Tuesday, November 27, 2012

#834. The Stunt Man (1980)

Directed By: Richard Rush

Starring: Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, Barbara Hershey

Tag line: "If God could do the things that we can do, he'd be a happy man . . ."

Trivia: Ryan O'Neal originally was slated to play the lead, but dropped out and was eventually replaced by Steve Railsback.

Director Richard Rush ‘s 1980 film The Stunt Man is a scathing satire of the Hollywood system, revealing the lengths some filmmakers will go to in order to get the “perfect shot”.

Vietnam veteran Cameron (Steve Railsbeck) is on the run from the police. While trying to evade capture, he inadvertently disrupts a film shoot and, in so doing, causes the death of the production’s stunt man. 

The only witness to this tragedy was the movie’s director, Eli Cross (Pete O’Toole), who was watching from a helicopter. Fearing the local authorities may shut his production down, Cross convinces the sheriff (Alex Rocco) that Cameron is the actual stunt man, and that he, in fact, survived the accident. 

This quick thinking ensures Cameron’s freedom while also allowing Cross to continue making his movie. Yet as Cameron soon discovers, life with Eli Cross is more traumatic than he ever could have imagined. 

Forced to perform death-defying feats with little or no advance knowledge of what’s in store for him, Cameron lives in constant fear, and despite the reassurances of the picture’s leading lady (Barbara Hershey) and its writer (Allen Garfield) that everything will be fine, he doesn’t trust Eli one bit. 

So, when it’s time to do the stunt for the film’s big climax, it's anyone's guess whether or not Cameron will go through with it!

The Stunt Man is at times a very funny movie, but it’s also a dark one, and much of that darkness comes courtesy of Peter O’Toole. The actor gives a bravura performance as Eli Cross, the raging egomaniac who - rumor has it - once tried to kill a cameraman for missing a crucial shot. O’Toole’s Cross looms heavy over the entire film, pulling everyone’s strings to get them to do exactly what he wants. As an outsider to it all, Cameron acts as our guide through this bizarre world of manufactured make-believe, and like him, we find ourselves wondering where the movie ends, and reality begins.

Railsback is also convincing as the confused title character, and both Hershey and Garfield are solid in their respective roles. In addition, The Stunt Man features some truly harrowing stunt work, impressive even by today’s standards. Yet it’s Peter O’Toole who steals this particular show. Playing a man who is equal parts God and the Devil, O’Toole delivers yet another of his patented witty performances, and netted himself an Academy Award nomination in the process.

In the end, you may not remember everything that transpired in The Stunt Man, but odds are you’ll never forget Eli Cross!


Robert M. Lindsey said...

I watched this recently, and found Cross to be pure evil. When he shows that film to her parents then lets her know about it when he needs her upset and distraught in a scene is manipulation at it's worst.

Unknown said...

This movie is pure awesome. I still love it to this day.