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Throughout cinema history there have been a number of portrayals of the Hollywood system as the vacuous, forlorn environment it clearly is, but this may be the most personal and honest depiction yet.
British director Rose, whose own negative Hollywood experiences following his big budget adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina reputedly inspired this film – also an adaption of Tolstoy, this time a loose modern day revamp of The Death of Ivan Llyich. Writer and co-star, Lisa Enos’ own personal experiences of the excesses and futility of the LA high life also fed highly into the film. With ultimately real-life agent, Jay Maloney’s, life being a major influence on the character that Rose bases Ivan on. In fact, Maloney was to take his own life midway through test screening.
Beginning with an almost morbid Hollywood as dawn breaks through the smog, you would be forgiven for recalling David Lynch, such is the ambience. We learn of the death of film agent Ivan Beckman and witness the falsely sympathetic and callous reactions of his colleagues and associates. The film then goes back to show us the final days of Ivan following his, at first, success at acquiring a major Hollywood actor - played in all his sleazy, misogynistic glory by Peter Weller – and then learning of having lung cancer.
Shooting on digital captures, Rose captures the ugly, plasticity of the Hollywood players who Ivan comes into contact with, all smiles telling us that the seemingly happiest people are miserable on the inside. At one point near the end, Ivan tells two female revellers through a cocaine induced rant how he is dying. The two females look on impassively, fearing that their drug top-up may be ruined. When Ivan turns on them, telling them they “will die someday too”, they merely get up and leave silently. It’s an eerie, yet telling moment, that here is a man full of financial success, but not a friend around him. Even his family, his doctor, even his therapist are not aware of his isolation due to the bitter Tinseltown coda of refusing to appear emotional that he adheres to.
The improvised nature of the acting gives a distinct credibility to proceedings, with authentic performances throughout. But it is certainly Danny Huston, in the lead role as Ivan, who takes the film above most. A powerful, chilling, and affecting performance of one man’s dying fall. Rarely do we see abuse have such affect, yet Ivansxtc is startling in its authenticity to not go over the top, as most film portraying drug abuse tend to do. Instead, Rose shows us the methodical nature of addiction, of the social inability to ‘fit-in’ without resorting to excess.
One of the best films of the last decade which remains criminally under-seen (further proof of Rose’s mistreatment by an unforgiving Hollywood system). It remains a brilliantly tragic and confrontational darker side to Robert Altman’s much acclaimed The Player, the reality much more exposed here.
In Los Angeles, you live alone and you die alone it would seem.