To begin, this review concerns the 1998 noir/detective Twilight film which features Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, James Gardner, and (in an early role) Reese Witherspoon. Here’s the movie’s trailer:
Watching this trailer for the first time since seeing the film yesterday, I’m struck by a couple of things presented in it that didn’t make it to the film itself. For example, there is a quick shot of what looks like someone firing a gun with a silencer. Not in the film at all (either that or I’m suffering from some startling memory loss) but I think I know where that scene might have gone, and it involves someone (MILD SPOILERS) Newman’s character visits early on in the movie and finds was shot.
The second thing in the trailer that didn’t appear in the film is what appears to be a funeral. I think I know what that was about… Paul Newman’s character at one point tells another character that his life fell apart when he lost his daughter (this is not a terribly big spoiler as its more background information regarding his character and doesn’t figure much into the story proper) and that led him to lose his wife and become a drunk, which he’s now cleaned up from. Either that or the funeral involves another character and may have been part of the film’s ending… but I’ll not give this one away.
I only point these two things out because it indicates to me the film was crafted in the editing stage and, obviously, extraneous material was trimmed back… thought at times this led to choppiness in the story presented. For example, in the trailer you see one scene where Newman and Hackman’s character are talking by the pool. This scene, which does appear in the film itself, has Mr. Newman with a white towel around him and appears suddenly in the movie without much explanation as to why these two just happen to suddenly be at the pool and talking about things.
But let’s back up a moment and address the film itself.
I first heard about Twilight years ago, likely when it was released in 1998. Though I didn’t see it then, a relative of mine went to see it and we talked about it and, for whatever reason, I recalled the conversation. She said the film was good but that Mr. Newman looked so old in the role… whenever there were fisticuffs, she feared he’d break his hip.
That image remained with me as did my curiosity to see the film. It came and went in theaters and, truth be told, is mostly forgotten today and yet…
I’ve noted before I’m a fan of Paul Newman’s 1966 film Harper (I reviewed it here) which featured Mr. Newman’s playing private detective Lew Harper. This movie, which many consider a great updating of the then previous generation’s detective novels by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, was itself based on the excellent Lew Archer novels by Ross MacDonald. In 1975 Mr. Newman returned to the role of Lew Harper in the belated sequel to that movie entitled The Drowning Pool (here’s my review of that film).
With Twilight, I instinctively thought Mr. Newman was -in a sly way- returning for what would be the last time to a role similar to that of Harper, though this movie was very clearly not based on any Ross MacDonald novels nor featured the “Harper” character.
Ok, enough preamble. My quick take:
Twilight is a decent enough, if choppy, detective thriller that is never quite as engaging as one hoped it would be and features Paul Newman in a role that, frankly, my relative was right about. Mr. Newman, who was 72 or 73 years old at the time he made this film, simply looks too old for this role. Understand: I’m not trying to be ageist here. There have been elderly actors who have successful played in roles like this.
But Mr. Newman, unfortunately, at that point in his life just did not look spry or strong enough to get into the fist and gunfights he engages in here. As my relative so correctly pointed out, when he gets knocked over and falls to the ground, your instant reaction is to worry he won’t get back up again.
Curiously, the film might have worked better if Gene Hackman and Paul Newman exchanged roles. Gene Hackman, who was approximately 68 at the time this film was made (only four or five years younger than Newman), would have looked a lot better in the detective role, with all due apologies to Mr. Newman.
Anyway, without getting into too many spoilers, Twilight features a plot reminiscent in at least one prominent way to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. In Twilight we have a detective who is given a certain job and slowly sinks into a far deeper pool of shady characters, blackmail, and (this is where The Big Sleep similarity really come in) the fate of a specific person, and how that has led to the present situation for all the actors.
As a non-official conclusion to the “Harper” films, Twilight is OK enough but, alas, the least of the three Newman detective movies. Still, it isn’t a terrible movie by any stretch but it would have benefited from a sharper script which, in turn, may have led to less work in the editing stage.
If you liked Harper and The Drowning Pool and are curious to see Mr. Newman return to a similar role, then give Twilight a try. At the very least, your curiosity, like mine, may be sated.
A couple of additional notes:
Twilight features a couple of very odd story points, one which is very brief and the other stretches through much of the film, both of which are completely and utterly unbelievable.
First up, there comes a point in the movie where Mr. Newman’s character goes to Mr. Gardner’s character’s home. Mr. Gardner’s home has two levels so Newman heads toward the stairs and is outside the house when he is nearly hit with what turns out to be Mr. Gardner taking a piss outside his balcony.
You read that right.
Mr. Gardner lives in a nice neighborhood and has a nice house and he feels the need to… take a piss outside his balcony and onto the first level of his home?!
It’s possible the movie’s writers intended this to be some kind of symbolic thing. Perhaps Mr. Gardner was showing contempt toward Newman’s character but there is never an indication given that Mr. Gardner’s character knew he was there. I suppose it could also show that despite living in such a beautiful environment, he’s still a low level person, but that seems an awful stretch. Finally, maybe he bought a house without any working bathrooms.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The second thing the movie presents, early on, is that Newman’s character gets shot in the leg. However, we later find the scuttlebutt by all the people he knows in the police department is that he was shot in the genitals and, therefore, is… uh… penis-less.
Eventually Newman’s character finds out what others think, but this too stretches credulity. These are people he knows, perhaps not as friends, but you would think that two years later (which is the time between him being shot and the movie’s main story beginning) he’d know what they think and correct their misconceptions.