Sometimes you see a movie -- even a big-time Hollywood movie -- that has a surprising amount of depth and subtlety. A movie that favors insight into human relationships and psychological motivations over tits and explosions. A movie driven by finely crafted characters. Not surprisingly, such movies are often created by directors who have made a career out of producing quality films. Sidney Lumet had 12 Angry Men at the start of his career, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead at the end, and classics like Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon in between.
Al Pacino, pre-"hooo-AH!"
But sometimes, quality movies spring up from directors you would never expect. Maybe it's because their earlier work sucked so hard. Or even if it didn't suck, maybe their other films just led you to believe that they were only good for certain over-the-top, popcorn, mass-entertainment movies. Whatever the reason, here are four directors who made movies that were more deeply felt and observed than anyone ever expected.
4 Brett Ratner -- Red Dragon
Best Known For: Money Talks, Rush Hour 1, 2 & 3, coming off as a creep in interviews.
Brett Ratner has directed Chris Tucker four times. That's right, all three Rush Hours and Money Talks!Although, in fairness, we can't blame him for Tucker's Fifth Element performance
But Then There's This: Red Dragon
In 2002, Ratner directed Red Dragon, which was the second time Hollywood tried to film the first book in the Hannibal Lecter series. First, a brief history about the books: The first was Red Dragon, in which a jailed Hannibal Lecter helps brilliant FBI profiler Will Graham catch the Tooth Fairy serial killer. In The Silence of the Lambs, a jailed Hannibal Lecter helps young FBI cadet Clarice Starling catch the Buffalo Bill serial killer, and then escapes prison. In Hannibal, an escaped Hannibal Lecter does lots of terrible things to people for hundreds of pages and it's supposed to be interesting or enjoyable, for reasons that are unclear to anyone without serious mental disorders.
Michael Mann directed Red Dragon in 1986 and called it Manhunter, which tells you a lot about why the movie sucks. For example, the prison that holds Hannibal looks like this:
Because in the '80s, murderers were sentenced to shopping malls.
In 2001, Ridley Scott gave us Hannibal by taking the highly flawed book and changing it just enough to include different, brand new flaws. But hey, Ray Liotta eats his own brains, so there's that.
Good luck unseeing that!
Ratner may have an unholy allegiance to Chris Tucker, but he knew better than to mess with the classic Silence of the Lambs movie that Jonathan Demme made. He kept the look of the prison, and he kept the feel of the shoot. But he did more than merely ape Demme, because Red Dragon features a serial killer every bit as distinct and terrifying as Buffalo Bill. Ralph Fiennes' portrayal of Mr. Dolarhyde, the tormented murderer with a cleft palate, is startling and flawlessly captured. So Brett "Rush Hour 3" Ratner did something neither Michael Mann nor Ridley Scott could do: make a good Hannibal Lecter movie.
How Did That Happen?
First off, it happened because I must have somehow sold Ratner short. But he also had some help. Ted Tally, who adapted Silence, also adapted Red Dragon. He stayed pure to the book, and addressed a problem: There's far less Hannibal in the first book, Silence made Hannibal a star and audiences demanded more of him. Tally expertly balanced additional scenes for Anthony Hopkins that stayed true to the spirit of the book and worked with the story. Then you had great performances from Fiennes, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Also, Edward Norton hadn't quite started sucking yet.
3 Sam Raimi -- A Simple Plan
Best Known For: The Evil Dead, giving the world the glory of Bruce Campbell.
I LOVE SAM RAIMI. Let's make that clear. I love the Evil Dead series, and before Chris Nolan and Joss Whedon, he showed the world you could make a great comic book movie. Spider-Man 2 is still one of the greatest superhero movies ever made, and Evil Dead II is one of the greatest anythings of ever. Sam Raimi is not on this list because he sucks.
But Raimi has always made the kind of movies he's wanted to make. And the movies he made at the beginning of his career were big, brash, over-the-top, partly retarded and completely fantastic. If you haven't seen Evil Dead II, kill yourself, because there's no reason to keep living, because you clearly suck at it. But then become a zombie and buy the movie so you don't miss scenes like this, where our hero's hand is possessed by the evil forces in the woods:
So yeah, Raimi is awesome, but I used to think he was only awesome at stuff like the above.
But Then There's This: A Simple Plan
A Simple Plan is a 1998 movie starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton as a pair of brothers in rural Minnesota who find stolen money and decide to keep it. Nothing about this movie is extreme. It's filled with countless powerful, small moments that are painfully real. You feel Paxton's quiet desperation for something more than his job at the mill, and Billy Bob Thornton's portrayal of his somewhat dimwitted brother is tender and painful.
How Did That Happen?
Well, it happened because Raimi can do anything. And I guess I always knew that. I mean, he's buds with the Coen brothers and even co-wrote their film The Hudsucker Proxy, but I kind of assumed that if Raimi had wanted to make a "real" movie, he would have. I thought that unless heads were exploding and chainsaws were roaring, he'd get bored. I'm not surprised that he could make A Simple Plan so much as the fact that he did.