Wednesday, November 01, 2006

De Palma For Hire

So, it's official: the director for the long in development prequel to The Untouchables is going to be... Brian De Palma, the man who gave us the original. (Well, the original remake of the TV show, if you know what I mean).

This will be another project De Palma has inherited from other, lesser directors, much like his recent The Black Dahlia, a one-time project of David Fincher. Whereas that film was scripted by Josh Friedman - famously one of the Too Many Cooks behind Snakes on a Plane - this one has at least been written by Koppelman and Levien, who are also the authors of Rounders, The Runaway Jury and Ocean's 13. As a result, it's safe to assume this Untouchables spin off going to wind up better than Dahlia.

But... and it's a big but... can anybody remember the days when Brian De Palma films used to be solid and dependable no matter who had written them? Some of the worst hacks and most induglent scribes in modern American cinema delivered scripts to the director and he managed to craft them into unmissable and genuinely cinematic experiences. We're talking Paul Schrader, Oliver Stone, David Koepp - some of the most overrated, egotistical scriptwriters in Hollywood history.

And then, before that, the films De Palma had written himself? Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, Hi Mom, Sisters, Greetings - all of them written or co-written by the director - and I don't just mean a story credit here. What's more, almost every one of them was a 'first-night essential', a real 'rush out and hurry up and get the best seat' kind of affair.

So what has happened?

He hasn't lost his way entirely, and he hasn't stopped writing scripts either - both of which are proven by the patchy but regularly brilliant Femme Fatale. It's a wild and crazy film, sure - but certainly no wilder than Dressed To Kill or crazier than Get To Know Your Rabbit - and definitely, definitely nowhere nearly as wild or crazy as Raising Cain.

And remember that Mission: Impossible wasn't so long ago - just a few movies back in a long career - and that contained some of De Palma's best work, and if you take just the scenes set in CIA headquarters at Langley, the single best sequence of the man's career (not to mention just about everybody else's career).

I think De Palma's problem is this: to get films greenlit he has to a) strike while the iron is hot and b) work with the script and parameters agreed by the production companies and studios.

If De Palma were to hold off for only the 'best scripts', or for that matter, only worked on films he wrote or at least originated himself and then managed to get greenlit, we'd certainly see a lot less of his work. In theory, I think the balance might just pay off, in fact - let's say he makes three or four times as many films as he would if he rejected all the pap, then every one could be a total washout and we'll still get more quality De Palma than if he cooled his heels.

Or maybe - just maybe - De Palma is getting truly like Hitchcock and latching onto lesser scripts in his later years, focussing on just the handful of sequences he can make a fist out of? It wouldn't surprise me.

Either way, celebrate. It looks like - next time at least - De Palma has a decent script on which to build his movie. I think we could be looking at another 'first night essential', 'book early and book often' movie from the man who used to just toss them out like it was easy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Liked this comment- I agree with you about De Palma.

Witness the Black Dahlia. The problem I thought with the Black Dahlia lay in the script which was weak especially at the end. What was fantastic though was the look- Scarlett Johansen may not have had a good line in the entire film- but her sitting there with a cigarette in hand was the epitome of noir cool. The film looked great- as did the trailer- the sign of good direction and good camera work, but it was an awful script that ruined it. If only for a good script in that film and it would have been fine- so thanks I agree.