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Curtis Hanson: Remembering the late director's best films

Writer: Casey Chong


The late Curtis Hanson, who died of natural causes at the age of 71.

Curtis Hanson, who shared a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar win for "L.A. Confidential" with Brian Helgeland, has recently passed away from natural causes at his Hollywood Hills home. He was 71 at the time of his passing.

Born on March 24, 1945, in Reno, Nevada, Hanson started his career in the movie business as a screenwriter for the indie supernatural horror, "The Dunwich Horror" in 1970. Following his directorial debut in "Sweet Kill" three years later, he spent his early career in both writing and directing indie pictures throughout the early-1970s till the mid-1980s. Although he achieved a cult status directing the Hitchcockian-like mystery thriller, "The Bedroom Window" in 1987 and the neo-noir thriller, "Bad Influence" in 1990, it wasn't until the year 1992 that he finally tasted major success with "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle".

Since then, he has worked with major Hollywood stars throughout the '90s and '00s such as Meryl Streep in "The River Wild", Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential", Michael Douglas in "Wonder Boys" and Cameron Diaz in "In Her Shoes". Prior to his passing, Hanson's most recent directorial efforts includes the HBO financial drama, "Too Big To Fail" in 2011 and the Jay Moriarity surfer biopic, "Chasing Mavericks" in 2012, for which he shared the directing credit with Michael Apted after he was forced to leave production halfway due to health complications from a heart surgery.

No doubt Hanson has proved his versatility as a talented filmmaker who has explored different genres ranging from thrillers to dramas and comedies with varying degrees of success. In remembrance of Hanson's passing, here are his best directorial works that he had made throughout the decades.

1. "The Bedroom Window" (1987)


Isabelle Huppert and Steve Guttenberg in "The Bedroom Window".

Long before Curtis Hanson got his big break directing a major studio picture with "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle", he had already earned a distinction as one of the best "Hitchcock imitators" (the other would be Brian De Palma) back in the late '80s when he made "The Bedroom Window". A stylish thriller that paid homage to some of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces including "Rear Window", the movie also featured an unexpected pairing between Steve Guttenberg (yes, that Steve Guttenberg from the "Police Academy" series) and Isabelle Huppert. Huppert delivers an eye-catching performance here as Sylvia, a sexy mistress who inadvertently witnesses a crime from her lover, Terry's (Guttenberg) bedroom window. Hanson, in turn, shows he can craft a worthwhile suspenseful mystery via this movie.

2. "Bad Influence" (1990)


Rob Lowe in "Bad Influence".

Following "The Bedroom Window", Curtis Hanson continued exploring the Hitchcockian territory in "Bad Influence", which centres on a mild-mannered businessman (James Spader) who makes the mistake of befriending a mysterious drifter (Rob Lowe). Spader gives a terrific performance here while Hanson again proves to be a skilful craftsman who knows well about the psychological thriller genre. But "Bad Influence" is of course, most remembered for Rob Lowe's then-bad boy persona as, Alex, whose devil-may-care attitude and sneaky charm is spot-on for his role.

3. "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" (1992)


Rebecca De Mornay in "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle".

During the early-1990s, there was a time when Hollywood used to be trending on the popular yuppies-in-peril/tenant-from-hell subgenre. One of the best of its kind ever made was "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle", a thriller about a vengeful nanny (Rebecca De Mornay) trying to ruin the life of a suburban family (Annabella Sciorra and Matt McCoy) following the suicide of her doctor husband. Amanda Silver's screenplay basically follows the usual formula, but Curtis Hanson upped the ante by staging effective moments of suspense and drew excellent performances out of his female-centric cast. Rebecca De Mornay delivers one of her most memorable performances to date as Peyton, a nanny whose manipulative good looks contrasts well with her hidden sense of embitterment and anger. "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" also known as Hanson's first major hit at the box office, subsequently elevated his career into the mainstream Hollywood.

4. "The River Wild" (1994)


Kevin Bacon and Meryl Streep in "The River Wild".

"The River Wild" is famously known for featuring Meryl Streep in her rare action role. No stranger to method acting, Streep went as far as working out to get into an ideal physical shape of a whitewater rafting expert and even trained vigorously to perform most of her own rafting stunts. Her hard work paid off and Streep truly convinces via her physically-demanding role as Gail Hartman, a former rafting expert being taken hostage by a pair of criminals (Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly) while holidaying with her family down Idaho's Salmon River. Denis O'Neill's screenplay is pretty much a standard-issue hostage thriller that feels all too familiar and predictable, but what makes "The River Wild" an above-average thriller is Curtis Hanson's sure-handed direction. The rafting scene, particularly during the climactic finale, is one of the best ever staged with real stunts. Apart from Streep's engaging performance, Kevin Bacon is perfectly typecast as the movie's main villain.

5. "L.A. Confidential" (1997)


Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in "L.A. Confidential".

1997 may have been a groundbreaking year for James Cameron's "Titanic", but this is also the same year where Curtis Hanson's big screen adaptation of James Ellroy's novel, "L.A. Confidential", won universal acclaim from most critics and raked a sizable hit at the box office worldwide. This neo-noir masterpiece, which revolves around the three Los Angeles policemen (Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce) circa the 1950s, even scored a total of nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director for Curtis Hanson. Although the movie lost in all of the categories to "Titanic", it managed to take home two Oscars including Best Supporting Actress for Kim Basinger and Best Adapted Screenplay for Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland. Blessed with Hanson's know-how direction and a solid acting ensemble, "L.A. Confidential" is one of the best neo-noir movies ever made in the modern generation.

6. "8 Mile" (2002)


Eminem in "8 Mile".

A movie that features a chart-topping white rapper in a lead acting role used to be an ill-fated result. Remember how Vanilla Ice botched everything in the disastrous "Cool As Ice" back in 1991? But thankfully, Curtis Hanson managed to silence many naysayers when he brought out the best in Eminem's major acting performance in "8 Mile". The movie, which traces Eminem's character, Jimmy Smith Jr., (basically playing another version of himself), a Detriot-based young rapper trying to build a successful rap career, is both gritty and well-acted. Apart from Eminem's surprisingly effective lead performance, the movie also featured strong support from the late Brittany Murphy as Jimmy's love interest, Alex Latorno and Kim Basinger as Jimmy's alcoholic mother Stephanie. Eminem's unofficial theme song, "Lose Yourself" won him the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

7. "In Her Shoes" (2005)


Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz in "In Her Shoes".

Curtis Hanson's seriocomic adaptation of Jennifer Weiner's "In Her Shoes" about the sibling rivalry between two wildly different sisters (Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette) is more than just your average chick flick. Hanson smartly eschewed the usual genre trapping of sugarcoated sentimentality, ridiculous comedic moments and dumbed-down storyline in favour for a more thought-provoking drama that is both poignant yet refreshingly humane. Likewise, Hanson knows how to coax great performances from his stars, from Toni Collette to Shirley MacLaine. But "In Her Shoes" is best remembered for Cameron Diaz's career-best performance as Maggie. First seen as an immature yet selfish person who is both spoilt and loves to take things for granted, she gradually evolves to a better person after she learns how to be independent and cares for others. It is through this layered portrayal that Diaz has successfully proved that she can be a real actress than just an eye candy.

Cinema Online, 26 September 2016

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