Monday, November 07, 2005

CHATTAHOOCHEE (1989) - Mick Jackson

There’s only one reason I put Chattahoochee on tape and one reason I left it on past the first half-hour. I’ll give you a hint…it has absolutely nothing to do with a fondness for mental institution movies or the work of director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard, Volcano…anyone, anyone?). \
I’m talking about the big G.O. -- Gary Oldman. Sure, he’s hit some rough patches career-wise in the last five or so years, even dipping down in a few straight-to-video cheapies only to resurface as a solid supporting character actor in a recent slew of huge mega-budget movies (Harry Potter, Batman Begins). But even in the dreck, G.O. is reliably mesmerizing in every single role he takes. His craft is so honed, his attack on scenes so fresh, he generally rises above the movie, a diamond floating atop a cesspool.

Chattahoochee is one of those cesspool movies, but G.O. shines as brightly here as ever. He plays a Korean War vet in the South battling mental illness to the point of shooting up his neighborhood in the hopes that the police will shoot him, giving his wife Frances Mc Dormand the insurance money she wouldn’t get if he just plain committed suicide. But in the film’s one truly inspired sequence, things don’t go as planned and Gary ends up getting hauled off to the corrupt Chattahoochee State Mental Hospital to be bunkmates with the likes of Dennis Hopper and M. Emmet Walsh under the care of Dr. Ned Beatty.

This is where you expect the movie would really come to life-- Gary let loose in the funny farm with other great character actors. You would be wrong. It quickly descends into a very watered down version of Cuckoo’s Nest with a little bit of Papillon thrown in as Oldman realizes he’s not as crazy as the others and quickly takes up a campaign (mostly letter writing and confronting hick guards) to be released.

Oldman has a few nice moments with Hopper before Hopper vanishes on an escape run. But the larger abandonment comes from director Mick Jackson. He wastes the talents of some truly fine actors (not just the guys, but McDormand and Pamela Reed, too). The pacing is atrocious, scenes stacking up back to back like so many randomly clipped coupons, and the tone’s all over the place from absurdist comedy to heavy disease-of-the-week melodrama to a tacked-on inspirational biopic ending that leaves you thinking maybe Jackson’s the one who should be institutionalized.

As always, Oldman is the most interesting thing onscreen and the only thing that rises Chattahoochee above a zero rating. Why are directors not giving this truly talented man more major roles? If you’re an Oldman completist, you might wanna give Chattahoochee a go.

1 comment:

Jordan Hoffman said...

Never saw this one. Think I'll continue to skip it. What a cast, though, yowza. I always get this movie and Track 29 (which I also haven't seen) confused. (Hey, where's Nic Roeg's career been lately?)