Whenever I wonder what constitutes a classic film The Fabulous Baker Boys is where I go for the answer. Like a great piece of jazz, its elements flawlessly chime together, placing you in a moment in time, amidst a romantic drama full of soul, emotion and strong character.Frank and Jack Baker (Jeff and Beau Bridges) are a pair of run-of-the-mill, piano players who decide to take on a singer in the hope of invigorating their moribund lounge act. 37 girls who can’t carry a tune later, former AAA escort Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) falls into their lives, shaking up their routine, and permanently changing the brothers relationship in the process. The Fabulous Baker Boys has a remarkable, yet sparing narrative. Steve Kloves’ screenplay doesn’t tell us much more about these characters than we’d learn if we soaked up the beer in the bar at one of their bookings. The Brothers Bridges, not surprisingly have great chemistry, and you can’t help but wonder how much of their off-screen relationship is brought to their roles. Beau makes for a likeable, responsible older brother and Jeff is cool, as always, as he imbues his character with the unique brand of minimalism he’s been refining for years. The frisson of sexual attraction between Jeff and Michelle is perfectly played out with meaningful looks and minimal dialogue. Pfeiffer merely hinting at the pain hidden beneath Susie’s facade.Michelle always looks fantastic, but this film captured her at the apex of her beauty, and it remains her most iconic performance. She may not be a polished singer, but her voice is powerful and elegant, and her intense sensuality will draw you in, just as surely as Susie draws the audiences into the Seattle lounges. Once you’re there, Dave Grusin’s music and the high gloss lighting of Michael Ballhaus cast a wonderful spell.It may not feature a Santa Monica beach or a Times Square New Year’s Eve, but The Fabulous Baker Boys endures as a classic, primarily because it chooses realistic characters over caricatures. Watching this film, you feel as though you’re on a journey with these characters, and long after the credits roll you’ll be left thinking about Frank, Jack and Susie, wondering where their paths might lead them in the future.
One of the few experiences comparable to viewing a great movie for the first time, is revisiting one you’d forgotten was a pleasure to watch. Tequila Sunrise, the story of a morally wavering cop and his unlikely friendship with a drug dealer, is one such case in point.When this film was released in 1988 Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell were approaching the peak of their popularity. Michelle Pfeiffer was the perfect rope for a love tug-of-war, and with Robert Towne (Chinatown) writing and directing, and Conrad Hall behind the camera, expectations were high for the film. Maybe that’s why the critics savaged it.Dale “Mac” McKussic (Mel Gibson) and Nick Frescia (Kurt Russell) grew up and went to high school together. But then their paths diverged, as Mac became a drug dealer and Nick joined the LAPD. They’ve stayed friends, even though Mac has spent time in prison in Mexico, where he’s made the aquaintance of a big time drug smuggler named Carlos (Raul Julia). Now Mac is trying to go straight. He’s got a legitimate business, a son and an ex-wife to occupy his time. What he also has to contend with is a host of people who want to lure him back into the drug trade, none more so than Carlos who has some unfinished business in California. Nick, now a lieutenant, has problems of his own. He’s reluctant to arrest his old friend, though he has foolish DEA Agent Hal Maguire (JT Walsh) breathing down his neck to do so. What he wants most of all is to apprehend the mythical Carlos, even at the expense of a life-long friendship. Caught in the middle of the two men is Jo Ann Vallenari (Michelle Pfeiffer), the beautiful proprietor of an Italian ristorante. Mac spends a lot of time eating there and it’s where he introduces Nick to Jo Ann, unaware the DEA have been staking it out, convinced Jo Ann is involved in unscrupulous dealings with Mac.The ensuing love triangle shifts several times as Pfeiffer flits from one friend to the other. Nick’s interest in Jo Ann is ambiguous. He may be trying to figure out what she knows about Mac’s activities, or he might genuinely be falling for her. Mac, on the other hand, leaves no doubt why he’s vying for her affections, culminating in the scene at his beach house where he finally reveals his romantic intentions. Gibson and Pfeiffer are on fire there. Two magnetic performers, captured at their fetching peak. If they’d lit both sets of eyes any better, no one would have heard any of the dialogue, and their steamy hot tub session alone is good enough reason for the film’s Oscar nomination; this in spite of the non-chlorinated water in an un-sanded vessel that left both stars with rashes and scrapes and caused production delays.Towne proved with Chinatown just how deft he is with neo-noir storytelling. What this means is a script written as it should be for a multi-layered thriller. The character relationships are complex, but the reams of quotable dialogue help the viewer to navigate the complexities of the plot. No one would claim Tequila Sunrise approaches the magnificence of the richly thematic Chinatown, but there’s a great deal of similar plotting, all framed by the gorgeous golden haze of Conrad Hall’s lenses. Shining like a classic Warner Bros. melodrama it’s hard to believe there’s ever a cloud in the California sky.Despite the mixed reception Tequila Sunrise has received over the years, I still say it’s worth a revisit. Three bona fide A-list performers anchor the picture, and Raul Julia steals his scenes to give the third act some dramatic weight. There is much to be learned about the truly collaborative nature of film, when the writing, acting, and direction all chime together. Some elements of its 1980′s mileu may be dated, especially the saxophone solos in the score and Jo Ann’s shoulder-padded jackets. But for me, nothing could lessen the joy of spending time with Tequila Sunrise.