Fall from innocence
Director Edward Zwick tells Alan Morrison about the American epic Legends aft/1e Fall
It's not often a film director can boast that he's added a new term to the English language. but when lid Zwick suggested ‘thinysomething‘ as the title for the now-seminal TV series he co- created. little did he realise he'd come tip with the defining tag for a generation. The programme‘s character-driven intimacy is also present in two of Zwick's movies -- relationship drama About Last Night and female—buddy-road-movie Lear-tug Normal. The director is better known. however. for his particular brand of American historical epic. thanks to the ()scars poured onto l‘)r\")’s (i/m-y. a depiction of an all-black regiment in the Civil War. and his latest offering Legends ()fL/lt’ Fall.
Legends chronicles several decades in the lives of the Ltrdlow fatnily « brothers Alfred (Aidan Quinn). Tristan (Brad Pitt) and Samuel (Henry Thomas). their domineering father (Anthony Hopkins) and the young woman each loves in turn (Julia ()rmond). Spanning a period that embraces the dying etnbers of the ()ld W *st. the traumas of World War I. the reality of the Depression and the emergence of a modern political identity. the film is a coming-of—age epic for America as a nation.
‘I think every American movie or drama often seems to be about the end of innocence and the transition from one thing to another.‘ says Zwiek. 'Any time you do a filrn about history. you are also talking about contemporary
times by virtue ofiiuxtaposition. We relate whatever experience we have now to then. Mostly. what I’m interested in are the stories. but I do believe that sometimes there are licences in period pieces that allow you to talk about life at a different pitch. [Each of the film‘s characters is a clearly defined type. but the two that seem most relevant to America's current vision of itself are Alfred and Tristan. Alfred is the reliable first son. upright and uptight. who frequently hedges his bets and enters into a political career. Tristan is the wild middle child. the apple of his father's eye and a man at one with nature. the Native American legacy and his inescapable destiny as an adventurer.
believes he is a Tristan. There's a mythic sense of individualism running through Legends ()f'l'lte l’a/l. which no doubt contributes to the grand. sweeping passages and to the film‘s unexpected success at the US box office but. because it appeals to a national vanity. it may not venture so well this side of the Atlantic.
Another problem is the pacing of the story. particularly in the later stages.
legends Of The Fall: ‘3 coming-of-age epic for America as a nation' :
Jim l-larrison‘s source novella is less than l()() pages long. yet it's packed with more life-shattering events than would seem plausible even in a week of Bran/(side. Harrison gets away with it by rendering his narrative in an extremely dispassionate voice. but Zwick is clearly caught up in the romanticism of it all. with the effect If It works, its because rt has some unrelenting quality, that it seizes you and doesn t let you off the hook emotionally. that the last couple of reels lurch from one calamity to the next with never a
5 joyful moment — a melodramatic excess T of material that hinders any tenderness
' ‘ . ‘ on the audience‘s part.
Modern-day America is an Alfred who
E brooding. sorrowful story
‘Taken at face value. it‘s a very
there‘s much loss and tragedy. and it doesn't. on the surface. suggest it will be a crowd-pleaser of some kind.‘ replies Zwick to these complaints. ‘And yet it has proven to be just that. because it engages people in an emotional way that is somewhat uncommon in contemporary film. Some of its power resides. to me. in the fact that it just crashcs'over you without release. The
whole attempt of the storytelling was to be the equivalent of “a tale told". where someone just tells you this. and then tells you that. I guess. ifit works for some as an emotional movie. it's because it has some unrelenting quality. that it seizes you and doesn‘t let you off the hook emotionally. For you. legitimately. it became too much — for others. I think it is satisfying in that way.‘
In its favour. the film has some splendidly stirring scenes and a strong indictment on the waste of human life that is usually glorified and made legititnatc by war. The cast give full commitment to their characters. and Zwick can pat his own back for having brought them together as an ensemble at a point when their individual lights have never shone more brightly.
()rmond is at the transition point
between European low profile — Baby ()l‘tliar'mr. Nostradamus and Captives -- and international stardom alongside Richard (icre in First Knight and Harrison Ford in Sabrina. while Pitt. last seen in the blockbuster Interview ll’t't/r 'l'lre lamp/re. is a desirable item in the eyes of any producer or audience member.
‘Brad and I began talking about making this movie three and a half years ago. even before 'l’ltelma ((- Loarse catue out and long before A River Runs L/It‘rtltg/I it.‘ explains Xwick. ‘I had had the occasion to work with him for two days on t/a'rtvstmtet/tmg. and I had seen some of the other work he'd done on television. lle's obviously possessed of great physical grace and visage. but he is also quite comfortable in his skin. He has an athleticism and a sexuality and a presence that is natural and unaffected. I find him to have a masculinity that he wears easily »- he doesn't seem to be self-absorbed or self-loving in a way that‘s a turn-off. And he also has vulnerability. which is a quality that's in short suppny Legends (NHL/1e I'd/l ope/Is (HI I’m-dd)“ 2N.
Wolfgang Petersen says ‘hello’ like he means ‘hey, listen up, I’ve got the Midas touch’. He is a movie director
and he looks the part, from the Beverly
Hills suit to the California tan. Once, this man was a German filmmaker, and he got an Oscar nomination for Oas Boot, but his dream ticket took him to Hollywood, as the European film world is, according to him, ‘down and out’. Petersen’s American career flopped with the dreary Shattered and then hit the mark with the Clint Eastwood vehicle In The Line Of Fire. His latest film is Outbreak, which has taken over $50 million in the US and was a recent box-office number one.
Publicity surrounding Outbreak has made a big deal about the casting of Dustin Hoffman as an action hero. Petersen was reportedly excited by the enhanced cliffhanger potential of a hero who is small and serious enough to be a convincing failure. ‘With you in the part,’ he is reckoned to have said, ‘the audience won’t be sure of the outcome.’ Given a live
Outbreak: ‘more fantastic than real'
? airing, though, Petersen’s enthusiasm
3 takes a more predictable course.
‘Oustin and l are great friends. We talked about the script, and his ears
; grew bigger and bigger. I loved him for
f the part because he can make it so
real. He’s an obsessive artist.’
Rumours that Hoffman’s career was at
I a low ebb when he took this part, and
i that he’s a nightmare to work with, are
i the pitfalls Petersen wishes to avoid.
Outbreak wobbled to life in the
fraught world of multi-million dollar
competition. lts basic plot revolves around a deadly airborne virus that arrives in California via a monkey and
I inflicts innumerable fatalities within a ? few hours. But cranking into pre-
production at the same time was Crisis In The Hot Zone, another lethal virus story, complete with monkey and 100 per cent fatality rate. ‘It was pure coincidence,’ says Petersen, although both stories were inspired by the same newspaper article about a near-deadly outbreak of virus outside Washington DC. The two films aimed at tapping into AIDS-fuelled international anxiety, but the tropical virus metaphor wasn’t big enough for the both of them. Crisis In The Hot Zone folded despite commitments from Robert Redford and Jodie Foster, and left Outbreak with a clear runway.
Hoffman plays a scientist involved in researching dangerous viruses. He has an ex-wife (Rene Russo), two dogs and a lot of humanity. When the lethal Motaba strain strikes California, hero Hoffman opts not to sleep again until he’s found a cure. For all its conspicuous interest in virology and latex suits, Outbreak is more fantastic than real, and its normal-Joe moments of marital and canine strife are
superfluous. Back in the lab, Hoffman’s character is a more convincing bit of celluloid, and he proves fit opposition for the nasty military men (including Morgan Freeman) who have more ominous plans for containing the disease.
Outbreak must clear its first hurdle by convincing us that viral epidemics are the ‘greatest single threat to the existence of human life’ (as the opening words argue). For too long, though, there are no appreciable victims and Hoffman’s heroism plays into a void. The pace peps up when the entire population of Cedars Creek, California, is quarantined, and then, leaving the people for the helicopters, the film swings into top gear for a gripping high action climax.
Like In The Line Of Fire, Outbreak is essentially about a battle between the moral hero, who fights for the inalienable right to life, and the bad guys, to whom life is less important than the way they attempt to end it. That conventional conflict is more truly the subject of this film than the grave realities of disease. Outbreak is glib. See it and forget it. (Hannah Fries)
Outbreak opens on Friday 21.
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