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Ivans xtc
cast: Danny Huston, Peter Weller, Lisa Enos, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, and Valeria Golino

director: Bernard Rose

91 minutes (18) 2002 widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan VHS retail
Also available to buy on DVD
[released 30 June]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Emma French
This low budget Hollywood satire was originally released in 2000 but made a muted impact at the time. Based on a Tolstoy story, The Death Of Ivan Ilyich, the film has been updated to such a degree that little resonates from its source text. It charts the final days of a successful and sleazy Hollywood agent, Ivan Beckman (played by Jack Nicholson look-alike Danny Huston) working backwards from his dying moments, funeral and the various aftershocks of his passing to the final weeks leading up to his demise. Often too episodic, the film eventually drifts towards a prolonged and self-indulgent, albeit moving, climax.
   The motif of beginning a film with the protagonist's death and then reconstructing the run-up to the event in flashback has pros and cons. The trope is familiar enough for the viewer to realise that the dreamy sequence of images at the film's beginning will approximate to the character's final, conscious moments at the end, just as in Carlito's Way. That film, however, boasted starry central turns by Al Pacino and Sean Penn, whilst Ivans xtc struggles with a cast of virtual unknowns, supplemented by strange C-list cameos such as Tiffani-Amber Thiessen's appearance as the starlet Marie Stein, and Valeria Golino's two-minute scene as an ageing lesbian actress.
   Oddly for a film that satirises the empty glitz of Hollywood life so ruthlessly, production standards are very low. The sound quality is frustratingly poor throughout, often obstructing enjoyment of the dialogue. Filmed on high-resolution video, the direction and camerawork communicates little beyond the fact that the film was made with budgetary constraints in mind. Very much an art house movie, the nature of the film ensures that set-pieces such as wild party scenes and film premieres work nowhere near as well as the intimate settings of home, office and doctor's surgery.
   Ivans xtc confronts death in an admirably unflinching way, and the gory portrayal of lung cancer will leave viewers pushing their cigarettes away from them at least until the end credits roll. The sporadic compassion of strangers and the callousness of friends are offered up as the Hollywood norm in a plausibly gloomy manner. Ivan's secrecy concerning his terminal cancer is explained by the all-too convincing alienation he exhibits from those around him: family, friends, and most of all, his vapid coke-addicted girlfriend, Charlotte. She is played by Lisa Enos, who also helped to write and produce the film. The emptiness of Ivan's life in the fast lane is encapsulated by his final ambition: to try heroin. Though thought provoking and darkly comic, this film's legacy is the same as its hero's: a lingering sense of frustrated dissatisfaction.
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