Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday Best: Directors of All Time #18 - Barry Levinson

-Young Sherlock Holmes
-Rain Man
-Wag the Dog

-Good Morning, Vietnam


This was actually a surprise for me.  I think the reason is that Levinson makes so many different types of movies, I couldn't nail down any particular style.

He won an Oscar for Rain Man.  This movie gets a lot of attention for Dustin Hoffman's Academy Award winning turn as Raymond.  But Levinson was able to get, what I think, is Tom Cruise's best performance.  But he was able to show the slow transition of Charlie (Cruise).  He gets us into Charlie's head.  We feel his frustration, even when we know that Charlie is not a good person.  And even when he exploits his brother in Vegas, Levinson has us feel a mixture of enthusiasm and disgust.

He has also directed the best political satire I've ever seen: Wag the Dog.  Again, Levinson gets us to walk in the shoes of some very bad people, while at the same time rooting for them.  But he doesn't let you forget that these are horrible people.  The ending is shocking, but it does not feel false.  When you watch the movie a second time, you can see all of the ruthlessness of the main characters on full display, but you realize you didn't notice it because you found it so entertaining.  And that was part of the point.  He wants us to think about how much we allow politicians and media spinners fool us simply because we find them charming.

But his best movie is, without a doubt, the under-appreciated Young Sherlock Holmes.  This is actually my favorite Holmes movie.  It is fun, scary, and "an adventure of a lifetime."

But his real strength as a director is in his ability to adapt to so many different genres.  Sometimes he has limited success (as he did with science-fiction like Sphere and comedy like Toys) but his absence of a particular style removes a great deal of his limitations.  He has the ability to take the story as it is written and present it in a way is completely unconnected to any of his other directing efforts.  He is does not rely on any "Levinson style" shots.  He approaches each movie as if it is his first.  And for that reason, he brings a wonderful variety to his directing style.

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