I love Michael Douglas.
I admit, it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to come around to it. Back in the eighties/nineties, films like Fatal Attraction, Wall Street, The War of the Roses, Basic Instinct, Falling Down, and Disclosure – made almost in succession – made it almost impossible to remember the Michael Douglas of Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile’s Douglas, a version of the actor it was fun and easy to love. No controversy there.
Then Fatal Attraction came – and it came hard. No one expected it to get made, let alone get made the way it did, but less than no one expected it to be the hit that it was. Suddenly Douglas’s smarm, heretofore the subject of jest (Stone, Nile), was downstage center, and because it was the eighties, it was very, very real. We knew the guy. After his Academy Award winning performance in Wall Street a year later, it was official: the new Michael Douglas was here to stay. Thus the brand: a smoothie know-it-all (generally a success, generally wealthy) brought down to earth by his urges. It worked every time. Why? A combination of his “I know you and I’m better than you” smile and his God-given carnal swagger. One look at this guy and we knew just how he got so high and just how he’d fall so low. His whole story written all over him.
But the eighties ended. People lost their interest in the big guys. In the full bloom of the 1990s, they wanted to see little guys. Or, in the case of The American President, big guys made to seem completely commonplace. And Michael Douglas, whose age was softening crucial angles, was the perfect candidate. To his persona of power, he could add just a faint touch of humility. The role of President was hardly a leap.
But the apotheosis of Michael Douglas came in 2000 with Wonder Boys. Just add Romancing the Stone to Wall Street to The American President – a movie from each phase in his film career – and then – something new – a touch of crisis (he’s actually losing his famous mojo here) and you have Douglas 4.0. My favorite version.
It’s the version on display in Solitary Man. But unfortunately, our man Mike is out there on his own. The film is shapeless, meandering, both self-congratulatory and self-pitying, and worth it just to watch Michael Douglas. This is no great performance – I’m sure of that – but it’s Michael Douglas and he is good at what he does.