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Monday, 1 September 2008

Michael Douglas Is The New Bogart

As long ago as 1978, 30 years ago, Michael Douglas starred in a thriller, Coma. That's a long time to have been associated with one genre. It's true that Harrison Ford has also done such work, but tends to feature more in rugged actioners, and handsome adventures. Douglas has somehow, with his eerie balance of creepiness and masculine authority, cornered the market on the contemporary film noir, often as not filmed in a glossy, rich colour scheme that celebrates the autumnal joys of upper-class Eastern Seaboard living.

I have come to find Douglas in these roles a comforting presence - for all their menace, they offer that great cultural pleasure, a sustained oeuvre - and, in his case, even, I think, a sub-genre - The Michael Douglas Thriller. It's been called "the erotic thriller" but give the actor his due - it's become his to name.

Anyone programming a festival of the Douglas Noirs would have to include at least these 9 films: The Star Chamber, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Black Rain, Disclosure, The Game, The Perfect Murder, Don't Say A Word, The Sentinel, and even the forthcoming Beyond A Reasonable Doubt. If one added other key roles, such as in Wall Street, Falling Down, or Wonder Boys, one would have other edges of the resilient persona he's established - a strong, gruff, flawed, troubled male, uneasily grasping for power, money, sex, love, or fame.

While other male leads in America have busied themselves with apparently more worthy, or lofty, themes and projects, Douglas has created a rock-solid back catalogue of roles and movies that will stand the test of time. As dark, ambiguous entertainments, focused on American capitalism, patriarchy, and the paranoid problems arising from such a late-modern present, the Michael Douglas Noir deserves to be compared against those of another great actor, Humphrey Bogart. As with Bogart films, the pleasure derives from the grain of the picture - and the tough guy rubbing against it. Bogart films were erotic, violent, and entertaining - of the moment, but for all time. So too with Douglas.
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