The Stunt Man

"Essential"

The Stunt Man Review


From the very first shot -- of an eagle sitting on a light pole -- to the very last scene, The Stunt Man is the most exuberant piece of kinetic filmmaking ever produced. I daresay it's also one of the best American films of the 1980s, and, ironically, one of the most overlooked and unknown. Moreover, at a danger of sounding banal, I have to confess that it is one of my favorite films of all time. The Stunt Man is a film about making a film, a motion picture that generates a riveting, scintillating spell and, like no other film, exemplifies everything that cinema is: illusion, make-belief, obsession, control, and romance.

The film follows Cameron (Steve Railsback), a former Vietnam soldier, who is sought by the police and FBI. He is a street-smart savage and a criminal with unblinking tension in widened, wild eyes. Even motionless, he seems to be running from something. Soon he's on the run from the cops, and finds himself witnessing the shooting of a film. When the scene is over and the director, Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole), descends from the helicopter, the camera is looking at him from down below -- he is at once God and Devil, and he brings with him an air of greatness and unfathomable mystery. Peter O'Toole is brilliant in a role of megalomaniacal film director: He is imperial, bitter-tongued and controlling. He carries his madness in the blue arrogance of his eyes, in the deep wrinkles of his face and sinister sleeves of his black turtleneck. When he is looking down on Cameron from the helicopter's window, he seems to be gazing right into Cameron's soul. They strike a deal and Cameron becomes someone else -- a stunt man, an actor, and a fugitive -- in the movie. If he works it all out, it could mean having one more chance to lose, and Richard Rush exploits the twists and turns of Cameron's adventures with exuberance and unpredictable inventiveness.

What needs to be understood about The Stunt Man is that at the core of the film's mind games is a celebration of the moviegoing experience. Eli swings by in his helicopter, a tyrannical film director obsessed with his picture and his own version of life and people, both real and imaginary. Like Cameron, whose past and paranoia are at Eli's mercy, the viewers can't separate where the film ends and reality begins. Eli is obsessed with making his film, Cameron is convinced that Eli wants to kill him, and the viewers, wondering if Cameron would make it, become engrossed in the film in ways that are healthy and ways that are not.

As seen through Cameron's eyes, how much of the plot can we believe? Which is more unbelievable: that Eli Cross wants to kill Cameron or that a desperate soldier, before dying, is dancing the Charleston on the wing of an airplane? And what about Nina (Barbara Hershey), a star actress in both films, Cameron's lover and Eli's muse -- is she also part of the plot against Cameron? And what about Cameron himself? Following him in every shot of the film, how do we know he is just a reckless fellow fallen prey to hapless circumstances and not a serial killer?

Part of The Stunt Man's irresistible appeal is the philosophy that films are our imagination, dreams, and nightmares. They are not abstract, logical, or objective. The idea of transubstantiation -- that is what cinema is. Watching this film, you have to believe in everything and in nothing at all. It is easy to be frustrated with The Stunt Man, misunderstand it and miss the point. But if you get the film, its clever dialogue and biting sharp humor, you will fall in love with it.

The DVD features two deleted scenes, a commentary track from Rush and some of his compatriots, and the full screenplay (accessible via a DVD-ROM drive).



The Stunt Man

Facts and Figures

Run time: 131 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 25th February 1981

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

Production compaines: Simon Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 24 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Eli Cross, as Cameron, as Nina Franklin, as Sam (as Allen Goorwitz), as Police Chief Jake, as Denise, as Raymond Bailey, as Ace, Charles Bailey as Chuck Barton, John Garwood as Gabe, Jim Hess as Henry, John Pearce as Garage Guard, as Burt, George D. Wallace as Father, Dee Carroll as Mother, Leslie Winograde as Sister

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