Ivans Xtc.

2002, Movie, R, 93 mins


Bernard Rose's gimlet-eyed look at Hollywood's soul-shriveling culture of excess grafts the cautionary tale of late CAA agent Jay Moloney, who ended a drug-fueled spiral into ruin by committing suicide in 1997 (Rose was one of his clients), onto Leo Tolstoy's somber novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886). The result is surprisingly successful, which may be why it languished without distribution for two years. The film opens as agent extraordinaire Ivan Beckman (Danny Huston) is rushed to Cedars Sinai hospital; later, a nurse calls his office with the news of his death. Co-workers, clients and friends make the appropriate sympathetic noises while calculating the impact his demise will have on their careers and the official cause of death, cancer, is taken as a face-saving lie, since Ivan was famous for relentless drinking, drugging and hell-raising. In keeping with his swimming-with-sharks lifestyle, Ivan's funeral is disrupted by a spat between disgruntled screenwriter Danny McTeague (James Meredino); Ivan's associate, Barry Oaks (real-life CAA agent Adam Krentzman); and mega-movie star Don West (Peter Weller). As Ivan's coffin is placed in a vault, the film flashes back to the previous week and chronicles the events leading up to his demise. Ivan was on a business-as-usual treadmill of working parties, schmoozing contacts, stealing clients and brokering deals, cheating on his ambitious girlfriend, Charlotte (Lisa Enos), with a bevy of bleach-blond party girls, and indulging in every mood-altering substance that crossed his path. Then the results of a pro forma insurance company physical come back: A chest x-ray shows signs of cancer. The unintrospective Ivan has no idea how to react to the sudden insight that in the face of imminent death, his flashy, hedonistic lifestyle is utterly inconsequential, and a tension-filled dinner with his father (sculptor Robert Graham) and sister (Joanne Duckman), both artists, triggers a long, dark night of the soul. This coldly fascinating film has nothing to say that hasn't been said before, in films as diverse as THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952), THE PLAYER (1992) and TIMECODE (2000). But its high-definition video images (which were transferred to 35mm for the film's theatrical release) are coated with a convincing sheen of disgust, and Huston's performance is riveting. A third-generation child of Hollywood — the grandson of actor Walter, son of director John and the brother of actress Angelica (who's married to Robert Graham) — Huston nails both the glad-handing and the choking sense of hollow despair. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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