An Evening With Kiefer Sutherland…at BAFTA not Stringfellow’s

After Friday morning’s splash across the UK’s tabloid press for getting a bit merry with the bouncers at a London club, Kiefer Sutherland put on a good show at BAFTA to talk about the end of his 10 year career as Jack Bauer, counter-terrorism agent in the hit Fox TV show, 24.

Unusually, questions were not taken from the floor at the end of the event, I suspect an overzealous PR intervention relating to the previous day’s press. This is the same man that jumped into a Christmas tree in a hotel lobby back in 2006. Is defoliating pine-trees and having a few too many jars really going to stain this man’s career? I think not.

Suited and booted, he took to the stage to enthusiastic applause, then settled-down in a statesman-like manner as film journalist Andrew Collins posed the questions.

Sutherland immediately slipped into anecdotal eloquence, relating a story of trying to find St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, while shooting a documentary about managing a band on tour in Europe. After leaving the Tube station, Sutherland and the crew had apparently found the old hospital where he was born a British citizen, to father Donald Sutherland and mother, Shirley Douglas, who were working in the city at that time.

The documentary crew were filming the hospital, with Sutherland in shot proclaiming his joy at finding his place of birth when, he explained, “a giant wrecking ball swung into frame and literally took out the front of the building! I was probably one of the last people to see the old St Mary’s Hospital in one piece.” Life imitating 24-hour drama perhaps?

It was a tale that indicated his Anglophilia, which came up again when describing how the UK fans of 24 actually helped get the show commissioned beyond the first series:

“The first series had taken off back home, but it didn’t really leave the gate until we had the response from you guys over here. It was that, that got the next 11 episodes signed-off”

He was equally magnanimous of the crew and other actors and actresses he had worked with on the series over the past 10 years, and also said that the show had a become a way for many to find a way into work from previously obscure beginnings. If you look through the huge cast list on the Internet Movie Database, you will see one Zachary Quinto made an appearance in 2003/2004. He’s doing rather well, isn’t he?

Of many clips shown, one was from Season 1 of 24, where Bauer has to execute a colleague (played by future Nurse Jackie regular, Paul Schulze) to comply with the demands of terrorists. After the clip played, he immediately praised the performance of his co-star:

“This guy was amazing. Just seeing that clip there you see what he did with that performance. He’s a great guy as well, between takes he was laughing and joking around. That’s a brilliant performance.”

He added, “I don’t usually watch my takes, unless there’s something wrong or something to pay special attention to, I hate seeing myself on screen. I always think, ‘I could have done that differently, or that better.'”

On the well-documented scenes of torture, he said, “Obviously I don’t recommend that people do this in real life. I don’t support what went on in Guantanamo, or Abu-Graib. It was good because we had people such as the Clintons saying they liked it, as well as the more right-wing people. I thought we had struck a good balance of people watching the show. It’s just that then the right-wing people got talk radio shows and the whole balance went out the window.”

When asked what his Dad thought of his work, Sutherland said, “He’s really been very supportive and has sent some very sweet messages to me. At first I thought he was being really sarcastic! Mum would say, ‘Oh I tried watching it but I had to turn it off after 10 minutes, it was too stressful!’ Dad though, was a big fan. We would be having dinner in a restaurant and I would say, ‘I gotta go, we’re shooting a scene downtown later and…’, he would be waving his arms, saying, “No! No! Don’t tell me what happens!”‘

On the last day of filming the final episode of the last series, it was a scene of high emotion:

“Nobody really wanted to stop. Usually we shoot like crazy, get the coverage we need [shooting the same scene from different angles to provide the editor with enough material], then we move on. We kept finding all these excuses for extra camera angles, doing a shot over here, then over there. It got to the point where we had a POV [point of view] shot from my shoelaces.”

“Afterwards, everyone was clapping in a circle around the set, and I went to say something and I felt my voice crack, so I had to look down at my shoes to get out what I was saying. When I looked up I saw the gaffer, David St Onge, big guy, ex-Navy, and as he was clapping I could see his eyes were glistening with tears. That was it, my eyes went, my bottom lip started to tremble. I was gone. We all went to the Radisson for drinks afterward, but it was a short night. No-one was in a mood to party.”

“I had an unusual upbringing, I was sent away to school at the age of eleven and in a job like this, when you work 18 hour days, 6 days a week with these guys, they become your family. I saw more of them than my own family.”

In all it was a great evening spent in the company of an intelligent and conversational guest. As interviewer, Collins, put it, he didn’t even have to tie him to the chair, or shoot him in the kneecap to get the answers he wanted.

If there has to be a sacrifice of a few Christmas trees, then so be it, the world is a better place for an honest actor like Sutherland.

Fans are assured that there is a two-hour, 24 feature film on the cards, to be shot in London and Europe. Let’s hope Jack’s not angry about that hospital being knocked down.

Film Review – Repo Men

A bloody mess best describes this effort. Jude Law and Forest Whitaker star as the Repo Men, Remy and Jake, whose job it is to reclaim man-made bodily organs from the recipients who have fallen behind on loan repayments. Naturally the only way to do this is with the debtor electro-shocked in-situ, then carved open to upbeat music on the soundtrack. Needless to say it’s a termination of more than their loan. One such operation goes awry leaving Remy electrocuted and in hospital, with one of the company’s replacement hearts inside him. Then the wife leaves him for not leaving the job, he gets behind on his own repayments and…well, you can see what’s coming. No, he doesn’t become a blues musician.

We’re meant to believe that Law’s character is in some kind of moral quandry, questioning the effect of his actions, agonising over what happens to the button-cute families of those he carves up. Fret not though, because he’s soon back slashing open company men in a last ditch attempt for revenge, having apparently lost his new-found respect for human life.

This is a B-movie with pretensions to the A-list that even two talented actors cannot raise above the corpuscular sludge. Were it satisfied to be a slasher movie that would be fine, it would be infinitely preferable, but it opens with an irrelevant reference to the paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat that just sounds like a college student trying too hard to impress. There is some tension from the cringe factor, but this is no Minority Report thriller. The potential for thoughtful sci-fi is junked for action and gore. It needs to decide whether to be earnest or tongue-in-cheek, it can’t be both.

The excess of Blade Runner dystopia just feels blunt now, and director Miguel Sapochnik should have stuck to the man-on-the-run scenario without the pretensions to philosophy. Essentially this is a Jean-Claude van Damme movie from the 80s, that in some strange quantum leap to an alternate universe, is starring Jude Law doing his tough geezer swagger. Expect this to do moderate business from the teenage home entertainment market.  

Repo Men is on general release in the US now. UK release is scheduled for 16 April.

Film Review – A Single Man

Tom Ford‘s directorial debut, A Single Man, looks stunning and rests squarely on the broad, experienced shoulders of Colin Firth, who quite deservedly won the BAFTA for Best Actor. Accusations that the film is an exercise in fashion porn are not entirely fair, although there is a moment in the final scene where a dressing-gown looks too immaculate for its own good. Where the film does fray slightly at the edges is in the overuse of cutting to close-up, and also dreamlike interludes, both of which interrupt the narrative flow just a few too many times.

George Falconer (Firth), is a professor of English at a California university during the 60s’ Cuban missile crisis, and is contemplating suicide having recently lost his partner of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode), in a car crash. An affluent man, George is imprisoned by grief within his perfect glass and wood house, and straitjacketed by his immaculate suits, ties, cufflinks and shoes. He absentmindedly watches his neighbours on their front lawn, the camera framing him through the window and slots in the fence. The children dig up the lawn in search of treasure, and the mother helps, before then kissing her repressed and suited husband off to work, being held at arms length should she stain his suit with mud. The daughter cups a beautiful butterfly from a flower, before rolling the live creature to dust in her palms. It’s a violent world beneath all the suburban beauty and perfection.

Time grinds by, audibly so, second by heavy second. We are shown numerous shots of clocks during the film to make this point. We see in slow-motion as George drives his car, looking at his neighbours’ children playing on the lawn. He playfully returns fire with his hand in the shape of an imaginary gun, however, his view is restrained by the window frame of his classic Mercedes two-seater, burnished walnut dashboard and all.

So it goes on; he walks against a stream of college students who part around him like a river before returning to their natural state, barely acknowledging his presence in their world. There is a line of his dialogue where he unlovingly compares his students to ‘bovine creatures’, who will eventually spawn “coke snorting, jingle-cheering children who want to smash everything with a hammer”. There is a near-dalliance with Kenny, one of his students (a terrifyingly mature Nick Hoult, who has graduated from UK TV series, Skins, with honours), but this is scuppered by too much alcohol. The film offers this near-miss as a breakthrough in George’s recovery, but I’m not sure I’m convinced.

George perceives a death of beauty in the world and Eduard Grau‘s desaturated cinematography reflects this, with occasional moments of George’s sensual joy shown by a blush of red across the screen, which does become intrusive and should have been toned down. A high-contrast, black and white flashback sequence with Jim sunbathing on a rock, makes no effort not to look like an aftershave ad from GQ, and brings a little too much of Grau’s commercial style to a feature.

But to focus entirely on these things would be a huge disservice to Tom Ford, who has made a successfully introspective debut that, while not that emotional, is highly observational of a man restricted from publicly displaying his grief, as much as he was restricted from showing his love. Firth is an equal partner in the fabric of this production, in one scene, receiving the news by telephone of his lover’s death, moving from joviality, through repressed shock to grief within 30 odd seconds.

Firth said getting the opportunity to play this character was like ‘career Viagra’. Let us hope he’s got a few more of those blue pills in his pocket.