(US - 1990)
Directed by Bob Rafelson. Written by William Harrison and Bob Rafelson. Cast: Patrick Bergin, Iain Glen, Richard E. Grant, Fiona Shaw, Peter Vaughan, Bernard Hill, Roshan Seth, Delroy Lindo, Anna Massey, James Villiers, John Savident, Paul Onsongo, Roger Rees, Adrian Rawlins, Peter Eyre. (R, 136 mins)
Bob Rafelson isn't the first director to come to mind when you think "big-budget epics." Born in 1933, Rafelson got his start as a story editor and writer on various 1960s TV shows before becoming one of the primary creative forces on the TV series THE MONKEES. He directed the group's 1968 feature film HEAD, scripted by his friend Jack Nicholson, and he and business partner Bert Schneider would soon expand their Raybert Productions (the pair produced EASY RIDER) to form BBS Productions with new partner Stephen Blauner. Through BBS, Rafelson also had a hand in producing Peter Bogdanovich's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971), Nicholson's first directing effort DRIVE, HE SAID (1971) and Peter Davis' Oscar-winning documentary HEARTS AND MINDS (1974). BBS also handled Rafelson's own directorial efforts like his breakthrough FIVE EASY PIECES (1970) and THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS (1972). The company folded after HEARTS AND MINDS, but in this selection of work (all except HEARTS AND MINDS are on the 2010 Criterion set AMERICA LOST AND FOUND: THE BBS STORY), you see key building blocks in 1970s auteurism and the independent film movement with the kinds of intimate, serious, unflinching character studies (HEAD being the exception) for which Rafelson would come to be known. Simply put, Bob Rafelson wasn't the kind of guy who made huge, sweeping, expensive event movies.
|Bob Rafelson on the set of MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON|
|Iain Glen as John Hanning Speke|
|Patrick Bergin as Richard Francis Burton|
interview with film and TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz, Tri-Star executives were more focused on their own GLORY, bumping MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON from the holiday 1989 crop of year-end Oscar contenders to the early 1990 dumping ground. Opening on two screens on February 23, 1990, MOUNTAINS expanded over the next few weeks mainly due to passionate accolades from prominent critics (Siskel & Ebert loved it), but it abruptly flatlined at its widest release on 187 screens when Tri-Star gave up on it and pulled the plug, with a total gross of just $4 million. Perhaps the real, unspoken, underlying reason that Tri-Star didn't get behind the film was that it pretty clearly portrays Speke as gay, with the devious actions of Oliphant done more out of possessive love for him than overt hatred of Burton. There's a scene with a smiling Oliphant caressing an injured Speke's leg and resting his hand on his knee, and Speke smiling back, and while the film doesn't go into explicit details, the message is loud and clear. Though Rafelson doesn't specifically spell out the nature of their relationship, Harrison's research into his novel revealed that Speke and Oliphant's involvement with one another wasn't exactly a closeted secret among their social circle. Perhaps the most telling moment is where Speke comforts a delirious, incoherent Burton, stricken with malaria and the deadly swelling in his legs, with a kiss on the lips that lingers just a little too long. In the context of the scene, Burton has no idea what's happening and doesn't respond, but Speke knows what he's doing and loses himself in the moment, the implication being that Speke secretly wants to take their Victorian-era bromance to the next level.
|Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar|
in the early days of Carolco
|Bob Rafelson directing Patrick Bergin|
TAFFIN and 1989's THE COURIER), but Rafelson rightly spotted something in the actor that made him perfect for the larger-than-life Burton. Bergin is absolutely magnetic in the role--alternately dashing, heroic, pompous, romantic, funny, and later, utterly devastating in the scene where he kills Mabruki--and while MOUNTAINS may have been a commercial bomb, it got him on the map with Hollywood executives and industry insiders. He struck gold shortly after when he was cast in 1991's SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY as the psychotic stalker husband of Julia Roberts, just coming off of consecutive Oscar nominations in STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) and PRETTY WOMAN (1990). He then co-starred with Harrison Ford in PATRIOT GAMES (1992), but other than that, Bergin's Hollywood launch was stalled by one troubled production and box office disaster after another: the comedy/horror film HIGHWAY TO HELL hit a dead end in a handful of theaters in 1992 after three years on the shelf; Lizzie Borden's S&M thriller LOVE CRIMES (1992) was disowned by pretty much everyone involved and earned Bergin's combative co-star Sean Young a Razzie nomination; and the epic MAP OF THE HUMAN HEART (1993) was taken away from director Vincent Ward, re-cut by Harvey Weinstein and dumped by Miramax. Bergin did star in a pair of well-received TV movies--he had the title role in Fox's ROBIN HOOD (1991) and played Dr. Frankenstein opposite Randy Quaid's monster in TNT's FRANKENSTEIN (1992)--that did little for his big-screen career. By the time MAP OF THE HUMAN HEART was playing to empty arthouses, Bergin's career momentum was already at a complete standstill.
LAWNMOWER MAN 2: BEYOND CYBERSPACE (1996). When he turned up in a supporting role in the Ewan McGregor/Ashley Judd thriller EYE OF THE BEHOLDER (2000), it was actually a surprise to see him on the big screen. In 2002, he had the title role in the low-budget Italian TV miniseries DRACULA. In the years since, Bergin has appeared in some truly awful movies, many of which have never even been commercially released and, of course, was reduced to starring in an Asylum production with SyFy's spoofy SHARK WEEK (2012). Like Michael Madsen and Tom Sizemore, but to a lesser degree, Bergin's IMDb page shows him appearing in several movies a year, but the last one anyone saw or was even vaguely aware of was when he was 15th-billed in the 2004 Anne Hathaway vehicle ELLA ENCHANTED. What happened to Patrick Bergin? One look at his work in MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON and it's clear he had what it took to be a major star. Did SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY typecast him and ruin his career? Did he burn some bridges along the way? Did Alan Rickman get all of his roles? How do you go from "the next Sean Connery" to LAWNMOWER MAN 2 in five years? Whatever the reason, will somebody give this guy a good part? How has he not played a Bond villain by now? How has he never played an eccentric detective on a CBS police procedural?