Up through 1992, one might predict Meathead would become one of the most hailed directors of all-time. Six of his first seven movies were monster hits (and deservedly so) and won or were nominated for many awards. But then he directed North, considered by Siskel & Ebert one of the worst big-budget films of all-time. Since then, you’d be hard pressed to find a memorable film by him. To be fair, I haven’t seen anything he’s done after 1995, but based on reviews and recommendations, I haven’t exactly been dying to either.
The American President: Aaron Sorkin loves writing his fantasies about society into his scripts. The West Wing fantasizes about democracy working, Newsroom fantasizes about a responsible journalism, A Few Good Men fantasizes about justice against corrupt military officials, and this movie fantasizes about a fair and honest president who sticks to his convictions even in tough times. In fact, Martin Sheen must have impressed Sorkin in this movie as he brought him on to play the president in West Wing. Anyway, The American President is a harmless, charming fantasy. Michael Douglas does what he does, Bening is good as usual, and Michael J. Fox has a mildly funny role.
The Princess Bride: One of the best quote-dropping movies ever, which one normally wouldn’t associate with a movie based on a book. But then you realize WIlliam Goldman, a prolific screenwriter, wrote the book, and it makes sense. The narrative flow is intentionally choppy, which normally would bother me, but it works here because every scene is beyond ridiculous, kind of like a Monty Python movie. Reiner gets most of these actors’ best career performances. Don’t know I’ve ever seen Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, or Wallace Shawn better (except perhaps as Rex in the Toy Story series), and who figured Andre the Giant would make a movie better? It’s also one of Fred Savage’s first appearances and it’s easy to see why he got cast for The Wonder Years a year later. Reiner favorites Christopher Guest and Billy Crystal also have solid performances.
Misery: William Goldman also wrote the script to Misery and Reiner got exceptional performances out of James Caan and Kathy Bates. Many of Stephen King’s novels, especially up to 1990, had been butchered on screen. Goldman and Reiner possibly make it better. A true horror film about a writer who crashes his car and then gets kidnapped by his biggest fan who nurses him back to health. Non-stop tension from beginning to end with at least one horrific visual moment that should make just about everyone curl up into the fetal position.
This is Spinal Tap: The whole idea of a mockumentary, especially about a genre of music (hair metal) I have zero interest in, never appealed to me. But my wife made me watch this a few years ago and I’m forever grateful. Reiner’s first movie is one of his best, with pitch perfect satire and top-notch performances, especially from Christopher Guest. I belly-laughed at least seven or eight times while watching, which is about six more times than most comedies I like.
A Few Good Men: While I love this movie more than most, it may be the best proof of Reiner’s superb direct capabilities. Aaron Sorkin’s stage play and movie script is flawed in his usual way in that he wants to spell out the conflict, tell everyone how the characters are going to solve it, show them doing it, then recapping what they just did. It also had a mild romantic subplot that has mostly been taken out for the movie. There’s definitely problems left, but it’s largely improved from the original script. Reiner also takes two middling actors in Tom Cruise and Demi Moore and gets two of the best performances of their careers. I’ve seen Moore’s character, Commander Jo Galloway, played on stage and it was dreadful. It’s a tough role, and Moore gets it. Meanwhile, Cruise is cast perfectly, as the role calls for a young hot-shot who likes to fling his hands in the air and yell a lot. Kevin Bacon is solid as the government’s attorney, J.T. Walsh is his usual loose cannon, and Kiefer Sutherland always plays a good prick.
Of course, Jack Nicholson is the star. He’s larger than life, thanks in part to his performance, and part Reiner’s camerawork. I think I read somewhere that Nicholson has one of the shortest appearances in a film while getting nominated for best supporting actor. He definitely deserved the nomination.
While I’m gushing, I may as well mention that Marc Shaiman’s score is amazing, chilling in all the right places. I’ve seen the movie at least forty times and can annoyingly recite nearly all of it from beginning to end.
Other Films By Rob Reiner
Stand By Me
When Harry Met Sally
Ghosts of Mississippi
The Story Of Us
Alex & Emma
Rumor Has It…
The Bucket List
The Magic of Belle Isle