Tag Archives: Donald Moffat

Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry

I really love it when actors step outside their comfort zone and try something that they’re not traditionally known for, it’s a difficult and courageous thing to do. Harrison Ford is a square jawed, attractive, alpha type dude, from Han Solo to Rick Deckerd to Indiana Jones. Seeing him become utterly vulnerable for a film like Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry is something wonderful and let’s you observe a quieter, gentler side of this iconic actor.

Ford is Henry here, a brash, egotistical slick lawyer who cons innocent clients out of their settlements to line the pockets of his firm, cheats on his wife (Annette Bening) and when asked to apologize to his daughter (Kamien Allen, sad eyed and soulful) for an outburst, manipulates the conversation to further blame her. One night he pops over to the convenience store and interrupts a robbery, after which the twitchy burglar (a very young John Leguizamo) shoots him twice. The wounds leave him fighting for his life and with permanent brain damage, re-learning how to speak, walk, eat and piece together his fragmented memories with the help of a kindly physical therapist (the great Bill Nunn in possibly his greatest performance).

This is the ultimate case of ‘my dad went out for a pack of smokes and never came back’ because in a sense he doesn’t. For his daughter the cruel, unsympathetic father she watched him become is now gone forever and in his place a man she doesn’t recognize but now relates to, cares for and in return gets love she never experienced before instead. Henry has all the faculties of a child or adolescent at first, forced to forge a new moral compass and and patch over the damage that he and his amoral boss (Donald Moffat, smarmy as ever) have wrought. Ford makes low key yet deeply affecting work of Henry, his eyes have a meditative observance and his voice a shaky, emotive timbre, qualities I find to be often wasted on hero roles without a ton of depth (see The Age Of Adaline for another terrific example of him being used properly). He actually gets to play a human here, one who goes through one of the most taxing experiences anyone could live through, and the colours Ford paints this performance with are something to see. This film gets ragged on and sure it can come across as a bit gloss, a bit ‘Heartstring Hollywood.’ That may be so in instances but at the core it really cares, truly examines this man and what makes him who he is, then slaps him with a factory reset and reimagines who he is all over again, and how he must reconcile with what came before. Great film in my opinion.

-Nate Hill

Michael Apted’s Class Action

A father/daughter courtroom drama starring Gene Hackman sounds like a recipe for something glossy, showboating and melodramatic, but Michael Apted’s Class Action gives us a mature, emotionally potent and very character driven film that one wouldn’t expect from the slightly sensationalistic trailers. Hackman is a San Francisco attorney who takes on the prosecution of an auto manufacturing giant with a line of suspicious exploding cars. Opposite him as defence for the corporation? His own daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), with whom he has a rocky history with. He’s a philandering hard ass who was never pleased with her and she blames him for the dissent in her family from his womanizing ways years before. The case itself serves as framework for for the very real, raw interpersonal drama that unfolds between them, and their relationship feels grounded and truthful. The key scene is them together in the kitchen cooking; idle small talk leads to harshly flung accusations, emotions are laid bare and by the time the argument reaches a screaming fever pitch, both are quaking with rage, self reflection and sad regret. It’s a powerful scene of performance from both actors, and you’ll scarce breathe for the duration. Hackman is fire and brimstone as per usual, but there’s also a wounded aspect I’ve never seen in him before, something brought out by Mastrantonio who is spectacular in her calmly devastating turn. The late Donald Moffat is great as her steely firm boss, a man governed by fierce logic who has no qualms in casually covering up key evidence. Fred Dalton Thompson is nicely slimy as the reprehensible auto CEO whose soulless disregard for human life is unsettling, Jan Rubes steals his scenes as a loopy ex engineer with ties to the auto giant and Laurence Fishburne (during his ‘Larry’ days) quietly plays Hackman’s firm partner and family friend. I wouldn’t have probably ever known about this film if I hadn’t have come across it in a thrift store, and I’m glad I did. Forgotten these days it seems, it’s now one of my favourite courtroom pieces out there, for letting the characters tell this story, for making it personal and for flowing through the beats organically. The stately San Francisco architecture and melodic score by James Horner give it a personality as well, but Hackman and Mastrantonio rule the roost and probably give their career bests. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill