May 29, 2010

Michael Douglas: I want me some movie star

I wanted to see Solitary Man to remind myself of what a movie star looked like. It seemed like I hadn't seen any at the movies for ages. I certainly got what I wanted: Douglas strides through the film, seducing, bamboozling, gesticulating wildly, throwing his arms around the screen as if grabbing up every last spare frame of available space. He's in great shape: trim, with skinny legs, and his hair flows like Lassie's pelt when he walks. I was reminded of Alec Baldwin's superb impersonation of Burt Lancaster on Letterman a while back, soaking up the attention in an elevator: go ahead, check me out, drink me in. Here he plays an aging lothario and struggling car executive called Ben Kalman who chases women the way some men breath: having dinner with his banker, he sends over drinks to a stray woman at the bar, if only so he can better concentrate on the conversation. "Now that's out of the way...." The performance is better than the movie, which is a tad over-impressed with Kalman's shenanigans — there's an almost unwatchable scene in which he discusses the best route to sexual satiation with his girlfriend's daughter, much ickier than the actual sex that follows. You get the impression Douglas sees the role slotting into his rogue's gallery of to-hell-with-it truth-tellers — civility be damned! — but the movie feels edged with menopausal fantasy: the audience gets that this guy is a sad sack way before the script does. It's one long descent: I could have done with a little more of that famous Hollywood uplift. But Douglas hoovers up the screen as if it were his last chance at stardom. What a fascinating creature he is when viewed up close: the jowls, that jaw line, the slackening waistline, the ropy cords of muscle in his back, the strangely tight crevices of his face. I found myself staring at him throughout, marvelling at the access, together with the strange Bizarro-world narcissism that allows actors to cast aside their vanity and play reptiles like Kalman, as long as we are looking at them being reptilian, not the next guy. The piece of shit at the centre of the universe, as they say.

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