in the Family
Door in the Floor
by Tod Williams
In telling my husband about The Door in the Floor,
I mistakenly attributed its origin to a book by Andre Dubus.
(It is, in fact, from John Irving’s A Widow for One Year.)
It’s an easy mistake to make, as Door bears more than
a passing resemblance to Dubus’ In the Bedroom. Both
explore different people’s reactions to loss, and the disparate
ways in which they heal and move on, or, in the case of Marian
Cole (Kim Basinger), do not. In the aftermath of the death
of her beloved teen sons Thomas and Timothy, Marian has become
a shell, a complete zombie reclining on a chaise lounge, oblivious
to encroaching darkness or cold. Her husband Ted (Jeff Bridges),
a successful children’s book author and illustrator, patiently
attends to their 4-year-old daughter Ruthie (Elle Fanning)
and, in his spare moments, seduces wealthy Hamptonians.
At the point that Phillips Exeter student and wannabe writer
Eddie O’Hare (Jon Foster) enters the Coles’ universe, where
he has been hired to “assist,” Ted and Marion have reached
a highly delicate moment, a time when stony silence replaces
conversation: They know that words will bring about the inevitable
split-up of the family. While shy, Eddie quickly surmises
his real purpose, which is to guide Marian back to the living.
It’s a job he enjoys, as he was immediately smitten with Mrs.
Cole. For her part, Marian responds in a way that, while it
cannot be described as hot-blooded, is kind and knowing. Throughout
her early conversations with Eddie, she reminds him that “I
know about boys your age,” as if holding onto to this one
fact of having had an understanding of such children—her own.
That said, these statements make her subsequent trysts with
Eddie weirdly disturbing. Is Marian trying to ease the passage
into the way of all flesh, in matters that her own sons were
probably unaware of? Is she at all remembering her tenderness
with Thomas and Timothy when she holds Eddie against her chest?
Unfortunately, screenwriter-director Tod Williams films these
scenes with no sense of urgency or strong feeling, although
they are often humorous. In fact, much of The Door in the
Floor is bereft of anything emotionally meaty or bloodcurdling,
making the remembrance of Thomas’ and Timothy’s accident,
much later in the film, a welcome kick in the ass. While understanding
the intensity of emotions that accompany such a loss, Williams
holds things steady at an emotional remove that rivals Marian’s
for icy reserve. It doesn’t help that we never really get
a sense of what Marian was like before the accident, except
from one old photograph that shows her smiling warmly, and
from Ted’s telling Eddie that she had been a “fabulous” mother.
Still, there is something compelling about this movie, something
dangerous, like an undertow, that keeps sucking us in—and
that is Jeff Bridges’ performance. Long underappreciated as
an actor—probably because he doesn’t talk about his job like
it’s Art and doesn’t make us watch him strain at a characterization—Bridges
owns nearly every frame of the movie. Even when he’s not on
screen, his presence is felt. His Ted is a talent who understands
the fickleness of fame. He pursues other women with gusto,
until, tiring of them, he begins to paint them in their raw
ugliness. He strides around the house naked, oblivious to
who might see, and when Ruthie tells him that his penis looks
funny, he says, without missing a beat, “My penis is funny.”
He may look like Moses with his flowing robe, but Ted is no
wise sage, nor is he the typical tortured artist, going through
wine and women in a desperate act to avoid reality.
One senses that the reason Marion contemplates leaving Ted
isn’t because of his many infidelities, but because he’s been
able to get past his grief, to live fully and still be able
to talk openly about Thomas and Timothy. (He regales Ruthie
with stories of the two, whereas the mere mention of “the
accident” sends Marion into catatonia.) As with In the
Bedroom, this is the most compelling dynamic in the movie,
and it’s one that almost, almost makes The Door in the
Floor as artful as its lead performance.
attraction: (l-r) Judd and Kline in De-Lovely.
One of Those Things
by Irwin Winkler
Depending on the source, the great American composer-lyricist
Cole Porter either loved Night and Day, the 1946 film
of his life, or he hated it. If he loved it, it’s because
the big-budget Technicolor extravaganza was packed, wall-to-wall,
with his songs; and, he was played by Cary Grant. (Who wouldn’t
love to have had Grant star in his life story?) If
he hated it, it was because it was melodramatic fiction.
One can’t help but think that he would either love or hate
De-Lovely, the new Porter biopic, for many of the same
As the film begins, Porter (Kevin Kline) is dying in his New
York apartment, in the shadow of a gleaming skyscraper. Gabe
(Jonathan Pryce) arrives out of the ether to transport Porter
to the other side—stopping, however, in a theater to stage
a musical review of the composer’s life. Linda (Ashley Judd),
Porter’s late wife, is introduced, along with the rest of
the “cast.” The show begins.
There is comedy. There is romance. Cole and Linda truly love
each other, in their fashion: He’s gay and she’s understanding.
There is quite a lot of music. And, mostly, it’s all very
The fact that De-Lovely occasionally rises to the level
of compelling is due to Kline, and, to a lesser extent, Judd.
Kline is as debonair and insouciant as any Porter lyric, with
just the right undercurrent of melancholy in his performance.
Over and over, Porter expressed in song his bewilderment at,
and respect for, the mysterious nature of love; Kline brings
these feelings to life. Judd has the thankless role of unhappy
spouse, but she never overplays the misery. Both actors display
the beguiling sophistication of the long-gone 20th-century
American aristocracy. (Both Porters were ridiculously wealthy
What keeps De-Lovely from being what it could have
been is a reliance on melodrama that can be squarely blamed
on screenwriter Jay Cocks and director Irwin Winkler. The
setup, having Porter look back on his life at the point of
death, was old news by the time talking pictures came in.
Winkler, a producer-turned-director who betrays his inexperience
at awkward moments, can be forgiven for overreaching; Cocks
should know better.
The songs are presented in colorful, impressive production
numbers. Mostly, they’re sung by contemporary Broadway performers.
This is perfectly fine if you like that kind of singing. Every
note, every word is enthusiastically e-nunc-i-at-ed—essentially,
nailed down as if to make sure the rhythm doesn’t do anything
“funny.” Unfortunately, the effect is as if jazz never happened.
Of the non-Broadway performances, the results are mixed. The
best are Natalie Cole’s moving “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,”
Elvis Costello’s sly “Let’s Misbehave,” Vivian Green’s sleek
“Love for Sale,” and—believe it or not—Alanis Morissette’s
sexy “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love.” On the other hand,
Diana Krall is misused in a throwaway scene, and Simply Red’s
Mick Hucknall is abused as a Nelson Eddy-type tenor. And if
there’s any cosmic justice, Sheryl Crow is going to pay in
the next three lifetimes for what she does to “Begin the Beguine.”
There’s so much wrong with De-Lovely, it’s hard to
recommend it. And yet, what’s right about it is so good, it’s
just as difficult to dismiss.
by Michael Mann
In Michael Mann’s intelligent but talky new thriller, a top-level
hit man and a gentle cabbie go mano a mano—philosophically.
Set in Los Angeles and shot with a dank, primeval sheen, the
film has some thought-provoking angles behind its methodical
carnage. And though some of them are dulled by drawn-out verbiage,
Collateral still provides a better-than-average ride
through a dark night of the soul.
That soul belongs to Max (Jamie Foxx), a career cab driver
who dreams of starting up a luxury limousine service. We get
to know this timid optimist during the long opening sequence,
during which Max makes conversation—and a genuine connection—with
Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), a prosecutor he squires to the
airport. Elated by the encounter, Max barely notices his next
client, a businessman with a sophisticated laptop. After paying
Max big bucks to be driven to several stops, Vincent (Tom
Cruise) breaks through the cabby’s reserve with some hard-hitting
existential commentary and savvy questioning. Turns out, rather
smartly, too, that Vincent is in need of a getaway driver
so he can snuff out a half-dozen drug-cartel turncoats. Unthreatening
yet experienced (12 years behind the wheel), Max is the ideal
choice, and Collateral is often most ingenious in the
wiliness with which Victor pressures Max into collaborating
on his tightly scheduled killing spree (the “collateral” of
the title is innocent bystanders).
Mann, the famous stylist (and sometimes, the great director,
as with The Insider) goes a little overboard with his
moody, down-tuned scenarios, yet the executions have a visceral
believability, as do Max’s edge-of-trauma reactions. In one
of the most sinister (and blackly comic) scenes, Max calls
out for help from some pedestrians who respond by mugging
him at gunpoint. They also make the mistake of stealing Victor’s
laptop, which allows Mann to create some sympathy for him—in
the urban jungle, it can be amazingly helpful to have a cold-blooded
killer around. Since Victor is also a sociopath who likes
to get into the heads of his victims and toy with them, a
bizarre relationship develops between him and Max, whose unshakable
decency (Foxx conveys this with utter naturalism) seems to
intrigue and annoy the control-freak hit man. Distilled, the
interplay is also a comparison and contrast between a ruthless,
intensely focused careerist like Victor and the dreamy Max,
whose lack of confidence holds him back from realizing his
The dialogue (by Stuart Beattie), a major force in the film,
starts out strong—Victor notes the general apathy regarding
the slaughter of thousands of Rwandans when Max gets upset
about the killing of a snitch—and gradually runs out of steam,
to be replaced with sub-Scorsese repartee. Victor’s rejoinders
may be wickedly funny (Beattie was the screenwriter on Pirates
of the Caribbean) but they tend to disrupt Mann’s aura
of unpredictable menace. The production is similarly hit-or-miss;
the soundtrack is occasionally inspired, but more often obtrusive,
and the plot eventually falls back on standard crime-drama
devices such as characters who talk when they should be fleeing
What shouldn’t be a surprise is how convincing Cruise is;
after all, some of his best performances have been as villains
(Lestat the vampire, the slimy misogynist in Magnolia).
Although his Victor isn’t quite up to those turns—it sometimes
seems as if he’s channeling Richard Gere, especially with
his slick verbal gambits and fake gray hair—Cruise is chillingly
effective with Victor’s relentless sense of entitlement. And
with that, Collateral strikes a chord that goes beyond
its thriller intentions.