May 10 2008
Not long after playing the sleezy Griffin Mill in Robert Altman’s The Player and just prior to playing the iconoclastically hopeful Andy Dufresne in Shawshank, Tim Robbins further flexed his diverse acting muscles by playing the hapless Norville Barnes in the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy.
Opening with a spectacular shot of snow falling over a beautiful city, we pan in over the rooftops until it comes upon the Hudsucker Industries building, with a huge clock about to ring in the New Year. And we are presented with a man about to jump to his death. The rest of this hilarious film is told through flashback as we watch the fascinating tale of Norville Barnes and what brought him to that ledge.
Barnes, a country bumpkin hick, hits the Big Apple with the intention of becoming a New York City executive. His timing is magical as he enters the doors of Hudsucker Industries just as the Hudsucker board determines it needs a patsy to run the company into the ground so it can buy up shares when the company goes public in a month. Not knowing that he is actually expected to run the company down, full of energy and completely incompetent, he tries his best to save the company, but with bad advice from big cheese Mussburger (Paul Newman) he is destined to follow the board’s plan to take the share price to the floor. Barnes hires Amy (the fast-talking Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a role very different to last week’s Dolores Claiborne) as his assistant, but unbeknownst to him, she is a reporter trying to expose him. The only kink in an otherwise incredible movie, Leigh’s grating portrayal of a 40’s or 50’s wisecracking strong woman is too over the top, but this only further highlights the brilliance of both Robbins and Newman.
The film is punctuated by sparkling art direction, fabulolus sets, snappy dialogue, and terrific supporting turn from Paul Newman, make this a classic movie that missed out on many deserving awards.