Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. United Kingdom/USA, 2000. Alternative Investments of Michigan, Enos/Rose Productions, Rhino Films. Screenplay by Bernard Rose, Lisa Enos, based on the novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. Cinematography by Ron Forsythe, Bernard Rose. Produced by Lisa Enos. Music by Matt Schultz, Elmo Weber. Film Editing by Bernard Rose. Independent Spirit Awards 2002. Toronto International Film Festival 2000.
Disillusioned by the business after the critical lambasting of his Anna Karenina adaptation, Bernard Rose turned to microbudget, independent filmmaking with this film shot on home video. Rose sets a loose adaptation of The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy in modern day Los Angeles in the world of moviemaking, beginning the story with the sudden death of a power agent (Danny Huston). From there it flashes back to Huston’s last living days, particularly his successful coup of getting a top of the line movie star (Peter Weller) to sign with his agency while hiding the fact that he spent his nights coughing up blood. No one who is sane feels precious about the indulgences of people in Tinseltown, but this movie doesn’t exactly set any truth bombs off either, as most of the bad behaviour it exposes plays like tired movie cliches about studio executives (snorting cocaine off girls’ legs, etc). The shoddy cinematography (it looks like it’s shot on a handycam from the era that it was made) makes for difficult viewing, while the low budget means that a lot of recreations of Hollywood events aren’t convincing (like the sparsely attended premieres). Since Rose actually knows how to direct a film under better circumstances, it never feels as amateur as it could, but the story he has chosen to adapt doesn’t fit his intended target that well, while the lack of humor and irony that made The Player so irresistible means that this one comes off as impossibly bitter.