More than a remake: Second try yields a winner
As John Huston demonstrated with the third film version of Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" and Howard Hawks proved with "His Girl...
Special to The Seattle Times
As John Huston demonstrated with the third film version of Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" and Howard Hawks proved with "His Girl Friday" (the second film based on the newspaper comedy "The Front Page"), the best remakes are often based on less-than-satisfying originals.
Such is the case with Jacques Audiard's "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," a stylish French remake of James Toback's flashy but foolish 1978 crime drama, "Fingers." The original starred Harvey Keitel as a crazed concert pianist whose day job is collecting money owed to his mobster father.
"Toback doesn't just risk self-parody — he falls into it," wrote the late Pauline Kael, though she praised the film for its "true moviemaking fervor." Audiard recently told The New York Times that he was "very moved" by the film when it was released in Paris, where it was more popular than it was in the United States. Still, he sees creating a remake as "no different, in a sense, from that of adapting a novel."
"The Beat That My Heart Skipped," with Romain Duris, Niels Arestrup. Directed by Jacques Audiard, from a screenplay by Audiard and Tonino Benacquista, based on James Toback's "Fingers." 107 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (includes violence, profanity). In French, with English subtitles. Harvard Exit.
In the process, he's made the characters more accessible, the action less brutal and the story less ridiculous. The father is now a failing Parisian real-estate speculator (played by Niels Arestrup), and his relationship with his resourceful son, Tom (Romain Duris), seems closer and more genuine.
Tom is a less obviously talented musician than the pianist Keitel played, and he struggles in his practice sessions with a more disciplined Asian pianist (Linh-Dan Pham) who doesn't speak French. He's humanized and ultimately redeemed by this nearly nonverbal relationship.
Duris was a runner-up for best actor in the Golden Space Needle awards last month at the Seattle International Film Festival, and no wonder. This wiry, expressive young actor takes over the Keitel role and confidently makes it his. Whether Tom is sparring with his father, questioning dad's latest mistress or apprehensively approaching an audition, Duris seems the embodiment of the idea that the best actors are re-actors. He always conveys a sense of mystery.
Audiard, who directed "Read My Lips" and "A Self-Made Hero," two of the strongest European films of the past decade, doesn't quite match that level of quality with "Beat." Perhaps he's held back a bit by the fact that he's reimagining someone else's movie. Yet "Beat" is emotionally richer than "Fingers," and there's nothing secondhand about Duris' performance. It's a star-maker.
John Hartl: email@example.com