Ealasaid/ April 12, 1998/ Movie Reviews and Features, Writing

Originally written for The Occidental.

John Malkovich. Although most people today remember him primarily for his performances as psychotics like Mitch Leary in In the Line of Fire, he has played roles ranging from a coldly intelligent serial killer (Con Air, 1997) to the famous Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde dual role (Mary Reilly, 1996); from a charming and seductive rake (Dangerous Liaisons, 1988) to a devoted father and passionate fighter (The Man in the Iron Mask, see last week’s edition)… and he has played them all impeccably!

And now for a brief look at a few of his many films…

Con Air

This was a big summer action flick, a loud (and often silly) movie with a great cast (not only Malkovich, but Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, John Cusack, and Nicholas Cage). The plot, as befits the genre, was very simple: a man imprisoned unfairly is about to get out on parole… but as he’s being flown to his release point (where he’ll meet his wife and daughter), a group of convicts on the transport plane take over the aircraft in an attempt to escape. Now our Hero must save the day before the Long Arm of the Law blows them all out of the sky.

Malkovich is delightfully evil as the ringleader of escapees, Cyrus the Virus (he claims he’s killed more people than cancer). Cyrus is self-educated, holding several degrees (all earned in prison), which gives Malkovich a chance to allow his natural intelligence to show through the psychotic role. He obviously had a lot of fun playing a complete and total psychopath, and that sense of fun is infectious — especially during exchanges like the following:
big blankBilly Bedlam: Are you out of your mind?
big blankCyrus: According to my last psych evaluation, yes.
Malkovich’s even and pleasant tone of voice lend a delightful chill to his beyond-crazy character.

Bottom line: A lot of fun — great study break! But if you’re looking for an atmospheric and subtle film, rent Mary Reilly.

Mary Reilly

Here we have a drastically different film from Con Air. Mary Reilly is a dark, atmospheric film that dances between drama and horror. A new twist on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, it is told through the eyes of one of Jekyll’s maids, the title character (played by Julia Roberts). She idealizes the Doctor, and is at once repulsed by and attracted to Hyde. Eventually, her desire to help Jekyll involves her beyond the point of return in the battle taking place within him.

Malkovich is superb in the dual role (the one piece of criticism I have is that his unique voice immediately gives Hyde away, even before we see his face), playing both the extremely straight-laced doctor and the animalistic Hyde. As the film progresses, the audience can see the two characters begin to merge, as Jekyll asserts himself through Hyde, trying to force the madman to be more civilized, and as Hyde begins to wear down Jekyll’s civilized exterior from within. The film is not perfect, but it does create a sense of impending doom, and is quietly terrifying. And, of course, Malkovich is wonderful.

Bottom line: watch it at night with a friend or two, and let yourselves be drawn into its world of shadows, and you’ll be as fascinated and frightened as Mary is.

Dangerous Liaisons

This delightful period piece (set in pre-Revolutionary France) is a tale of intrigue and seduction. You thought life here at Oxy was like a soap opera? Rent this, and learn.

The Vicomte de Valmont (Malkovich) and Madame de Mertuil (Glenn Close) were once lovers. Valmont is interested in renewing the relationship, even if only briefly. Mertuil, on the other hand, wants to get something useful out of it, so she tells him he must seduce the bride-to-be of one of her former lovers (who stole one of Valmont’s lovers, so they both have reason to be angry with him), but Valmont says it would be too easy — Cecile (Uma Thurman) has been raised in a convent, and is no doubt naturally curious. When Valmont tells Mertuil that he has set himself the challenge of seducing a married woman, Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), renowned for her faithfulness to her husband, Mertuil says that when he has succeeded with his little game, he should return to her with written proof, and then will be granted one night in her bedroom.

And that’s only the beginning!

Malkovich doesn’t often get to play blatantly sexy roles, but as Valmont he is at once dangerous and seductive, and makes the audience believe completely in his ability to seduce anyone he sets his mind to. He puts his unique voice to good use as always, speaking softly and reasonably as he destroys reputations, lives, loves with mere words. More importantly, when Valmont actually falls in love without realizing it, Malkovich is able to show the audience what his character is unable to see.

Bottom line: A sumptuous costume drama full of romance, scheming, and double-cross upon double-cross, and a lot of fun in that respect. But if you’re looking for gunfights and explosions, rent Con Air.