Wednesday, April 6, 2011

True West (1984) TV Movie

Part of the American Playhouse PBS anthology series, this is from January 31, 1984. The film is a record of the legendary Steppenwolf Theater production with which the celebrated troupe first broke through on the New York stage in 1982. A far more successful version of the Sam Shepard play than the earlier Peter Boyle/Tommy Lee Jones production at the Public Theater which had sparked a highly publicized battle between Shepard and impresario Joseph Papp, it remains fascinating despite the obvious limitations of such a project. Arguably one of the playwright's masterpieces, the doppelganger motif of this comedy-drama supports a more earthbound reworking of the dueling rock stars of The Tooth of Crime and their poetic meta-language. Accordingly, the relationship between the volatile drifter Lee (John Malkovich) and mild-mannered screenwriter Austin (Gary Sinise) feels less like that of brothers than of the two warring sides of Shepard's personality. Or more precisely, as the brothers warily stalk each other, eventually morphing into one another, the playwright seems to be invoking chthonic desert gods in a ritual designed to restore his creative powers and reintegrate his psyche. As ponderous as this might sound, the play is rife with comedy, from the instant rapport between Lee's thief and the sleazy Hollywood producer, to Austin's pride in his collection of recently purloined toasters. Although Sinise, who also directed the stage production, is excellent here, Malkovich is truly stunning, by turns vicious, curious, pleading, threatening, sly, paranoid, hateful, and funny. ~ AMG Michael Costello, Rovi

True West (1984)TV Movie
Cast: John Malkovich, Sam Schacht, Gary Sinise, Margaret Thomson

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