9-9-03

One-Hour Photo & Catch Me If You Can
Weak Act Ones and Thin Scripts


          Act one of One-Hour Photo is over half the film long (53 minutes out of 96), and all that writer-director Mark Romanek has the ability to set up about Sy (Robin Williams) the photo guy's character is that he's a middle-aged bachelor that cares about his job.  Yet right from the very
Robin Williams
beginning the music is thumping and groaning like we're watching a horror film and Sy is the monster.  Why is Sy a monster?  Sorry, 53-minutes just wasn't a sufficient amount of time to even attempt an explanation.  Clearly, if you're middle-aged and single (like, for instance, me), you must be sadistic pervert.  Obviously, all the good people are married and have kids by that age.
          This is a perfect example of a screenwriter having absolutely no idea where he's going or why, he simply keeps adding more and more scenes on and hoping it will still make some sense by the end, which, of course, it doesn't.  Sy is obviously a bright guy who knows his job, understands the equipment, and does good work.  Yet, his big downfall is that he doesn't understand that if he makes extra prints of other people's pictures that the counter on the printing machine is going to note that.  STUPID!!!!  This is a script by a moron who thinks we're all morons, too.
          Over halfway through the film, when act one finally ends with Sy getting fired for making all of these unexplained extra prints, he completely wigs out and does a variety of nasty things -- although he doesn't murder anybody, thank goodness -- with no plan or scheme at all and is clearly and obviously going to be caught and go to jail.  Just in case we're worried that a middle-aged single pervert might get away with such awful behavior as making extra photo prints, the story begins with him already in custody, so we don't have to be concerned about anything like suspense because we already know that justice will prevail.
          In its basic form, this is the story of a man who goes crazy.  Why he goes crazy is crucially important since that's the whole story, but the screenwriter doesn't know why and won't even offer up a clue.  At the end Sy has an impassioned speech to the grim detective (Eriq La Salle) about why he stalked an innocent family and it's because the young father is a bad man.  Was Sy's father a bad man?  Did Sy have a father?  Or do people just go completely insane at the drop of a hat?
          We do hear that Sy was sickly, unpopular, and fat in his youth.  So, if you're sickly, unpopular, and fat, then grow up to be a bachelor, you must be a sadistic, psycho pervert.  If that's not the point of this story, I'd like to know what it is?  Or, conversely, if you marry young and have kids, you're a good person.  To writer-director Mark Romanek I say with all possible sincerity, fuck you!


          Catch Me If You Can is the best Steven Spielberg movie in many years, but that still doesn't make it a good film.  Once again, just like most every other movie these days, we're given a paper-thin act one that explains almost nothing.  Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) comes from a family where his mother and father don't get along all too well, although we don't see them really fight or anything, and his father (Christopher Walken) isn't great at making money.  Given that set- up, obviously he must turn to a life of crime.
Christopher Walken and
Leonardo DiCaprio
          For 141 very long minutes, Frank changes disguises and forges checks while the FBI, led by Tom Hanks doing a lousy eastern seaboard accent, chase him and fail to catch him over and over and over again, seemingly endlessly.  The FBI is portrayed as the modern-day version of the Keystone Cops, whereas Frank, who ultimately forges over four million dollars worth of checks, is really just a sweet, nice kid who just doesn't know any better because he came from a broken home.
          Once again, just like One-Hour Photo, these horrible family values are being shoved down our throats like the word of god.  If only Frank had come from a stable home he NEVER would have become a criminal.  If only Sy had gotten married and had kids, just like all normal people do, he wouldn't have had gone crazy and stalked a family.
          Once again, in case we might worry that a poorly-raised young check forger might get away with his crimes, the story begins with Frank already in custody and flashes back to his exploits, thus relieving us of any unnecessary suspense or interest.  Instead, we just have to slug our way through two-and-a-half hours of near-misses by the klutzy, idiotic FBI.
          In an excessively long and dramatically meaningless epilogue, we learn that Frank comes to work for the FBI in their check forging division because he's such an expert.  How did he become an expert in inks, paper-weights, and forging techniques?  Sorry, 141 minutes just wasn't long enough to explain any of that.
          Movie scripts no longer feel the need to set up their characters, motivate them, or ultimately have a point.  Nor are we even allowed to wonder how the story will turn out, since we get the conclusion first.  The only point that can be taken from these two films is the incredibly unique: crime doesn't pay.  Well, zippadee-do-dah!
          Good old Leonard Maltin gave One-Hour Photo three-an-a-half stars (out of four), thus making it as good as The Godfather in his humble opinion.  I wrote to Maltin when he gave Pulp Fiction three-and-a-half stars and asked if he really believed that it was as good as The Godfather?  Maltin wrote me back saying that he doesn't compare one movie to another, he takes each film on its own merits.  I wrote back and said that his was a book of ratings, and the definition of rating is the comparison of one thing to another.  Maltin gave Catch Me If You Can three stars, and everybody I know who saw it liked it.
          Therefore, I return to my contention that the modern day version of a good movie is actually a bad movie.  And I lament, where have our standards gone?

 

 

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