Monday, September 26, 2011


It is no time to review Michael Douglas as
after one year of his battle with throat cancer he says he is fine and we all hope that this is so. His last outing was reprising the iconic Gordon Grekko of Wall Street in Money Never Sleeps. 1944 born Douglas is known to do roles which are more interesting than glamorous. He allows his characters to overpower his star persona. He relentlessly pushes the realism paddle while investing his characters with the suave magnetism of his personality. Though he never allows his charms to come in the way of his characters but he is never a ‘character actor’. Artifice of art is critical to retain the interest. This is understood by the ‘star actors’ like Douglas, Al Pacino or Robert De Nero. All of them are actors of considerable talent at the same time they are ‘presences’ also which can’t but be felt keenly. This is the core of their appeal. Realism is almost always there but it is the movie realism not the documentary realism. Douglas charms even when he is playing an unadulterated slime ball with unabashed glee. We find ourselves rooting for his character. Even when he is etching the melancholic contours of his anti heroes with great authenticity, he never fails to convey pull of a genuine superstar. Good thing is that this does not dilute the experience but enhances it. It is a joy to watch Michael Douglas to work his magic on screen.
Douglas is a serious actor. Even in his Romancing the Stone and Jewel of Nile series his goofy carelessness was unique. He had a light touch to the light moments without being slapstick about it. Fatal Attraction saw him falling for adultery and his bewilderment was genuine and nuanced when he faced the neurotic rage of the woman spurned. He claims to have done Basic Instinct just for fun but he was convincing as volatile cop with endearing flaw of violence. Man of slander physique, he managed to exude toughness in the formidable company of rampaging Sharon Stone and later in Black Rain. In Wonder Boys he played Marijuana Smoking burnt out writer. In any lesser hands the role would have ended as a bundle of clichés. However, Douglas was so alive to the nuances that he decided to convey, it became a powerful display of screen magnetism without any accompanied flamboyance. His diction and quality of voice has the gruff hypnotic quality that lures and overpowers. He conveyed the confusion, anguish and total helplessness with a relish that lent life to the character. His middle aged Professor was “such a shock because most of Douglas' previous characters are guys whose entire raison d’être seems to be avoiding the aging process… Mr. Crisis of '90s Masculinity himself”. With recent knee replacement and now cancer aging, it seems is extracting its pound of flash. That voice- it needs to be seen what remains of it after the intense chemo for stage 4 throat cancer.
Relish with which he has essayed his roles has often bordered on rakish celebration of his talent. Twinkle in the mischievous eyes and a sly smile often reaffirm that he is aware that he is pushing the envelope and audience is bound to love it. In his Oscar winning Wall Street his street smartness was conveyed with these twinkles and smiles from underneath an uber polished persona of the top wheeler dealer of the Wall Street. Similarly, in Solitary Man he is a loser who is rapidly going down. If he has any qualms about being a liar or compulsive womanizer they are well hidden. He is flawed and aware of it. He elicits our support without ever demanding it. Above all throughout he is thoroughly entertaining to watch. He has played President, President’s Body Guard, District Attorney, Drug Enforcement czar, professor, cop and almost always his character is guilty of something. This flaw is carried with great panache and verve while rooted in realism. Flaws make him human and his magnetism makes us turn a blind eye to them. We are taken in by the relish and delicious nuances. In Basic Instinct he is ‘dirty’ both from the psychological and from financial angel. He is intrigued by the pull of evil charms of Sharon Stone, almost amused, but never apologetic. Solitary Man, presents an even more unforgivable rogue a man devoid of almost any moral qualms but somehow manages to make us identify with him. A loser we want to dot on, a deviant with deeply human core. Addressing the complexity of these roles is the alchemy of Michael Douglas.
He has his share of embarrassments. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is bad film with weak performance. It was so bad that it could not prop up even the formidable screen presence of Douglas. Douglas was ill at ease and could not perform with his usual energy. As a psychologist on the edge in Don’t Say a Word he could not rise above the quagmire of the dense plot. Still he elicited these words from Pulitzer winning film critic Robert Ebert “Douglas has made roles like this his own, and redeems them by skirting just barely this side of overacting--which is about where a character in this plot should be positioned. Shame that his subtler and more human work in movies like ''Wonder Boys'' is seen by smaller audiences than his fatal/ basic/ instinct/ attraction/ disclosure movies.” This ‘skirting just barely this side of overacting’ is the mastery of an actor who is sure footed about the image he wishes to convey and has the histrionic wherewithal to do that. For most of us his ‘fatal/ basic/ instinct/ attraction/ disclosure movies’ work just fine as they are pulled above their subject matter by the fine performances by their lead actor. When after a tense harassment suit he tauntingly bids silent good bye to Demi Moore, we in our weakness feel like doing hi-five with him. There was nothing trivial about the way he dealt with his characters in ‘fatal/ basic/ instinct/ attraction/ disclosure movies.
Cancer is bound to slow him down. However, it is sincerely hoped that his recovery is strong enough and he comes out without any diminishing of his wares. Just to him create another memorable rogue with that gutsy twinkle and sly smile.

-Dhiraj Singh

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