Friday March 6, 1998
Given Hollywood's current emphasis on things dark and murderous, it was only a matter of time before elderly parties wanted a piece of the action. "Twilight," starring 73-year-old Paul Newman, 67-year-old Gene Hackman, 69-year-old James Garner and 51-year-old babe in the woods Susan Sarandon, represents the flowering of that inevitable subgenre: geezer noir.
You know you're watching geezer noir when the protagonists make small talk about their prostates, not platinum blonds. Lines like "Not at my age" and "I'm tired" are also giveaways. And when the studio artificially darkens the star's hair color on the key art, you can be sure you've arrived.
It's a shame that Paramount couldn't live with a naturally gray Paul Newman on "Twilight's" poster because his cool and laconic performance as retired private eye Harry Ross is a fine thing. No one on screen has aged better than Newman; his mustache may be faded and his hair thin, but his eyes remain flinty and hypnotic and his ability to be a hero even in repose remains unimpaired.
Newman's less-is-more acting technique has if anything gotten stronger over the years. The actor's presence creates involvement while he's just standing still, and he brings the perfect been-around quality to the sardonic Ross, supplying a world-weariness that carries lines like, "I'm going to pretend you weren't here tonight, which is almost true."
That verbal archness comes courtesy of director Robert Benton (a geezer noir pioneer with 1977's Art Carney-starring "The Late Show") and his co-writer Richard Russo. These two also collaborated on Newman's last film, "Nobody's Fool," which was based on a Russo novel.
"Twilight" has periodic stretches of unforced dialogue, supporting actors like Hackman and Sarandon who know how to handle those moments, and a generally relaxed attitude that provides shelter for the amusing eccentrics that all L.A.-based private eye movies are legally obligated to provide.
Though audiences will appreciate these extras, extras are all they remain. Despite its pluses, despite trying to do all the right things, "Twilight" comes up lacking in both energy and plot, two areas that no noir, geezer or otherwise, can afford to be caught short in.
Newman himself categorized Harry Ross in a recent interview by referring to one of his earlier roles and calling the retired P.I. "a Harper that has lost a couple of big ones. He has found out his old tricks don't work." Once a cop, once married with a family until alcoholism took everyone away, Ross is a gray ghost who's pretty much given up carrying a gun because he fears he's become a danger to himself.
After a brief prologue that outlines the start of his involvement with married movie stars Jack and Catherine Ames (Hackman and Sarandon), their daughter Mel (Reese Witherspoon) and her boyfriend Jeff (Liev Schreiber), the present finds Harry still living at the Ames' house, doing errands and making himself generally useful.
"Twilight's" plot proper begins with a classic film noir line: Jack, who's dying of cancer, hands Harry a package and says, "Give this to a woman named Gloria Lamarr." That's the kind of nominally simple instruction that is fated to lead to all kinds of unforeseen complications, and it does.
What that task does at first is reinvolve Harry with numerous people from his past, including a fellow private eye (Garner), an old flame (Stockard Channing) and a man who may or may not have been a partner (Giancarlo Esposito).
Then things get more serious. Decades-old secrets spill out, murder and blackmail take center stage, and Harry is forced to watch as "people run out of the little bit of luck they have."
While this sounds involving enough, in fact, involving enough is just what it isn't. "Twilight's" sense of relaxation may be an asset at first, but the film is finally so relaxed it's almost not there. The story line and certain key characterizations (especially Sarandon's Catherine Ames) are too predictable and unconvincing, and there is a lack of energy, of punch, about the whole project that is fatal. If geezer noir is going to catch on, pacemakers are going to have to become standard issue from now on.
Twilight, 1998. R, for violence and some sexuality. A Cinehaus production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Robert Benton. Producers Arlene Donovan, Scott Rudin. Executive producer Michael Hausman. Screenplay Robert Benton & Richard Russo. Cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski. Editor Carol Littleton. Costumes Joseph G. Aulisi. Music Elmer Bernstein. Production design David Gropman. Art director David Bomba. Set decorator Beth Rubino. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Paul Newman as Harry Ross. Susan Sarandon as Catherine Ames. Gene Hackman as Jack Ames. Stockard Channing as Verna. Reese Witherspoon as Mel Ames. Giancarlo Esposito as Reuben. James Garner as James Garner.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times