When I wrote last week that I wish Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V had been the start of a more resoundingly impressive directorial career, I could’ve added that his acting career—while perfectly fine, I hasten to note—also hasn’t seen as many daring choices and masterful turns as in his first decade as a movie star. I wouldn’t argue that Branagh’s performance in Robert Altman’s 1998 legal drama The Gingerbread Man is one of his best, but Branagh was reportedly responsible for getting Altman hired in the first place, and if any other director had tackled John Grisham’s generic southern-fried mystery, the movie wouldn’t have been anywhere near as interesting. Made during a stretch of Altman’s career when he’d all but abandoned conventional storytelling, The Gingerbread Man stars Branagh as a smarmy Savannah lawyer who gets involved in the personal lives of his lover’s messed-up family. Altman reportedly rewrote Grisham’s original script to make the hero more of a jerk and to dispense with much of the plot, making more of an Altmanesque sketch of a place and its people, featuring lively performances by Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Berenger, Daryl Hannah, Rovbert Duvall, Famke Janssen, and Embeth Davidtz. The movie bombed at the box office and didn’t get a lot of critical support, but in retrospect it’s of a piece with other late-period Altmans like Cookie’s Fortune, Dr. T. & The Women, Gosford Park, and A Prairie Home Companion, which are more like eccentric, low-stakes improv exercises than big-deal art films. The Gingerbread Man airs on Showtime Extreme tonight at 1 a.m. Eastern.
February 11, 2015 Cable Pick Of The Day