who cries over the ending being told to change and an agent living in the most luxurious home does not have time to check out his stomach problem and then some. You get the gist.

This is neither an affection nor a cynical temperament of Art Linson’s view of the movie industry. In a week of producer Ben’s life he has to tackle three threatening issues on his plate. One is the test screening of his new movie “Fiercely” with Sean Penn in the lead cast being killed brutally in end and a dog shot along with him, second is to get Bruce Willis to shave off his beard which otherwise would shut down an entire movie project before it sees the light of the production and third is to deal with his personal crisis in his feelings for his ex-wife (Robin Wright Penn) and in that order he prioritizes his week.

This is in all perspective a very good film and what is more important is that it is an honest film. It does not boost off the existing eccentricity in the business. The English director of Ben’s film “Fiercely” is Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott) trying to control his sobriety only to meltdown in front of the studio Boss Lou (Catherine Keener). Lou is unmoved and merciless in delivering the kill blow her job loves to have. She is having to get the movie see the opening screening at Cannes in few days. She is holding Ben responsible for this end. Then Ben is trying to get hold of Dick Bell (John Turturo) the agent of bearded Bruce Willis. Ben tried telling the actor of this problem only with few inches away from angry and furious Bruce. Dick does not have the guts to take that chance. Ben is shuffling these problems everyday and dealing with his feelings for his ex-wife he is been divorced for year and half. Ben’s mediator position is not the best to be in. It comes at a price of everything including family.

An actor as much as popular and known they can be gives up their freedom of their real them for a sufficient period of their life. While Bruce’s twisted version of himself is obstinate about his facial hair, in a way we empathize why he is so precious about it. He is giving up his life for of course a huge sum of money but be careful what you wish for. And there are two crucial comic suspenses which brings out the best moments in the film. Both are priceless.

Robert De Niro takes up an independent role in a string of not so great choices (“Righteous Kill” to be precise). Here he does not let himself go on with this man battling others and within himself on the problems he has to chew. De Niro restrains considerably as he did in “Wag the Dog” depending on expressions and gestures. The failure of the film will be its realistic approach of a content known for more oomph in dark comedy and satire. That is not the fault of the movie makers but the seasoning of the industry towards the audience. “What Just Happened?” surprises but not in the jumping way one wants to be.

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