By John H. Foote
A STAR IS BORN
Wow! Talk about knocking it out of the park! In his directorial debut Bradley Cooper creates the finest of A Star is Born films, far surpassing the 1976 version and eking by the Judy Garland version. Further, he gives the finest performance of his career as a rock star, chronic boozer and drug addict, Jackson Main a gifted artist on the downside of his career. Too much booze, too many pills, too much cocaine has cost Main so much and he knows it. One night after a show he stumbles into a bar and hears Ally (Lady Gaga) sing and is smitten by both her beauty and her obvious talent. He encourages her to write her own songs and drags her out on the stage with him, making her a star overnight. When a hotshot manager offers to sign her, she goes along, though is not pleased when he demands changes be made. Main despises the changes, wanting her to just be honest in her music, to be the real Ally. But Ally climbs, they marry and her career soars as his sinks. On the night of the Grammy Awards he causes her a terrible embarrassment and hurts her deeply. With rehab the only answer he checks himself in to get clean, but when released he realizes the drag he has become on her career. In a right between the eyes conversation with her manager he is told the damage he did and what she had to do to get past it.
Bradley Cooper has become one of the finest actors of his generation in the last six years, with three Academy Award nominations and pocketfuls of rave reviews. His great performance in American Sniper (2014) challenged the actor more than any role until this one. Jackson Main is the greatest challenge of his career and he gives the finest performance of his career. Weary, beaten down by the emotional turmoil in his life, his past, the arguments with his brother, whom he loves very much, his voice a near growl from too many years of heavy smoking and hard whiskey, and watching his wife soar past him on the charts, Cooper captures that bone-weary exhaustion of a man at the end of his rope. The one thing he has that is constant in his life is Ally, and he knows or comes to know he is hurting her by being with her.
Lady Gaga is already a big star as a recording artist, so making it in acting is not that big a deal for her. That said Madonna never quite managed to be a great actress or give even a good performance. Gaga is spectacular, giving a breathtaking performance that audiences will adore and critics will write raves about. She is never anything but truthful in her work, the chemistry between she and Cooper is electric and her final song will have tears cascading down your face.
Expect each to be nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress, along with Sam Elliott, who is wonderful as the wounded brother who watched his younger sibling become the star he hoped he would. That voice, sounding like dark chocolate and a bass guitar is perfect, and the old boy just might be an Oscar nominee for the first time.
The concert scenes are stunning, filled with the energy of the audience on screen, but flowing down to allow the audience in the cinema to be one with them. Who knew Cooper could sing? Who knew he could play a mean guitar?
His greatest achievement here is, of course, directing the film and bringing everything together. The trust between the actors if due to his direction, the trust he instilled in his cast, the comfort he brought to the set allowing them the freedom to create.
Two stars are born with this film, Gaga as an actress, and Cooper as a director.
It is a magnificent achievement, potentially the year’s very best film.
THE FRONT RUNNER
In 1987 Gary Hart was the leading contender for the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party after losing the nomination to Walter Mondale in 1984. He had it all, good movie star looks, movie star friends such as Warren Beatty, a lovely wife, he had the Kennedy appeal that would win voters over from George Bush Sr. But Hart was brought down by a sex scandal when a group of reporters preyed on some comments he made, after he dared them to follow him, and they did. In the process they discovered a young model Donna Rice he had been having an affair with.
Jason Reitman impressed the film world with Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009) both TIFF premieres, both best picture and best director nominees, but stalled after that. He made a comeback of sorts in the summer with Tully (2018) and is back with this political drama that tells the true story of Hart.
In many ways the media were hypocrites, ignoring the high number of affairs and sexual dalliances by JFK and even more so Lyndon Johnson. Yet with Hart, times had changed and they showed no mercy. They went after Hart, his wife and daughter, and Donna Rice, making their already very public lives a living hell. You can see the weight of the world landing on Hart, well played by Hugh Jackman, though I still remain unconvinced of his acting prowess, some love him, I do not. He tends to get drowned out by the people managing him, which is likely what happened, but it did not help us understand him. When presented with the evidence the reporters have against him, he is like a deer in the headlights, while his wife, portrayed by Vera Farmiga, silently seethes with rage. All she had ever asked of him, knowing of his exploits, was that he never humiliate her, and he has done exactly that.
Miss Rice suffered as Monica Lewinski did, and her life was pretty much ruined because of the affair. Hart’s political career was left in shambles, and his presidential run stopped dead. How history might have changed with Hart as the President. It certainly would have erased any chance of any Bush Presidency, either father or son, and might have led to a very different America. Considering the state of the Presidency right now, with a man who has openly had affairs with porn stars and prostitutes, and flaunts it in front of his wife, what Hart did was morally repugnant, but really nothing compared to Trump.
The best performance in the film comes from the great character actor J.K. Simmons as Dixon, the campaign manager for Hart, who knows before the candidate does that it is over.
Reitman gives the film a Robert Altman feel at the beginning, lots of motion and talking when I think he should have been working out the characters and allowing us to get to know them. Sadly I felt nothing for Gary Hart, Jackman did not bring one iota of sympathy, but his wife and daughter? My heart wept for them.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.