Friday, March 21, 2008

Morgan Freeman has an agenda.

In December of '03 I rented Dreamcatcher, director Lawrence Kasdan's adaptation of the Stephen King novel. It got terrible reviews upon its release in March of that year, but it's worth seeing. 

It starts off strong, with a lot of male-bonding humor and some legitimately creepy scares that involve aliens and toilets, but then the movie goes haywire right around the time Morgan Freeman's character shows up. What started out as an interesting science fiction/horror film becomes a so-bad-it's-almost-good kind of film, but it doesn't work even as unintentional camp. Then again, it's been almost five years, so I'd have to see the movie a second time to give it a fair shake.

From what I remember, Dreamcatcher was the first movie I'd seen in which Freeman gave a less-than-stellar performance. He's been in bad movies just like any other actor, but he's a reliable, graceful performer. In an essay about the 1994 Oscar race in Premiere magazine's March '95 issue, Dreamcatcher cowriter William Goldman wrote, "Morgan Freeman was so moving and so real [in The Shawshank Redemption]. And so still. The hardest thing for an actor is to be still. Just stand there and let the magic happen behind your eyes. There is a belief loose in the land that what's hard is playing the lame, the halt, and the blind. Wrong. Actors kill for those parts. A reason to overact? Heaven."

Shawshank, based on a 1982 novella by Stephen King, moved the shit out of a lot of people, but I wasn't one of them. It was built up too much for me before I saw it, partly by a guy I didn't like at college that year who thought good acting could be measured by how loud an actor yells, and even Freeman has said he gets tired of being cast as the "wise old black man" over and over again. Some men in my age bracket were practically foaming at the mouth in anticipation of Shawshank writer-director Frank Darabont's next adaptation of a Stephen King jailhouse story (everything is based on something Stephen King wrote, even this post), 1999's The Green Mile, but I heard it was a letdown. I never saw it.

Freeman played "Easy Reader" on PBS's The Electric Company in the '70s, but is he also an easy writer? Let me finally get to the pointeither Freeman writes some of his own dialogue or he picks scripts with spookily similar philosophies. In Dreamcatcher, Freeman plays Army colonel Abraham Curtis, who says the following in regard to the victims of an alien invasion via the human gastrointestinal tract: "Those poor schmucks. They drive Chevrolets, shop at Wal-Mart, and never miss an episode of Friends. These are Americans."

That line could've been written by Goldman or Kasdan, Dreamcatcher's other credited screenwriter, or it could've been created on the set by Freeman, though it doesn't sound improvised to me. Here's one of his lines from 1995's
Seven, in which he played police detective William Somerset: "People don't want a hero. They want to eat cheeseburgers, play the lotto, and watch television." And what do they want to watch in particular? Friends, of course!

Less than a year after Seven came out, Chain Reaction was released. I said earlier that Dreamcatcher was the first less-than-stellar performance I'd seen from Freeman, but it is an interesting train wreck, what with the pasted-on, bushy white eyebrows he sports in the film. Chain Reaction, however, is a sleepwalk of a performancenothing challenging for Freeman, though at least he's not playing the Wise Old Black Man once again, or at least not a benign one. Here's a line from Chain Reaction, in which he plays industrialist Paul Shannon: "People want to live in their split-level homes, eat microwave dinners, and watch color TV." Because Friends isn't as peppy on a black-and-white set, I guess.

Conclusion: Morgan Freeman hates television and the people who watch it and wants every fat, complacent American to know it.

The Electric Company was a good show, Morgan. Don't be ashamed. I learned something from you when I was little, man! You sound like Sopranos creator David Chase when he talks about his career writing for TV in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. What he really wanted to do was make movies, blah blah blah. But he wrote for The Rockford Files, Northern Exposure, and the short-lived I'll Fly Away, all of which are considered superior examples of what the TV wasteland can produce when its creators are inspired.

Well, at least now I know who to pitch my next screenplay to, the title of which has been changed to Cheeseburger-Eating American Friends Trapped in a Wal-Mart While Missing the Final Episode of Their Favorite Show. Like Dreamcatcher, it's a horror film, in case the title didn't provide enough clues.

Four years later ... I just saw Nurse Betty (2000) for the first time, in which Freeman's character, Charlie, says to his fellow hit man, Wesley (Chris Rock), "There you go again. The same lousy-ass attitude that got us here in the first place. That make-a-statement, do-an-end-zone-dance, shake-your-ass-and-swear-at-everybody-in-sight attitude that's dragging this whole fucking country down the drain!" Wesley, as it turns out, watches too much TV and eats too many fatty foods, much to Charlie's dismay. Long live Morgan Freeman's agenda.


  1. i like dreamcatcher. i'm not saying it's good, but i am fascinated by it for some reason. interesting observation about freeman. its like he KNOWS me.

  2. Nathan Rabin of the Onion AV Club called "Dreamcatcher" a "secret success" in his "My Year of Flops" column. I want to see it again to see if the second half is any better the second time, because I really did like the first half, or at least the first 45 minutes. But once "The Big Chill" turned into "Independence Day," I thought: Huh? Still, I like when movies slam two main ideas together like that, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I've heard "Hancock" switches gears abruptly like that.