THE BANDIT HAS LEFT THE STAGE. BUT THE MOVIES REMAIN FUN, FOREVER.
BURT REYNOLDS. 1936-2018
Remembering Burt Reynolds.
Burt is dead. It was a shock, no question. Says a lot about today’s world that I thought it yet another celebrity death hoax. There are lots of those. But no: real news, shared within seconds, across platforms. Everyone, be they young or old, casual film fan or devoted disciple, all seemed sad that Burt Reynolds was gone.
He was 82 and that’s not a bad innings for a man who led his life to the full in every sense. He was by his own admission, a guy who loved the kind of fun he was seen having onscreen: sports, cars, sports-cars, beauty, sunshine etc. And the roles for which he will always be remembered are part of that same spirit.
Reynolds got into acting as a young man, having been a promising sports scholar. Hence his gift for action. His biggest roles were therefore the physical ones. The man had a masculine, dynamic, vigorous presence. There was a hint of young Brando in some early shots of him. But he was not a brooding method actor; far more natural and warm, human, funny. One could believe there was a brutality there in fight scenes and so on, but also a soft, playful, eternally boyish outlook on romantic adventure.
It is sad that we perhaps saw a little less of him of late and that there was a lull in the late 1980s -mid 90s, when that could and indeed should have been his biggest and best blockbuster season. Reynolds also turned down some parts that could have made him an even bigger star and earned him multiple millions of dollars both direct and residual. Han Solo! Superman! JAMES BOND! He was almost all of those. Could he have been a good 007? I think so. Accent aside (and he could surely have mastered that?); he had a Connery like swagger, with or without moustache.
You believe him as the skilled professional that is nonetheless a playful hedonist both on and off duty. THAT is James Bond, surely? He probably lacked an earnest quality that defines Superman and would perhaps have struggled with the fantastical dimensions of Star Wars (Harrison Ford is by no means a fan of sci-fi dialogue as Han Solo: but he plays into that, to his advantage, in a manner with which Burt might have struggled?). The one Burt really regretted turning down was Terms of Endearment: Jack Nicholson took the part instead and won himself an Oscar.
The roles that DID have Reynolds take the lead and in to form? Well: DELIVERANCE. It’s an ensemble piece with Ned Beatty and Jon Voight also standing out but Reynolds just owns the action scenes there. Every still photograph of him in that film tells its own story. THAT is a movie star, right there! SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT is of course the one we will always think of when Reynolds’ name is mentioned. the hat, car, smile and the spirit of fun capers; that IS him!
There were some sequels and in the same kind of genre, we also got THE CANNONBALL RUN (parts 1 and 2). Fast cars. Beautiful women. An aura of cool. Big laughs. FUN. Watch any one of those movies and I guarantee it will raise a smile. Heck, even the lesser loved /known, straight to video stuff is a blast. Seriously. Cop and a Half? You will reluctantly surrender to its simplicity and deft, light efficacy. Trust me. (Adopts Burt Reynolds clipped yet smiling tone; while chewing gum; so you don’t know quite whether I am being serious or making fun..). And he turns up at random, everywhere in movies: BEAN! THE PLAYER! It was kind of his thing; the random cameo?
My personal fave Burt minor role with major impact? Has to be STRIPTEASE: he’s hilarious as a politician who shouts loudly about ‘FAMILY VALUES’, only to leave the stage from said speeches and run directly to a strip club where he is infatuated with a dancer played by DEMI MOORE.
As a character actor, Reynolds could deliver a great deal; harnessing some of his comic timing whilst integrating some far darker designs. SWITCHING CHANNELS seems like a harmless rom-com but is in its way every bit as biting a satire on news media as NETWORK, THE PAPER or MAN WITH DEADLY LENS/WRONG IS RIGHT.
BOOGIE NIGHTS was a career second wind defining comeback for Reynolds. It is a shame he downplayed its significance and did not exploit its potential more. Indeed, perhaps by his own admission, he sabotaged things again somewhat, though did so on what he saw, perhaps, as points of important principle and a reluctance, ethically, to bask in the glow of a film founded in the grimmest of subject matter. And he clashed with director, Paul Thomas Anderson, though still gave the film his all, even helping to craft dialogue for a key speech. Reynolds was nominated for an Oscar and it remains among his finest work.
In any event? Reynolds continued working. Right til the end. Indeed, he had just been cast in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. And was revered by those who worked with him throughout his career. Mark Wahlberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Christopher McQuarrie among those paying tribute via Twitter, today. Arnie particularly stood out in his kind words: noting Burt’s brilliance as an athlete paving the way in precedent for subsequent action heroes onscreen. It’s also interesting that PEDRO PASCAL channelled young Burt in the recent KINGSMAN: GOLDEN CIRCLE. And of course: the Norm MacDonald genius Saturday Night Live Celebrity JEOPARDY spoof sometimes crops up on YouTube.
So BURT REYNOLDS is not just an actor or a star, but a BRAND that will live forever.
RIP, Burt. Hope you are already enjoying the party in the next life. We will continue to enjoy your movies and the unique charm you brought them.