Thursday, June 22, 2006

99. Poor Richard

I've never checked as closely as I could--although this kind of thing is not high on my to-do--but I get the feeling that many critics--and less self-conscious movie-goers--do not care much for Richard Gere, not even (especially?) during his rising years as a gigolo and a gentleman who attracted pretty women. Of course, I'm a little more than half-sure why this is: a combination of exposure--all that Dalai Lama business--career management--a general air of Serious Man at Work--and, of course, the grinding-down power of envy in the presence of such a good-looking guy. Is Richard Gere smug and self-important? Is he a mid-talent prettyboy riding on his own coattails? Is he the fortunate victim of talented filmmakers--Terrence Malick, Paul Schrader--who cast him against all better judgment?

I hope so; it gives me just that much more gadfly-room to continue to insist he's an interesting actor--like Nick Nolte, except we've given Nolte a free pass, despite his own heart-throb debut on the small screen. (I once read a Film Comment profile that ignored both Rich Man, Poor Man and 48 Hrs.; talk about revisionist history.) But I will admit there's something about Richard. As we sat down to watch The Mothman Prophecies (2002), I informed my wife--at the last moment, just to make sure she'd watch it--that it starred Gere. Of course, I couldn't leave it alone, and during the Interpol warning I faux-casually mentioned how much I liked him. She immediately jumped, because "he was mean to Letterman." Now, all Letterman-protective instincts aside, I think I remember the occasion, in which Gere was a bit stand-offish, recalibrating Dave's lack of enthusiasm for the utterly famous as doltishness. I dunno; the dynamics of the talk show are tricky, and Letterman's has a domesticated surrealism that continues to make his show a kind of mind-fu--er, I mean minefield--for celebrities, despite his post-heart/Harry soft side. But if I'm going to judge an actor by his/her treatment of David Letterman, then Drew Barrymore is the greatest thespian of our time. (OK, she's pretty good; but still.)

And so it goes for Richard Gere, bandied about and bashed, trivialized and frowned upon, puzzling and exasperating. And perhaps always on the verge of the Big Fade, if it were not for his insistence that he continue to make pictures, and intermittently big ones, like Chicago. The Internet Movie Database tells me he'll be working with Richard Shepard, who directed Pierce Brosnan to such interesting effect in The Matador. Perhaps that is what Gere needs at this stage of his career: a good old-fashioned deconstruction, blasting him down to ground zero and building up a new one. (And let us not forget an earlier, admirable, attempt at such assured de(con)struction: Internal Affairs, released the same year (1990) as Pretty Woman.)

I'm not sure, though, that it will happen, at least not to any lasting effect. He may indeed be just pompous enough not to allow it. But I don't mind, because I like him just the way he is: All wound up and quasi-internalized, good at tears as well as snaky self-protection, a sensitive jerk just beefy enough to take a punch, whether he deserves it or not. I can be stubbornly loyal: Way back when, when Zack Mayo famously tells Sergeant Foley, "I got nowhere else to go!" I was dutifully impressed; it was a De Niro-worthy moment, and it still speaks to my own ever-impending sense that we are all approaching the last-chance station before the desert opens its maw to swallow us up. I thank Gere for that thirty seconds; and he should be thankful, too, because it earned him at least one loyal, forgiving fan. The joke, of course, is that he'd be too stuck-up to show such gratitude; but I'll leave that kind of sniping to less humble viewers.

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