Monday, April 18, 2011

Fade To Black (2006)

Atmospheric and lively, this contemporary noir revolves around Orson Welles as he acts in an Italian production, filming in Rome, while getting involved with a murderous plot. The narration, from Welles' perspective, immediately provides a real-life context for his character; his post-Kane fame (or infamy) has dwindled, and, although he can get jobs in these foreign co-productions, his Hollywood standing has long since been eclipsed by his former wife, Rita Hayworth, whose posters for Gilda are omnipresent even before Welles leaves the Roman airport. However, the Hollywood in-jokes, thankfully, do not permeate the picture, and soon after Welles exhibits some of his trademark magician's panache, bodies begin to pile up and the mystery becomes the focus of the plot; even before he is directly implicated as a possibile victim, Welles, disillusioned with both his career and the film he is making (humorous scenes show him, almost offhandedly, directing the film himself, as the hapless director can only nod in awe), sees it as a neccessity to get involved with the case in a sleuthing capacity. His driver, formerly a local policeman, assists him as they get deeper and deeper into the politics that may, or may not, have instigated these murders.

For a movie that was ignored in the U.S. the way it was, the film has a surprisingly prolific cast, who all turn in strong, invisible work. Diego Luna, of whom I am not a large fan, makes an intelligent and, surprisingly, tough sidekick, whose reserved demeanor provides a pleasant contrast from Welles verbal showmanship. Paz Vega, as the lead actress of Welles' film, makes for a gorgeous, mysterious femme fatale, while Christopher Walken is subdued, yet enigmatic as a CIA agent friend of Welles. But as Welles himself, Danny Huston turns in some of the best work I've seen from him, and carries the film on his shoulders. He is given the remarkable task of not only filling the shoes of one of the most identifiable and public figures of classic Hollywood, but also maintaining his role as an audience surrogate for the mystery plot, and he is more than up to the task. No doubt somewhat due to his father's relationship with Welles, he is thoroughly familiar with his verbal candor, his fierce, tactile intelligence, and, most of all, his undying cheekiness; we do not wonder, for a second, why this huge movie star is so weilling to put everything else aside and let the amateur detective in him take over. We discover the twists and turns of the local political history and intrigue through his eyes, which, like us, are far more concerned with entertainment and American expat bluster than the dismal state of post-WWII Italian infrastructure. His performance makes the character a larger-than-life, pretentious, yet naturally realized and open-minded protagonist that makes investigating the crimes at hand, with him as a surrogate, a delight.

Recommended for fans of the cast, especially Danny Huston, Orson Welles (who is both revered and nudge-nudgingly lampooned in the film), or foreign-set noirs, such as The Third Man, which this film, clearly, homages.

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