Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Memoriam

There are few people in Hollywood that I can honestly say have done nothing wrong, at least nothing that stands out in some glaring "Oh yea, there's that" fashion.

Sidney Pollack is one of those people. I'd never worked with him, either in front of or behind the camera, but I would have given an eye tooth for a chance to. An actor before Burt Lancaster suggested he direct, he was the consummate actor's director, understanding the craft of understatement as well as the actor's dilemma.

Too, his body of work as a director suggests he refused to make dumb choices. His Academy Award winning turn with "Out Of Africa" only highlighted his remarkable gift for even more realistic, humanistic movies like "Tootsie" or "The Way We Were."

In the hands of a lesser director, a drama that improbably casts Barbra Streisand as a romantic lead across from Robert Redford could easily have devolved into treacle at best and farce at worst, something on the order of "Shanghai Surprise" with Sean Penn and Madonna. Pollack's gift was in tearing away the facade of stardom in his casts to get the actors to act.

If this was all he had ever done, this body of work, mainly with Robert Redford, it would immediately install him in the pantheon of gods of Hollywood, but his acting abilities rivalled his eye and ear for storytelling.

As an example, rent "Michael Clayton," an intriguing story of a burnt-out lawyer who runs up against some powerful forces allied against him. The three major roles in the film all garnered Oscar nominations, and the two supporting actors, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson, won.

Pollack, playing Marty Bach, the head of the law firm, has one of the most interesting roles in film's recent memory, trying to juggle an out-of-control lawyer who has lost his mind, a "fixer" who is starting to realize that he's on the wrong side, and a merger of his firm with another.

His performance is, to be sure, nothing less than astounding, and yet, never mentioned when this film is talked about, the garish larger roles capturing the notices.

I think that's exactly the way Sid liked it.

I'm sorry to see you go, Sidney. You will be missed.