|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Old guys shine in their Twilight years
By Christina Vardanis
Paul Newman has been the icon of the charismatic leading man role for the better part of this century and the proof is in the salad dressing. Who else could put their face on a fast food condiment and create a McFrenzy, without sacrificing at least some of their dignity and all of their Hollywood career?
In Robert Benton's latest film, Twilight, Newman proves that at age 73, he's still got it. Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, Stockard Channing and James Garner round out the cast and collectively confirm that the older Hollywood can be as sexy and as witty as any young Brad Pittian whipper-snapper.
Newman plays Harry Ross, an ex-private detective turned devoted house-boy for retired movie star couple Catherine and Jack Ames (played by Sarandon and Hackman). When Jack is bedridden with a terminal illness, Harry takes over the family affairs, including his wife. While running a secret errand for Jack, Harry ends up dodging bullets and uncovering a blackmail operation dating back to the mysterious disappearance of Catherine's ex-husband. In a storm of seduction, murder and betrayal, Harry is thrown into his old detective ways and begins to uncover the ugly pasts of those he loves.
The story is an energetic throw-back to the who-dunnit mystery, with Newman as the narrator who always gets his man not to mention his share of women. Benton relishes in the characteristics of this genre which dominated movie screens in the '50s, including classic secret rendez-vous scenes. The plot is complicated and intriguing, yet subtle. No room is left for big explosions or shoot-outs only huge displays of talent.
The experience of this cast radiates in all aspects of the movie, creating a smooth translation of the story and its intricacies. The sexual tension between Newman and Sarandon could bend steel and Hackman's performance as the man in the dark who always gets screwed is enough to thicken anyone's skin. Garner's portrayal of the stand-by friend is effortless, while Channing illuminates the screen as Lieutenant Verna.
Typically, the revival of a genre is done with new, fresh faces and somewhat of a satiric slant. Instead, Benton takes a huge risk with Twilight, first in casting Hollywood veterans as the leads and then in presenting a plot that is to be taken seriously. The risk pays off, as the cast brings a liveliness and spontaneity to the story based in talent and experience, not in silicon and nose reductions. Chalk one up for the old boys, Twilight is a shining success.