Thursday, 6 September 2018

AN ACTOR PREPARES review

In recovery from a heart attack, ageing Hollywood playboy Atticus Smith (Jeremy Irons) and his estranged son Adam (Jack Huston) make their way across country to a family wedding. Could this be the bonding experience both men have been in need of?

The film starts with Irons's Atticus receiving a lifetime acting achievement award where he belittles the ceremony and proclaims that "there's life in the old dog yet". This is swiftly followed by a heart attack that threatens his ability to attend his daughter Annabelle's (Mamie Gummer) wedding on the other side of the country, and his upcoming role of God in a movie called "God". Unable to fly in his condition and forgoing his surgery until after the ceremony, it falls on Adam to escort his tearaway father across country to the wedding in order to keep him alive and out of trouble. Under strict order to behave himself, Atticus continues to drink, smoke and party like a horny teenager with something to prove. As Ben Schwartz's suffering agent puts it "he's a cocksman", and he's not going to let his reputation down.

Jack Huston (himself part of a Hollywood dynasty) plays Adam, a sometime college professor and feminist documentary filmmaker who has no time for his father's ways and the celebrity that Atticus milks for all he can get. Friction between them stems from Atticus being an unapologetic serial womaniser who blamed the breakdown of his marriage on his son for snitching on him rather than his own actions, but when forced into close proximity with his adult son Adam, he starts to realise that he may have passed up the role of a lifetime... Dad.

On the list of legendary Hollywood bad boys who slept their way around many a film set, you wouldn't immediately picture Jeremy Irons as a member of the club. This is the kind of role you can imagine getting offered to Jack Nicholson back in the day, and perhaps would have benefitted from having someone in the role who wanted to play with his public persona as something of a playboy and with more in common with Atticus's lifestyle. However, there's no doubt that Irons has dove head first into this role, and his portrayal has a certain English charm to offset the rampant misogyny that others couldn't offer.

An Actor Prepares suffers from a title that bears no clear relevance to the story within the film, which would have worked just as well and possibly better if he were a fading rock star of some sort rather than an actor. They even start their journey in a huge, luxurious and spacious bus, the likes of which you could picture Aerosmith travelling in when on tour. It's quickly ditched in favour of a classic car, because you can't make an American road movie by looking out of the window of a tour bus. Of course they meet an array of colourful characters along the way who do little to teach Atticus that his obnoxious bore routine is something of a relic of a time passed, but Huston's modern man Adam at least tries to balance this out with some emotional growth of his own. The decision to make Adam such a vocal feminist has clearly been done to try and offset some of Atticus's bad behaviour that we as an audience shouldn't be celebrating, but it's an aspect of their conflicting relationship that's never properly explored.

There's some sentimental moments that are pulled back from becoming too sugary by Irons's performance, and Irons and Huston clearly have a good rapport with each other that make them never less than watchable. Contrived, cliched and reminiscent of a dozen other, better films, there's no denying Irons's commitment to the role. Get Him To The Greek by way of The Royal Tenenbaums with a sprinkling of Planes, Trains and Automobiles thrown in, Irons's Atticus Smith isn't a man you'd want to spend the entirety of a cross country road trip with, but 90 minutes will do just fine.

Verdict
2.5/5

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