USA, 2002. Rated PG. 88 minutes.
Sigourney Weaver, Anthony LaPaglia, Irene Walsh, Jim Simpson
|Grade: C+||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
he Guys is the sort of movie you really want to like. That's because it's a tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives during the destruction of the destruction of the World Trade Center. It concerns a New York City journalist (Sigourney Weaver) who is asked to help a fire captain (Anthony LaPaglia) to write a series of eulogies for the eight men he has lost--his entire squad. If you don't fall in line and sing this film's praises, then of course your heart is three sizes too small. But does the film actually deserve accolades?
The Guys is based on Anne Nelson's stage play, which began its run at New York's Flea Theater (founded by director Jim Simpson seven blocks from the World Trade Center site) on December 4, 2001, with Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray. Except, it's not really accurate to say that the film is based on the stage play, because it is the stage play. One suspects the film could have been made by lugging the equipment to the theater, dimming the house lights, and rolling the camera. The Guys is eighty-eight minutes of verbiage: a series of quiet conversations between the writer, Joan, and the firefighter, Nick, and Nick's delivery of one of the eulogies ghostwritten by Joan at the end. There are a few throwaway scenes with Joan's family, but fundamentally, The Guys is its words.
They are extremely well written words, to be sure, full of tiny revelations and insights, such as when Nick complains, "I hear these politicians give speeches on television. Hero this, hero that. I don't even recognize them." He doesn't want to give the kind of eulogy that, in lionizing the fallen, forgets their humanity. "You'll give them something they can recognize," Joan assures him. Later Joan surprises herself by reaching out to strangers, observing in wonderment, "Only people in Oklahoma talk to servers in coffee shops." Now New Yorkers, brought together by shock and pain, are doing the same thing. "We have no idea what wonders are hidden in the people around us," she later says. If there is anything positive to be taken from September 11th, it is that sense of connection to everyone around us. The Guys wants to underscore that lesson, and it does.
Joan and Nick are an odd pair, one well educated and upper class, the other uneducated and lower class. Like other people all over New York, they are disparate people united by the tragedy, discovering that they have a powerful common bond after all. Nick and Joan need each other. Uncomfortable and clumsy, Nick needs Joan to help articulate the roiling emotions inside him, while Joan, feeling useless, needs to feel she can contribute something to the city. One by one, they craft the eulogies. Joan listens to Nick's scrambled ramblings, then marshalls them into a disciplined speech. The acting, particularly by LaPaglia (Lantana, The House of Mirth), is especially fine. His performance is restrained, yet Nick's complex array of emotions is easily read in his face and body language.
It's obvious that The Guys is the work of writers and artists who, like Joan, needed to do something to help cope with September 11th. The film makes a case for them having a role to play in the healing. At one point, Nick reassures Joan that her skill with words is not useless at a time like this. "They're your tools." However, film may be the wrong medium for this form of expression. The Guys is almost unbearably still. The scene when Joan imagines dancing with Nick seems forced in to add some movement, any movement, just to create some visual contrast. It's hard not to feel guilty for thinking so, but as the film wears on, you might be relieved to discover that it doesn't cover the composition of all eight eulogies, only four. At times The Guys taps into some powerful emotions, but this kind of material is more effective on stage. It's not a motion picture; it's an utterly static picture.
© March 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2002 Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.
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