Saturday, August 23, 2008

Death of a Salesman

Volker Schlöndorff's TV movie adaptation of Arthur Miller's mesmerizing and breathtaking play features Dustin Hoffman in possibly the best role of his career (he won an Emmy and a Golden Globe) as Willy Loman, the manic-depressive and delusional salesman whose family and life are falling apart and he is at the center of it, caught in the past while in the present he is struggling to pay the bill. Before John Malkovich was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and before he had a portal that went into his brain for fifteen minutes at a time, he was incredible as Biff Loman, the son who didn't graduate from high school and never got a real job. The feud that these two have had over time that is ripping the family apart seems to be less complicated than it really is, but Willy has done things that have been terrible, like having an affair and making his wife Linda (Kate Reid) suffer and have to stand up for him, but even she is not exactly loving him. Take for example, when the event of the title does eventually happen, and Linda is standing over his grave and she admits herself that she can't shed a tear over his death. And repeatedly she says that he isn't the best of men. But she still is devoted to him and defends him from Biff again and again. Also figuring in less importantly is real ladies man other brother Happy (Stephen Lang of "Gettysburg" and "Tombstone") and neighbor "Uncle" Charley (Charles Durning, who co-starred with Hoffman also quite memorably as Jessica Lange's father in "Tootsie) and his son Bernard (David S. Chandler), who seems to be the most aware character in the movie. And then there's Uncle Ben (Louis Zorich), whose remembered for his line "I went into the jungle at age 17 and came out four years later rich!" and not much else. Anyways, the movie (and play) is a satire on bringing home the bacon and sending your kids off to collage, brought into more "common" terms as "the American Dream." But what really is the American Dream? That's what this movie is getting at. And it works, around the clock, all 135 minutes of it work. Although it's mostly off the basis of the amazing Hoffman and Malkovich as father and son, the film also takes advantage of sets and works that, too. Everything is a facade, there's no roof on the house, and they live near a cemetery. That's what I call capitalization. Anyways, this adaptation may not be quite as good as the legendary play, but it is still a modern masterpiece, one of the best films of the 1980's. And I'm not just selling you that. A

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