Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Unseen #19: The MacKintosh Man

The Macintosh Man

Why’d I Buy It?: Came in the Paul Newman Boxset I picked up this Christmas.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: The Macintosh Man is a movie I’ve always been curious about, and one of the large reasons I bought the set (well that and I wanted to own Harper and The Left Handed Gun). It’s a 70’s John Le Carre style espionage movie directed by John Huston, written by Walter Hill, starring Paul Newman and I don’t think I’ve ever read a single positive review of it.

So in order to reiterate. This is one of my favorite directors, adapting a script from one of the greatest genre directors, with one of my favorite stars, making a film in one of my favorite genres, smack dab in the middle of my favorite era of filmmaking… And it’s bad? How could I not be curious to watch it?

How Was It?:

Well go ahead and consider this the first positive review of Mackintosh Man. It’s not perfect and it’s kind of lumpy but I couldn’t find it anything but entertaining, Mackintosh Man is one of those movies that seems like a couple of different movies at once. It starts as a lofi heist movie, Before turning suddenly into a prison movie and a pretty good one (One difference between Brit’s and American’s Newman must fend off a polite request for anal sex not an attempted rape) And THEN a spy flick.

It’s a down beat gritty spy movie (with the exception of a prison break involving a giant yellow crane so utterly conspicuous its not even funny.

Hill and Huston (God can you imagine if those two had a drinking session? It’d be so manly it’d resurrect the ghost of Hemingway) are ballsy enough to let you NOT know everything Mackintosh is up to. In fact you don’t learn what he’s up to until nearly 2/3rds into the movie. Even then you don’t get the whole story.

Huston brings his skill and style to several great scenes, particularly a tense escape through the Irish moors (which beats No Country For Old Men’s “large angry dog plus river” beat by a over thirty years). In a later sequence over same moors, he also directs what as far as I know is his only car chase. A perversely exciting chase between two of the shittiest looking cars you have ever seen in your life.

Huston lends the movie a gritty downbeat style drawing an ominous vibe from Posh Parlimentary Chambers, London’s Urban Sprawl, the grey anonymous prison and the wide open spaces of the countryside equally. Newman in turn projects his trademark era of cool and quiet competence. Watching Newman it came anew just how much of a shame it was to lose Newman. He straddled the line between old school movie star and “new era” actor perfectly. He was a good enough actor to play just about any role but enough of a movie star to always be undeniably himself. James Mason is a hell of a lot of fun playing a Foppish (how else?) British Neo Con with a dark secret.

For movie fans weaned on the Bourne, Mission Impossible, and Craig era Bond films, Mackintosh might come off as a bit dull. But for fans of the old school European espionage by the likes of Graham Greene and John Le Carre, The Mackintosh Man is a wonderful bit of old school genre craft. A pretty good movie, until an eye poppingly unexpected and bleak climax that arguably makes it great. If you get a chance pick it up.


Neil Fulwood said...

Can I be a pedant?

'The Macintosh Man' man is based on a novel by Desmond Bagley ('The Freedom Trap'), not John Le Carre.

I've not seen it for quite some time, but I love the way Huston and screenwriter Hill take Bagley's fairly formulaic thrilleramics and turn them into something darker and more interesting.

And yes, that ending's something else!

Bryce Wilson said...

I was speaking metaphorically on Le Carre. More of the vibe.

But then again I didn't even know it was based on a novel so that's just a different place I was sloppy. lol.

And yeah, that ending was just like "oh." They'd never get away with it today.