Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Review: Something the Lord Made (2004)

What a fantastic movie is Something the Lord Made, staring Alan Rickman (Michael Collins) and Mos Def (The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy).

This is one of those movies that makes you want to go and do something enormously significant afterwards. A real feel-good tear-jerking encouraging kind of story.

Commentary was great, too, from the two exec producers, the director (Joseph Sargent, MacArthur, ST:TOS The Corbomite Maneuver) and writer Peter Silverman.

Some commentaries focus on exactly what I want to know, and in this case it was:
  • how the movie came about, business-wise, and
  • how they structured the story - particularly interesting because it was based on true events.
The first part's easy- the script was originally shopped as a feature film but circa 10 years ago people weren't interested in historical drama for feature films. Not sure if that's changed any. So they came to HBO and it sounds like a marriage made in heaven. HBO cared about the same things the producers cared about, which was integrity to the story's source material, and making sure the events and characters were portrayed accurately.

Other key points from the commentary, and my own notes:
  • The executive producing team was interesting - veteran Robert Cort, who said he'd produced 53 films, and the other guy (whos name escapes me, and there are too many to guess from on IMDb) for whom this was his second or third film. Good combo.

  • The original idea was to start in 1943 and then fill in the missing parts through a flashback to 1930. It worked on paper - as it would, quite well - but when they viewed it assembled on screen, it didn't work. They wanted to do flashbacks to avoid the biopic syndrome where it's cradle-to-grave, linear movement. However they were able to use their existing footage and just reshuffle it into chronological order, and it still worked better than fine.

  • The theme of the film is intimacy; Cort even described it as a love story. We're not talking Brokeback Mountain here; this is not about sexual love at all. This is about a symbiotic relationship; two people who are so consumed by what they're doing that they depend on each other, and enjoy each other's company. I really felt that, and yet because of racial issues and just maybe the times and their personalities, they couldn't express what they felt for each other. That's part of the story's muted appeal.

  • A little tip from the director, or was it the exec producer: in a love story, have the two characters in the frame together a lot. So we get the image of them as always together.

  • The second act had several key climaxes through it, which they had to make sure they engineered so each one wouldn't overshadow the next. They did a great job.

  • They commented on how difficult it was to tell a true story particularly these days because the facts, or at least another version of them, are just a Google search away.

  • Robert Cort: "You can't make drama too funny." Because humour comes out of character.

  • Movies, even dramas, tend to play funnier to a large auditorium audience rather than at home.

  • (Spoiler!) The blue baby operation is a typical third act climax, but the story wasn't really about that, it was about the relationship between the two men. So it was actually the second act climax in terms of the relationship. Meaning things went downhill from there.

  • This film took 8 years to develop. That's an average time for these sorts of projects. Wow.
I really enjoyed this film. Subtle, wonderful acting from the two leads and strong performances by the supporting actors. I don't know why made-for-TV films get a bad rap; this one is great.


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