Wednesday 12 June 2013

THE LEGACY PLAYERS - There Are Great Actors, But Not Always Great Films

'Grudge Match' is a film currently in post-production that stars Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone; as two ex-boxers who return to the ring for one last fight, 50 years after their last contest. Some people are excited at the thought of Rocky Vs Raging Bull, others groan as they wonder what De Niro is doing to his legacy. 

But what about his legacy? As fans, we want to see our heroes do great film after great film, but it's impossible. 

The top actors all have their moment. Take Tom Hanks, who barely put a foot wrong in the 90's. That's because, whenever a really great script turned up, it went straight to him because he was the best (and most bankable) around. But times move on, movies stars get older, and someone else becomes the go-to movie star. 

But Tom Hanks still wants to work, and so does De Niro and so does Al Pacino.

You can be the greatest actor in Hollywood, but you still need the material. And even if you have the material - you need a movie studio who will bankroll it. 

It's like when people slam Eddie Murphy for the shitty movies of recent years. Do you think he made a decision to stop doing great films, to focus on the bad ones? Of course not. The reality of being an actor is that you need to be offered the roles. And there's only a handful of actors who get offered the very best stuff. 

Al Pacino is, undoubtedly, one of the best there is. But things are different now, it's harder for him to find the great characters. And I'll watch him in virtually anything. There's nothing I like more than Pacino playing a cop -- but how many working cops look as old as he does? 

Did you see 'Stand Up Guys'? Awful. The premise was:

A bunch of old guys get back together to do a thing they used to do. 

That's exactly what 'Grudge Match' is. And 'The Expendables (1, 2 & 3)'. 

That's the best Hollywood has come up with, it's how they think to utilize some of the greatest screen actors of all time. 

There are some true comedic geniuses in our industry; and I'd put Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams and Steve Martin in that category. But how many films have they done in recent years that showcase that genius? 

They were all top stand up comics, and they have all been in films that are recognised as comedy classics. But why doesn't it last longer? 

Partly, perhaps, because we all run out of steam. There's only so much gas in the tank. We enjoy when Woody Allen makes good movies, but the truly great ones are over. We say 'Midnight In Paris' is a return to form but if you think it's as good as 'Annie Hall', you have issues. 

But more than running out of gas, it's that they don't get to ride in the best cars. 

I'm extremely excited about the upcoming show 'The Crazy Ones', because I see the Robin Williams that I LOVE! The comedic genius, full of nervous energy and crazy insanity. I have faith in it because it's created by David E. Kelley, one of the funniest writers in television (he created 'Ally Mcbeal' and 'Boston Legal'). It's exciting because Robin Williams with STRONG material is a powerful thing. 

When was the last time that Robin Williams made us laugh? He was great in 'One Hour Photo' and 'Insomnia', but they weren't comedy. I enjoyed him in 'Patch Adams' -- but I'm not even sure I'd call that comedy, and even if I did -- that was way back in 1998! 

It's not that Robin Williams stopped being funny, it's that the films weren't being made. There were no vehicles for his talent. You could say the same now about Jim Carrey. 

People don't mind when movies don't quite work out, like 'Righteous Kill' which starred Pacino and De Niro. You at least get the sense they tried. But when Michael Corleone turns up in 'Jack and Jill' and Travis Bickle rolls out for another 'Meet The Fockers', your heart breaks a little. 

But why is that? We don't own these actors. They're free to do what they want! I bet Robert De Niro has a blast goofing around with Ben Stiller. 

The legacies of these great actors are secure. As the years pass, we just have to be grateful that they are still with us, and still hungry to work. And sometimes, you've got to put up with 'Little Fockers' and 'New Year's Eve' to get to 'Silver Linings Playbook'. 

And on the rare occasions where something like 'The Crazy Ones' comes along; you've got to hope it will do for Robin Williams what 'The West Wing' did for Martin Sheen; it added a new layer to an already brilliant legacy. 

I sincerely hope that all of these actors still have some great projects to come. I don't see any reasons why they wouldn't. People have to just keep writing for them, and the studios need to be open to  supporting stories that feature older casts; that aren't just about older people getting together to do the things they used to do.

Care to share?


  1. Great article and you are right, it's not up to actors to always be able to pick out the roles (although for some of them they should have said no ;)). I still enjoy seeing those actors, but as they get older the roles they will be able to do aren't always as memorable.

  2. It seems to me that De Niro is basically semi-retired. He takes easy gigs that pay well and don't demand much from him as an actor. It's a free country he can do whatever he wants. It's a choice he has made. It's interesting to compare him to Daniel Day Lewis who only works on projects he's really interested in, and then fully commits to them. I think the infrequency with which he works is as much about the scarcity of material he likes as it is needing to recharge after making a film. De Niro used to be similarly committed to roles, but now appears to feel that he doesn't have the energy to work that way.

  3. Some great points made here, and your right they can have fun all they want doing lots of movie projects because that won't damage the legacy they already have. But do they have to do so many movies now? In the 70s and 80s DeNiro used to wait until a great project came along, sometimes a year or two would go by without him being in anything. He could have done tons of crap back then if he wanted to, but he clearly cared more about his legacy a lot more then than he does now. Don't you think it would have been better for him (and all of the other older actors like him) to pass on projects like Killer Elite and New Year's Eve and just wait until a Silver Linings came along.

  4. I agree with a lot of what you have to say here about aging actors. However, I think aging actresses are consistently getting opportunities their male counterparts can only dream of. Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, and Judi Dench are still getting substantial work. Is it because there are less great roles for aging actors, or are legends--such as Pacino and De Niro--just want to catch a break?

    I have my doubts about The Crazy Ones. I saw the preview recently and was less than impressed. We'll see it how it goes.