The Rake: A Wit in the Dark

Judging by the output from Hollywood the last several years, you’d think that all Americans care about is comic books. And, yes, both The Green Hornet and Green Lantern are on the horizon. But two new trends that, one hopes, more closely mirror the concerns of American society will come to the fore this fall. 

TREND ONE As we struggle to keep the national unemployment rate under 10 percent, Hollywood is offering its own stimulus package of Great Recession films. The major studios have been squeezed by the downturn and are producing fewer films this year; it’s significant that such a large portion of fall releases are concerned with the economy. Following on the heels of the documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money is a feature film called, for brevity and accuracy, Bagman. Kevin Spacey went full Method for his portrayal of Jack Abramoff, visiting the disgraced Washington lobbyist/fundraiser/extortionist in prison to prepare for his role. In another case of inspired casting, Ben Affleck plays a floundering, underemployed hotshot in The Company Men. He is the victim of corporate downsizing and tries to put his seven-figure life back in order with costars (and plausible stuffed shirts in white collars) Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Craig T. Nelson and Kevin Costner. Meanwhile, not wanting his pal Affleck to be alone in fall films on the economy, Matt Damon narrates the documentary Inside Job. It’s hailed as a “comprehensive analysis” of the financial meltdown, with journalists, academics and politicians trying to explain away the estimated twenty trillion dollars lost worldwide in 2008. If that’s all too depressing, there’s the return of Gordon Gekko. Michael Douglas’s shark’s grin (“I once said, ‘Greed is good’ – now it seems it’s legal”) circles the chummy Shia LaBeouf in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The only shocking thing this fall is that Al Pacino has not capitalized on his lauded Broadway turn as Shylock to land a starring role in a Bernie Madoff biopic. Yet. 

TREND TWO After years of fighting those pesky Internet freeloaders, Hollywood has apparently decided that if you can’t beat ’em, you can make money off ’em. It’s hard to visit a film Web site these days without an assault of trailer pop-ups and interstitials, and one movie in particular keeps turning up. David Fincher returns with a premise even more preposterous than that of his last film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: one man starts a Web site that revolutionizes the way we communicate six years and 500 million friends later. The Social Network stars Jesse Eisenberg as the precocious Harvard programmer who started Facebook from his dorm room. His antagonists include former Facebook president Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake at his greasiest. Trailers for the film have pulled out all the stops, from close-ups of obsessive users clicking away to a cover version of Radiohead’s “Creep” on the soundtrack. Continuing this theme, if The Social Network is a proper historical drama, the most buzzed-about Sundance flick, Catfish, is a “documentary” that looks like a sort of social-networking Blair Witch Project (down to the coyness on whether the film is fact or fiction). A young man gets to know a young woman through, of course, Facebook, but when he goes to visit her, something happens that has generated all that Sundance noise. On the low-concept end of things, Chain Letter features Nikki Reed on a mission to stop a serial killer who murders teens for not forwarding his e-mails, and My Suicide promises a high schooler live-streaming his own orchestrated death. No doubt all these films about the perils of Internet culture will force people to reconsider how much time they spend online. Or maybe they’ll just “like” them on Facebook. •