Palatable: Eyewitness

Eyewitness (1981)
Directed by Peter Yates
Written by Steve Tesich
Produced by Peter Yates, Kenneth Utt
Starring William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Plummer, James Woods, Steven Hill, Morgan Freeman, Pamela Reed, Kenneth McMillan, Irene Worth, Albert Paulsen, Keone Young, Chao Li Chi, Alice Drummond
Burdened by supernumerary character development, Yates’s and Tesich’s second coaction after Breaking Away doesn’t quite compass its potential as a murder mystery or a romance. A janitor (Hurt) employed at a palatial office building reports the murder of a businessman (Chi) who’d leased an office therein to two cynical detectives (Hill, Freeman), who correctly suspect his maniacal buddy (Woods) of means, motive and opportunity. Their case is complicated by the unsophisticated custodian’s incomplete disclosure — recounted first to them, then to a fetching news reporter and chamber pianist (Weaver), who’s enticed by the prospect of breaking a story that’s closer to home than she imagined. Tesich’s story is timely and absorbing, but his script’s plagued by his zeal to humanize nearly every single character with at least one deepy personal, expository monologue or discourse — all of which are delivered so well by Yates’s eximious ensemble that one almost doesn’t notice this superfluous sentiment. Singly fresh from Altered States and Alien, Hurt and Weaver effortlessly inhabit proper parts with charm and conviction, but their shortage of chemistry does nothing to make their amorous developments seem any more probable. Woods hyperactively betokens some of his best work to come as the volatile Vietnam vet who drives the plot. Most notable for its population of established and ascending stars, this one almost hits its mark, and almost satisfies.

Favorites: Deathtrap

Deathtrap (1982)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Ira Levin, Jay Presson Allen
Produced by Burtt Harris, Alfred De Liagre Jr., Jay Presson Allen
Starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon, Irene Worth, Henry Jones

“The most important thing in acting is honesty: if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

–George Burns

For four flagrant flops in consecution, their famed but fading playwright (Caine) of thrillers is driven to dejection, desperation and distraction of a kind inspiring the murderous machination to invite a sometime student (Reeve) who’s penned and posted him a first-rate foray in his manner to his home for collaborative colloquy, so to dispatch the gifted greenhorn with an article from his panoply of stage props and antique weaponry, and crib the thriller as his own to revive his career and finances. Attic dialogue, anfractuous artifices and artful auguries of Levin’s hit stage play are preserved and magnified in this penultimate picture of Lumet’s second winning streak, as sable in its hilarity as it’s diegetically flexuous, defying and denying prevision for initial viewers first with a perverse masterstroke at midpoint, then a succession of vicissitudes as both the sinuous plot and that of its culprit’s eponymous work unfold pari passu, complicated by the homicidal author’s squirrelly, cardiopathic wife (Cannon) and a meddlesome, clairvoyant celebrity (Worth) of Netherlandish extraction. Caine was cast choicely in the seething, sulky, scheming, creepy lead opposite Reeve, whose typecast stature as cinema’s charming, caped darling made selection of a wickedly rigorous role as impressive for his professional daring as his patently protean proficiency. “To show you any more would be a crime,” proclaims this movie’s trailer in sincerity; that first of several twists may not shock with the potency it had over three decades ago, but the cinematic dash with which Lumet and continually contemporaneous collaborator Allen adapted Levin’s ingenious source elevates it in transition to the filmic medium. It’s shot, played and cut with such irresistible, hysterical, cutthroat, playful panache, you almost can’t envision its proscenium!
Recommended for a double feature paired with A Shock to the System.