Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gary Gilmore's Eyes

There was once a special category reserved among panting cineastes for the once-in-a-while TV movie that was deemed worthy-and The Executioner’s Song: Director’s Cut. (1982, Paramount, $20.00, 135 minutes) a made-for-TV adaptation of Norman Mailer’s book of the same name, scripted by the author himself, once had that heady mojo attached to it. (The movie managed to even earn a European theatrical release.) Tommy Lee Jones, emanating pure rock solid intensity, delivers in a major way in one of his early roles that help establish him, as Gary Gilmore the prison rat, drifter, punk, and condemned killer that Mailer frames as one of America’s lost souls. Director (and Mailer collaborator) Lawrence Schiller renders it all sparse and stripped down, with a Utah that looms as hardscrabble as Gilmore’s blank existence, an existential void walked through by man who’s nearly there. The exquisitely quirky Rosanna Arquette is nicely matched with the imposingly haunted Jones, both of them helping paint a memorably bleak picture. Forget the TV origins, this deserves to be seen again as a vividly American mood piece, not quite in the nether regions established by the likes of Terence Malick or Robert Altman, but undeniably evocative.

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