The corruption game

Although indelibly associated with the Saturday Night/ind Sunday Morning era of British cinema,

director Karel Reisz has made four ofhis last five films in the USA. He talks to Trevor Johnston about his latest offering, Arthur Miller’s small-town thriller Everybody Wins.

‘I suppose I just picked them up along the way,’ shrugs director Karel Reisz as I gaze admiringly at the highly covetable array of art books lining the walls of his study in a particularly leafy enclave of North London. ‘Forty years ofcollecting. you build things up.‘

Neck-straining curiosity apart, I’m there for an audience with one of Britain‘s most respected film-makers. As part ofthe highly influential Free Cinema grouping ofwriters and directors (alongside the likes of Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson) which sought to shake the British cinema out of its stuffy. late-50s conservativism. the Czech-born Reisz was the first to graduate to feature status with Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. Then a ground-breaking look at working-class life Up North. the film won instant screen fame for an angry young Albert Finney as the defiant factory worker facing his humdrum labours with his battle cry ‘Don‘t let the bastards grind you down.‘

Along with director John Schlesinger. Reisz remains one of the few representatives of that era

to have maintained a movie career right through

into the 90s. and although he confides to me. ‘I think I‘ve always made the same film.’ the keynote ofhis list ofcredits appears to be a measured and sensitive versatility. Though he's probably best known for the emotionally effective and crisply intelligent adaptation ofJohn Fowles‘ The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981). his earlier output also includes the psychiatric comedy Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment (1966) and the freewheeling biography Isadora (1968). with Vanessa Redgrave in the title role as Isadora Duncan.

His latest film. Everybody Wins is certainly something different again. Sharing the same agent with the playwright. Reisz found himself in

Nick Nolte attempts to console Debra Winger in Arthur Miller's Everybody Wins. directed by Karel Reisz

possession of the first Arthur Miller screenplay since The Misfits (196]). and the resultant collaboration has produced an intriguing insight into America‘s ongoing moral crisis. Deep in the heart of patrician New England. Nick Nolte‘s shambling but essentially fair-minded private detective Tom O‘Toole is called in by Debra Winger‘s mystery woman to help re-open a murder case which she believes has sent an innocent young man to jail. As the investigation proceeds. O’Toole finds himselfseduced by his enigmatic employer. but increasingly aware of the civic corruption reaching right to the roots of this most respectable corner ofthe fifty States.

‘This was something of a new experience for me.‘

reflects Reisz. an extremely sprightly figure for his 65 years. ‘because I‘ve always developed my own projects before and obviously when you work with someone like Arthur you are there to serve a set of assumptions that are already formed. But I‘ve always liked that American genre ofsmaIl-town thrillers like The Big Heat or Woman In The Window, where you have a small set ofcharacters and an enclosed community which acts as a microcosm for the wider society. so I wanted to take it on. The suspense thriller gives you the pegs on which to build the characters. and what I thought was nice about this was that the enigma of the Debra Winger character was as much a puzzle as the conventional whodunnit.

‘Actually. in a sense Arthur isn‘t really interested in the mechanics of the solution. he‘s more about explaining how the corruption works. Whereas the older films asked the question “Are


these people crooked or aren‘t they'.’". what‘s of our time about Everybody Wins is the assumption that ofcourse the administration is crooked. The film describes a condition that the people behind the camera don‘t feel is changeable. although that‘s not to say you shouldn‘t fight against it.‘ Given that it offers little in the way of the easy pleasures ofcurrent I‘lollywood formulas. it‘s perhaps predictable that Everybody Wins has attracted a good deal of adverse criticism for ‘teasing irresolution‘ read ‘irritating incoherence‘ and very. very moderate box office. but for its willingness not to take the path ofleast resistance it surely bears investigation. Although Reisz‘ superior Patsy (‘line biopic Sweet Dreams ( 1985) remains an exception. Everybody Wins joins the The Gambler( 1984) and Dog Soldiers ( 1979) in presenting a detached outsider's view of the downside of the American Dream. ‘There‘s no programme to those films.‘ Reisz affirms. ‘but they've all ended up being wry about the States. Dog Soldiers in particular was very harshly treated because at that time the country didn‘t want to know that the problem was not out there in south-east Asia but very much at home. On the whole. the films are about the sort of victims that the American cinema tends not to see. But I hope they haven‘t turned out with the polemical attitude ofsomeone like Alan Parker. I think they‘re rather. . . rueful.‘

Everybody Wins is expected to open in Scotland on Fri 14 June.

" The'List3—l May— I3June 199117