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The Stunt Man Review


Essential
From the very first shot -- of an eagle sitting on a light pole -- to the very last scene, The Stunt Man is the most exuberant piece of kinetic filmmaking ever produced. I daresay it's also one of the best American films of the 1980s, and, ironically, one of the most overlooked and unknown. Moreover, at a danger of sounding banal, I have to confess that it is one of my favorite films of all time. The Stunt Man is a film about making a film, a motion picture that generates a riveting, scintillating spell and, like no other film, exemplifies everything that cinema is: illusion, make-belief, obsession, control, and romance.

The film follows Cameron (Steve Railsback), a former Vietnam soldier, who is sought by the police and FBI. He is a street-smart savage and a criminal with unblinking tension in widened, wild eyes. Even motionless, he seems to be running from something. Soon he's on the run from the cops, and finds himself witnessing the shooting of a film. When the scene is over and the director, Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole), descends from the helicopter, the camera is looking at him from down below -- he is at once God and Devil, and he brings with him an air of greatness and unfathomable mystery. Peter O'Toole is brilliant in a role of megalomaniacal film director: He is imperial, bitter-tongued and controlling. He carries his madness in the blue arrogance of his eyes, in the deep wrinkles of his face and sinister sleeves of his black turtleneck. When he is looking down on Cameron from the helicopter's window, he seems to be gazing right into Cameron's soul. They strike a deal and Cameron becomes someone else -- a stunt man, an actor, and a fugitive -- in the movie. If he works it all out, it could mean having one more chance to lose, and Richard Rush exploits the twists and turns of Cameron's adventures with exuberance and unpredictable inventiveness.

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