Obviously, I don’t have any experience of Hollywood, but seeing films and TV shows about it through my ordinary eyes, it’s safe to say that it seems to be an unsettling world full of malaise, decadence, and cutthroat darkness. This dark side of success, fame, and fortune is a subject matter that has been told time and time again, but never in such a bleak and unforgiving way as director Bernard Rose and co-writer/producer/co-star Lisa Enos’ tough 2000 masterwork Ivansxtc, which is also a stark tribute to the power of art house/indie film.
Shot on high-definition video and based on Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 short story, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, the film stars Danny Huston as hot-shot agent Ivan Beckman, who must fake a smile and carry on as usual, especially with dealing his agency’s most important client, Don West (a wonderfully wicked Peter Weller), while also coming to terms his cancer detection. It opens with his death and is told through flashbacks that tell the story of his final days of drinking, sex, and extreme drug-fueled lifestyle that eventually lead to his early death. Afterwards, his colleagues are forced to discourage clients from leaving the agency.
Like I said, the tale of Hollywood devouring itself from the inside-out has been showcased before, but never as punishing and harrowing as Ivansxtc. Perhaps, the two main films that come close to it are Nicolas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950) and Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), but as amazing as those films were and still are, they were cakewalks compared to the sheer nihilism that this one brings. The creep and sleaze factor is at an all-time high, and it is too bold and uncompromising to experience at many times, mainly because of that fact that it hits the mark, perhaps a little too well.
Huston’s performance is incredibly searing and unexpectedly moving, and his portrayal of the titular character makes you feel his pain, even as it threatens to push you away. What it makes even more unbearably real is that there is absolutely no vanity in him whatsoever. He looks haggard, unpolished, and has a demeanor that has seen much better days. But despite all that, his charisma and magnetism still shines through, and you just want to grab and hold him and never let go. It’s just an amazing sight to see. Weller, who is basically the villain with his turn as West, nearly steals the film. He is unapologetically nasty, misogynistic, pompous, but he does it so well. It’s his best since 1987’s Robocop. Enos is also very good as Charlotte, Ivan’s screenwriter girlfriend. Her screenplay (written with Rose) definitely goes deep into the cold, grim heart of Tinseltown like a knife that has just been sharpened.
Again, just like with many of their releases, the folks at Arrow outdo themselves with their release of the film, including all three versions of the film: original theatrical cut (Rose’s preferred version, 60i); original theatrical cut (Enos’ version, 24 fps), and the extended producer’s cut (available for the first time on Blu-ray). There are also some great special features, such as a brand new commentary for the extended cut by Enos and filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft; Charlotte’s Story, a new documentary on the making of the film by Enos; Q&A with Enos, Rose, Huston, Weller, and Adam Krentzman from a 2018 screening at Los Angeles’ famed Egyptian Theatre; archival interviews with Enos and Rose from the 2001 Santa Barbara Film Festival; extended party sequence outtakes; and original theatrical trailer. There is also a booklet with new essays by Robert JE Simpson, as well as a reversible sleeve featuring original/new artwork by Peter Strain.
In closing, as merciless as it is, and how that being an early 2000s product almost goes against it, I found the film extremely modern and dead-on. It’s one of those rare movies that all-too-well captures human nature at its lowest, especially where money, power, and success come in.