Teenager Cameron Kincaid (Michael Angarano, The Lords of Dogtown ) keeps a stash of Wild Turkey Bourbon and Cohiba Cigars in his underwear drawer, but not for the reason you might think. The aspiring filmmaker uses it to pay his “crew.”
That’d be one “Flash” Madden (Christopher Plummer, Inside Man ), a geriatric gaffer who happens to be the last living Citizen Kane crewmember. The two meet, appropriately enough, at a revival house screening of Orson Welles’ other masterpiece, Touch of Evil.
“Take the marbles out of your mouth fat ass,” a belligerent Flash bellows when a weighty Welles waddles onscreen as Capt. Hank Quinlan. When he adds a diatribe about “Charlton Heston playing a Mexican, Jesus Christ, give me a break,” Cameron—a bad boy film fanatic who steals a car just because it looks like the one from John Carpenter’s Christine —can’t help laughing out loud.
Despite protesting that he’s “made more movies than [Cameron’s] been to,” Flash grudgingly agrees to help the kid earn a film school scholarship by making a no-budget short. The comedy Plummer mines from this curmudgeonly character is illustrated by the wry response he gives when Cameron comments that his habit of smoking Cuban cigars could be considered unpatriotic: “I consider it burning their crops.”
Much of the strength of Man in the Chair lies in this utterly winning performance from the 77-year-old Plummer, an acclaimed actor who has won two Tonys and two Emmys but never even been nominated for an Oscar.
Yet the film is almost stolen from him by M. Emmet Walsh, the veteran character actor whose consistency inspired Roger Ebert’s so-called Stanton-Walsh Rule, which states that “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” Indeed, as Flash’s addled screenwriter sidekick Mickey Hopkins, Walsh perfectly evokes the despondency of a still-talented professional that youth-oriented Hollywood simply has no more use for. When Flash and Cameron come calling, Mickey frets that he’s lost his “gift” in the three decades since someone last asked him to write.
“We never lose our gifts,” Flash responds. “Only the opportunity to open them.”
“Pretty elegant—for a gaffer,” Mickey concedes.
With Man in the Chair, Schroeder proves himself worthy of that esteemed industry nickname for the visionary in the director’s seat. This genuinely moving picture, with its edgy hand-cranked camerawork, represents a remarkable reinvention for a former B-movie maven whose most notable achievement before this was directing an 18-year-old Angelina Jolie in her first adult role: Casella “Cash” Reese in Cyborg 2. Give the man a cigar. And make it a Cuban.
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Michael Angarano, M. Emmet Walsh and Robert Wagner
Director/Screenwriter: Michael Schroeder
Producers: Michael Schroeder, Sarah Schroeder and Randy Turrow
Rating: PG-13 for language and thematic elements
Running time: 107 min.
Release date: December 7, 2007 NY/SF, December 14 LA, December 21 Chicago