Monday, May 21, 2007

Bruce Willis: some careers die hard

I saw the trailer for the new DIE HARD sequel (the first one where John McClane is now eligible for Medicare) and was excited. The first DIE HARD is still the gold standard for “action hero saving the day against impossible odds” genre. For years, every action movie out of Hollywood was DIE HARD on a ship, DIE HARD in a stadium, DIE HARD in space. DIE HARD in a telephone booth.

But it got me thinking of all the really bad movies Bruce Willis has been in. From his most recent bomb PERFECT STRANGERS to HUDSON HAWK and all the BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS and THE KID in between. But then I checked imdb and wow, I was amazed at all the really good movies he’s been in. I’ve always liked his work, from the time I saw him play a slick drug dealer in the first season of MIAMI VICE (so long ago he had hair). But of late I was under the impression that he went from one STORY OF US to another.

But no. His work in PULP FICTION was Oscar worthy. THE SIXTH SENSE was terrific, as was THE JACKAL, SIN CITY, and BLIND DATE. And I’m guessing you have one or two others you’ve liked him in (please don’t say APOCALYPSE or ARMAGEDDON – which is the same movie, isn’t it?)

But there are two really interesting Bruce Willis movie you probably are less familiar with. COLOR OF NIGHT and NOBODY’S FOOL, both from 1994.

COLOR OF NIGHT was directed by the very underrated Richard Rush. It’s a psychological thriller with lots of sex. Best to see the director’s cut on DVD – not for more sex but for the story to make sense. I found I liked the film even better once I understood it.

NOBODY’S FOOL was an adaptation of a Richard Russo novel, directed by Robert Benton. Not only does Bruce do a nice turn but Paul Newman gives one of his finest performances ever. Set in a small Upstate New York town, this slice of life movie received several Oscar nominations yet is mostly forgotten.

The mark of a real movie star is not how many great movies he’s been in but how long he’s managed to endure. And considering all the boxoffice flops, pressure from representatives to take certain projects, fickle audiences, and the constant onslaught of younger, fresher stars coming up, for Bruce Willis to have a very successful feature career for twenty long years means he really is John McClane. DIE HARD in a talent agency.

28 comments:

Dave said...

Nobody's Fool is an overlooked gem of a movie so good that even Melanie Griffith gives a good performance, and that, my friends, is the rarest of beasts.

wcdixon said...

'Alpha Dog' was yet another example of Willis willing to take a secondary role in a good flick. And '12 Monkeys' was good as well I thought.

R.A. Porter said...

Does anyone else think that Hudson Hawk wanted to be an entertaining movie and suffered from notes, rewrites, and changes of tone? Not a good movie mind you, but an entertaining, light-hearted comicbook-y movie.

I remember watching it and loving bits here and there, right from the start with Willis using Sinatra standards as his substitute for a watch. I just thought it ended up buried under its massive plot and conspiracy. As a character, I actually thought Hudson Hawk could have worked.

Or I could be insane.

Anonymous said...

I really liked Willis in "Fast Food Nation"

RAC said...

Besides the ones mentioned, my favorite Bruce Willis films are Unbreakable, The Fifth Element, and Last Man Standing. He has the charisma and good humor to make even the most cardboard characters a bit more three-dimensional. And on tv, Moonlighting was unforgettable. Hell, I even bought his first CD in the eighties, which wasn't half bad (it wasn't half good, either) and his version of Respect Yourself did reach #5 on the charts in January of 1987. In the 90s, he was the #3 box office draw. I'd say he's earned it all. (Unlike that Kutcher fellow.)

Paul said...

Bruce Willis is awesome.

I love "Armageddon", and the reason I do is really almost entirely Bruce Willis. He KNEW the script was silly, but he gave it 100% and really became the character, and it made the movie the best asteroid movie of 1998.

I'm hoping Die Hard 4 doesn't suck.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how it did at the box office, but I was impressed with the recent 16 BLOCKS.

Nikki

Lizbeth said...

I knew the AD on "16 Blocks" so I signed up to be an extra for the day. I was put upfront right in the middle of the action.

I was amazed how small and thin Bruce looked up close. But, I have to give it to him for the willingness to play an "old man." He was not the pumped up Willis of Die Hard movies. I like that he is willing to transform himself for certain roles.

Unfortunately, he had a hissy fit in front of all the extras. We were filming in NYC, started around 7:30 a.m. and by noon the street was buzzing with tourists snapping digital photos. Needless to say, Willis can spot a tourist with a cell phone snapping a photo from 100 yards away -- behind his back. Amazing!

Speaking of Bruce Willis movies, I thought he was the best part of the otherwise-awful "Death Becomes Her."

Bevo said...

Nobody's Fool is a very under rated film. Melanie Griffith showing off her boobs is a cherry on top, my friends.

What is most remarkable about Nobody’s Fool the movie is that the source material (Nobody's Fool the book) contains about 8 pages of dialogue. The remainder of the source material contains either narration or description.

Robert Benton earned his paycheck for his effort.

Fantastic casting by Ellen Chenoweth made for a terrific movie.

Mary Stella said...

His role on Miami Vice was so chilling when he played the wife abusing dealer that I couldn't believe he could then be so funny on Moonlighting.

Emily Blake said...

I love The Color of Night.

I also really enjoyed his stint on Friends. He scared me and turned me on at the same time, which was his purpose. Not too many actors could get away with playing the dad of Ross' girlfriend and Rachel's boyfriend at the same time.

Blarneyman said...

Color of Night was awful.

You can't forget his work in Moonlighting. It was so funny. The rapid fire banter between Cybil Shepeard and he was so much fun to watch.

Unbreakable was good too.

Anonymous said...

Willis is a good actor. He's willing to try different things and I don't think he's ever phoned in a role.

Radish74 said...

Nobody's Fool...A beautiful film, sadly overlooked by the general public, however one I hold dear. I couldn't agree more Ken. I often use that film as well as Pulp Fiction as cornerstones in my "Bruce Willis doesn't suck" debates.

Good Dog said...

I liked that one he did which was like Die Hard but at an airport.

Oh.....

Okay, Ken I'm really sorry but Armageddon is a rocking good film. A big lump of rock smashed into Paris. Come on, what's not to like there.

Absolutely agree with r.a. porter on Hudson Hawk. There are various sequences that are just ace but all together it has rather an unusual aroma about it.

And Will has already mentioned 12 Monkeys, where Mr Willis put in a far more nuanced performance than Brad Pitt who got the O-nom.

Tom C. said...

A lot of these movies are great, but I also want to throw in the underrated UNBREAKABLE.

Jim Donahue said...

I thought "Color of Night" was dreadful but a total hoot--I even saw it twice.

Bruce was terrific, I thought, in 1989's "In Country," with Emily Lloyd. What ever happened to her? She had a lot of promise.

The Minstrel Boy said...

i loved nobody's fool! and i agree totally with your assesment of success. i sometimes catch flack from "real" (i guess they mean broke and living off their girlfriends) musicians who deride my work in the jingle jungle. they say tripe like "you're only as good as your worst credit." to which i reply stalinesque "you know, quantity is its very own quality."

John said...

Even though it wasn't that good a film, the fact that Willis in 1992 was willing to take the role of the mousey, overburdened, and (most importantly) old-looking husband in "Death Becomes Her" showed that he wasn't afraid to really go against type in a role that was almost the direct opposite of the ones he had become famous for by then. Hard to imagine any of the other top action box-office stars of the late 1980s being willing to put themselves out in front of their fans in such an visually negative manner.

kent said...

Don't overlook IN COUNTRY, a remarkably understated performance and one of his best. If the last fifteen minutes don't touch your heart, you probably don't have one.

The Home Office said...

I can't believe no one mentioned his supporting part in Billy Bathgate. Sure, he did the whole thing with his feet in a bucket of cement, tied to a chair. Let's see some famous scenery chewers (Faye Dunaway?) pull that off.

I'm a big Willis fan. He's not afraid to take a small part in a good movie.

Herb Popsfarter said...

Is it wrong that I liked Hudson Hawk...? Oh well I liked Joe Versus the Volcano, too.

...sigh

Eric said...

Nothing to add on Willis but 2nd many of the comments, especailly 12 Monkeys.

In addition to Nobody's Fool check out the HBO version of Empire Falls another Russo book with an awesome cast featuring Newman and Joanne Woodward

Eric said...

He was also great as Garibaldi, on Babylon 5.

Oh, wait a minute...

Juan said...

Bruce Willis is a good actor despite the fact that ARMAGEDDON is a very very bad movie.

Rory said...

What, no love for Last Boy Scout? Willis has so many good one liners in that movie.

J Taylor said...

Ken, great site. I thought I'd add a funny (I think, anyway) detail to your description of all the spinoffs inspired by the success of "Die Hard." I was managing editor of Variety at the time that everyone was pitching -- and often producing -- movies based on the "Die Hard" model. Variety, which covers such things in detail, ran story after story about "Speed" being Die Hard on a bus, "Airforce One" being Die Hard on a plane, etc. One day, a reporter filed a story about another spec script sale for a film, described by the studio with no apparent irony, as "Die Hard in an office tower." We didn't run that story.

Dwacon said...

I'm still waiting for Moonlighting the movie...