Brewster McCloudReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/08/07 17:08:23
(Worth A Look)
I suppose it's for the best that respected filmmakers get things like "Brewster McCloud" out of their system early. Robert Altman's career would feature no small amount of unusual projects and head-scratching decisions, and he'd rightly be celebrated as an independent voice making his kind of movie. But would he ever again, in three and a half more decades of making movies, give us a narrator who appears to changing into a bird while lecturing a class on the topic? I think not. "Brewster" is one of a kind in that respect.Birds and flight are recurrent themes in Brewster McCloud. Rene Auberjonois's professor occasionally pops up to describe some bird whose behavior is relevant to the story going on. Their waste product appears on every one of the bodies that out of town detective Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy) arrives in Houston to investigate. There's an avian theme to each of the rest and retirement homes that Abraham Wright (Stacy Keach) visits with his driver, the titular McCloud (Bud Cort). And, once that job ends badly, we see that Brewster, with the help of free-spirited Louise (Sally Kellerman), is trying to build himself a pair of wings in the Astrodome's fallout shelter.
Doran William Cannon's script is chock full of characters too eccentric to simply be called "quirky", and Altman seems to be having a great deal of fun throwing them together. An early sequence, in which McCloud drives Wright around town, collecting profits from his rest homes plays like a running gag that we join at precisely the right time - Cort and Keach have got their banter down pat, and Keach's scenery-chewing as the vulgar old man is just about to wear out its welcome. Michael Murphy feels like he's just stepped out of a TV cop show with his clipped, cool demeanor and impeccable clothes, and it's a completely different type of show than the one that the traffic officer assigned to assist him (John Schuck) and the no-nonsense captain (G Wood) would appear in. Shelley Duvall's tour guide Suzanne is weird from first sight, but she and McCloud work well otgether.
Altman is in a playful mood from the start, when Margaret Hamilton interrupts her truly terrible rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" to insist the band start again, which re-starts the credits. The closing credits are perhaps even more peculiar, involving both a circus and a character just laying dead in the middle of that circus's chaos. In between, the film features a thoroughly crazy car chase, one which starts with Shelley Duvall grimly pulling on her driver's gloves and finishes with a gunshot fired for what seems like an absurd reason; a widow who wastes no time moving on; ravens appearing like cosmic, slapstick harbingers of death; and occasional glimpses of Rene Auberjonois mugging for all he's worth after just seeming a little scatterbrained at first sight.
As usual, Altman assembles a talented cast, many of whom were unknowns at the time. Shelley Duvall and Bud Cort are in some of their first roles, for instance, but are memorable as the pair of young eccentrics. Rene Auberjonois, Stacy Keach and Margaret Hamilton each have a grand time going over the top, while Michael Murphy counters with an underplayed but dead-on parody of the gentleman detective. Sally Kellerman has perhaps the most bizarre role in a queer bunch, a sort of mother figure to McCloud with tattoos on her back that seem to indicate where wings were removed or should be implanted - making her either literally some sort of guardian angel or the most deranged figure in the entire film. Maybe a little of both. Kellerman gives her a childlike innocence to counter the character's amoral streak and keeps the audience guessing as to whether she's free spirit or nut.I'm inordinately fond of films like "Brewster McCloud", where people with obvious talent take their crazy ideas and run with them. It's an unusually well-made train wreck, probably smarter than it initially appears but never anywhere close to heavy enough to diminish it as entertainment.
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