Monday, February 08, 2010

NICK NOLTE: NO EXIT - A Nutty Choppy Bio Doc

NICK NOLTE: NO EXIT (Dir. Tom Thurman, 2008)

"I thought this was going to be a bit of a lighter interview. You know, something more... mainstream for 6 year olds?" - Nick Nolte at the beginning of this film. The "bio doc" genre has been overflowing lately. It seems like every other celebrity in existence is the subject of a standard career summation complete with footage and anecdotal evidence. But when putting the gruff cantankerous actor Nick Nolte in the spotlight, director Tom Thurman decided to try something new with the format. 

 Thurman set up a casually dressed Nolte at a desk in a studio with a television monitor aimed at him. On that monitor is previously recorded video of a dapper Nolte (in a nice matching hat and dress jacket) asking questions. That's right - Nolte interviews himself. It's an odd but intriguing idea which seems to pay off at first. Nolte gets defensive at times in his replies yet says startlingly insightful stuff like: "My ego is a very limited petty individual. Rather jealous - an asshole basically." He sums the whole situation up at another priceless point when he states: "Every interview is a lie." 

Thankfully it's not just Nolte on Nolte - a roster of his friends and fellow co-workers appear to sing his praises including Ben Stiller, Alan Rudolph, Jacqueline Bisset, F.X. Feeney, Mike Medavoy, Barbara Hershey, and Paul Masursky. Bisset, Nolte's co-star from his first major film THE DEEP, humorously offers: "I think DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS he must have enjoyed enormously. Nick likes to get dirty." 

Speaking of getting dirty there's Nolte's infamous celebrity mug shot which comes up more than once. It's one of the film's only legitimate surprises when Nolte reveals: "That is not a mug shot. You see any numbers? You see that wall? It's a hospital wall." He goes on to explain that the arresting officer, who was a fan, asked if he could get a Poloraid. Nolte said "I'll do the shot if you share the money with the rest of the guys." As for his disheveled appearance: "That's the way I looked in THE HULK."
Unfortunately despite these insights, this is a rambling often sloppy portrait with no clips from any of the films discussed and no chronological structure. We have to do with movie stills with no dates given and this loss of context denies the documentary a satisfying arc. 

Skipping back and forth through Nolte's filmography with many notable movies not being mentioned at all means that somebody only familiar with the man from TROPIC THUNDER or Comedy Central reruns of 48 HOURS would have little inkling of the full spectrum of his work. 

The film also suffers from feeling overlong even at a paltry 74 minute running time. Reflections on acting methods are tossed aside for close to incoherent spiritual philosophy which can't help but appear drunken. Nolte is a fascinating rugged thespian whose model looks long ago morphed into the leathery weathered visage that later period films like AFFLICTION and THE GOOD THIEF have made good use of, but this wacky interview gimmick doesn't do his legacy any favors. 

A throw-away curio that only hardcore Nolte fans will get something out of, NO EXIT could be dismissed as a "nice try" if only Thurman and his subject had tried harder. Post note: This film hasn't been released on DVD yet but is available via Sundance Selects On Demand

More later...

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