The Stunt Man (Richard Rush, 1980)

With Steve Railsback channeling Charles Manson; Peter O’Toole Deus ex machinating while perched on a crane-mounted director’s chair; a cast of secondary players whose overlapping dialogue and excesses of quirky heartfelt humanity rivals the best of 1970s Altman; and a narrative that, like the-film-within-the-film, slaloms between gentle physical comedy and rough physical action, this has much to recommend it. Where this film succeeds the best, however, is in toying with our own understanding of the gulf between reality and artifice: as all the characters (especially Barbara Hershey’s, lissome of movement and opaque of motivations) hold their cards close to their poker faces, and the narrative leads us to places we couldn’t anticipate, we’re put into a position similar to the titular stuntman, never sure if our harnesses will hold.

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