The Gingerbread Man – directed by Robert Altman. Noir. A lawyer leaps to the rescue and finds himself trapped. 113 minutes Color 1998.
The key ingredient in Noir is casting the female, and this one fails on the basis of its being so badly miscast as to wreck the movie. The female in noir, one way or another, must hypnotize us, or cause us to be desirous of being hypnotized. She should baffle and enchant and fascinate us, against our will if we profess to have a will in such matters. Lauren Bacall appears, and which of us is not helpless to know anything rational ever again? Who is there who can figure out the beauteous Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy? Not I.
In this case we get an actress playing for sympathy or pity or innocence, but the wanness she aims at to achieve this sympathy emerges as a frailty verging on the tubercular. Sympathy is a dull aim for an actor to strive for in a performance. It just won’t do.
And what really won’t do is to have cast an Australian actress in a part which she plays as though her father, brilliantly realized as a mean mountain man by Robert Duvall, had not produced an equally unpredictable cracker in his daughter. Instead the actress in question makes no attempt at a hill-billy accent. Instead of someone peppery and full of tang and fun, we get a droop.
In Noir, the female is more important than the male lead in the sense that our entrancement with her paradox is the element which carries us away from any attention whatsoever with the mad mazes of the plot, which we are not expected to follow and indeed which her presence is there to discourage us from following. So it goes that the plot of this film shoots itself in the foot with all the subtlety of a flare gun, as our attention wanes from the actress in question to the scowl emerging in our brains at the unnecessary and far-fetched plot twists to which we are finding our credulity to be subject.
What did it need? It is obvious that it needed Tuesday Weld.
What it does have is Duvall with oh-such-dirty feet, and the excellent Daryl Hannah as the gal Friday, and Tom Berenger perfectly cast as a lower caste barge captain, and the quirky and inventive genius of Robert Downey Junior as a private eye.
Pierre Mignot shot it gorgeously in Savannah, Georgia, a place which does not register as Savannah but registers like all get out anyhow. The lead is played with mighty dispatch and address by Kenneth Branagh, who evinces all the technical chops needed to play a Southern attorney of great muster and confidence. So the film has that. What it has not is a femme fatale. And without that, we are bereft of our sense of our own potential for self-corruption which Noir is intended to trigger and for us to harmlessly enjoy.