Monday, April 28, 2008

No more Gene Hackman movies?

Has it really been four years since Gene Hackman has been in a movie? Yup, and that number is only going to get larger now that he has unceremoniously announced his retirement. It's by far the longest gap in his acting resume, with the closest being a couple of two year spaces between credits in the 80s and 70s, though he was unquestionably involved in multiple projects during those years. It's sad seeing Hackman say he "hasn't worked in four years," because at the same time we have Al Pacino in 88 Minutes and Robert DeNiro in shit (substitute recent DeNiro movie of your choice). Hackman rarely dominated a movie the way those actors did, but he carried quite a few. Can you name all the great Hackman roles and movies without going to his IMDB page and finding four or five you missed?

He's had an amazing career that began when he broke into television work at age 30. No silver spoon or family pedigree here, Hackman was apparently raised in a broken home and subsequently joined the Marines at 16 after lying about his age. This comes as no shock, as Hackman has barely aged in his acting career and probably looked about 28 when he walked into that recruiting station. After watching the new Bonnie and Clyde DVD a couple times, I forgot how old the "young" Hackman looked, because he's had pretty much the same look for the past 40 years. Maybe not a famous look, but one that allowed him to ably fill roles ranging from good-hearted (Hoosiers, Young Frankenstein, The Poseidon Adventure) to absolute evil (Superman: The Movie, Prime Cut, Unforgiven). Plus he has that voice. My God, that voice. Is it evenpossible to do a Gene Hackman impression?

While it's not exactly his last movie, I'm going to consider his titular role in The Royal Tenenbaums to be his farewell performance. It might just be my favorite Hackman performance, and it's easily his funniest. As Royal Tenenbaum, Hackman plays the reprehensible and lovable patriarch who can tear a family apart and bring it back together. Hackman didn't have too many opportunities to show off his comedic talent, but he does it here with almost every line:

"Anybody interested in grabbing a couple of burgers and hittin' the cemetery?"

"I'm very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman."

"I've always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That's just my style. But I'd really feel blue if I didn't think you were going to forgive me."

Wes Anderson obviously knew how to utilize Hackman for a role that pretty much carries his best movie. That was seven years ago, and only three years after its release, the roles apparently dried up. I respect Hackman's decision to avoid a career playing old judges, grandfathers and generals, but I also have hope that a meaningful project will come his way one of these years.


J.D. said...

Yeah, it's a shame that Hackman is retiring. I wonder if he gets offered many scripts anymore? Or maybe the ones he does are crap? Or maybe he sees the way De Niro and Pacino are heading (have already reached) in their careers and is calling it quits going out on a high like THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS which is the film I also like to prefer as his swan song instead of WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT. blech!

Anonymous said...

--"Is it even possible to do a Gene Hackman impression?"

Good question. The implausibility of a spot-on Hackman impression is exactly what I was thinking when I began reading your nice ode to the actor. Now there's a challenge for impressionists out there.

I wonder if Hackman's greatest acting talent might be his range--he plays funny, gruff, introverted, mean, likeable, whatever with equal charm--my favorites tend to be the slow-burning performances in things like The Conversation (1974) and Night Moves (1975).

Too bad we won't be seeing more of him on the screen (say it ain't so Gene).

Bob Turnbull said...

I just watched Royal Tenenbaums again last night...It kills me that Hackman wasn't recognized more for this performance. He takes what could easily have been an over the top character or a completely unlikeable one and invests him with a great deal of, well, um, something...Every line and reaction seems genuine - from the way he criticizes his daughter's play to the response to Chas' end of film "I've had a tough year Dad".

The only time he may have been funnier was in Young Frankenstein. Holy crap that's a killer 5 minutes or so:

elgringo said...

Ooh! Ooh! I choose "The Good German" for my DeNiro disaster. Also, having seen "88 Minutes," granted for free, I say it's better to go out on top. Not to say that "Welcome to Mooseport" is "on top" material, but at least most people will forget about that one. He hit it out of the park with "Tenenbaums" and if he wants to go then he's gonna go.