SHADES. 1999

Director: Erik Van Looy

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Mickey Rourke in Shades (1999) plays the on-the-skids film director Paul Sullivan. Rourke makes this film his own, overshadowing every other performer, & does so with subtlety rather than attention-getting tricks.

ShadesGene Bervoets is adequate as the Belgian film producer who hopes Paul can put enough exploitation value into the film that it will do well in the United States & perhaps launch him into the Hollywood limelight of major film producers.

Jan Decleir turns in a subtle though eventually gruesome performance as the imprisoned psycho killer Freddy Lebeq, upon whose biography the film Paul is directing is allegedly based, though neither Paul nor the producer want anything more than a commercial film.

Andrew Howard despite being so easily upstaged by Rourke has the most complicated performance as Dylan Cole, "Dylan the Villain," a formerly bankable film star whose substance abuse & crazy self-important antics have landed him in Belgium lucky to have even an exploitation film to star in.

Dylan reads Lebeq's self-serving autobiography & begins to regret the exploitation take on the psycho killer biopic. In between drunken bouts, he convinces himself that he's a great method actor, just the right guy who can bring depth & meaning to the role, so that the world will understand Lebeq was as much a victim as the people he killed.

He begins visiting Lebeq in prison to get to know him better, so as to play him better, but he sees the man only through his own addled rosy expectations. Then on the film set he throws tantrums for the insensitive way he's being forced to portray the killer.

There are some very cynical bits in here about the film industry, but nothing too seriously intended since it's all pretty obvious stuff. If on the one hand "art" is not sufficiently valued by the money people, well, the would-be "artists" weren't the ones capable of great artistry anyway, being only vanity stricken prima donnas.

When Dylan takes his arguments to the press, things backfire as the public becomes convinced a hated killer is going to be whitewashed as some kind of hero, something the director has no intention of doing, but ends up manipulated by the producer into so much free publicity that American distributors begin competing for the rights to the controversial film before it's even finished. Thus the cynicism deepens.

But in the end it's a light film, mostly a comedy, despite a few tough moments when Lebeq escapes prison intent on avenging himself against the actor he feels betrayed him. This is a strange little film that teases toward becoming a Hollywoodesque thriller while remaining in fact a tiny independent film of character rather than action. It has sufficient wit & intelligence to work pretty darned well.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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