Dir: Jim Simpson. US. 2002. 98mins.
The film version of Anne Nelson's stage play The Guys took less than a year to reach the screen, but it already feels dated. No more than a dialogue between a fire captain who has lost eight of his men in the attacks on the World Trade Centre on Sept 11, 2001, and a journalist who helps him write their eulogies, The Guys was an historic stage event put together by the Flea Theatre which is located seven blocks away from Ground Zero. Sigourney Weaver - wife of the Flea's artistic director Simpson - and Bill Murray took to the stage under Simpson's direction on Dec 4, 2001, and the play has continued to run in New York since with actors such as Anthony LaPaglia, Susan Sarandon, Swoosie Kurtz, Amy Irving and Carol Kane in the leads. It also travelled to Dublin (Sarandon and Tim Robbins) and Los Angeles (Helen Hunt and Robbins).
Over a year later, the overwhelming grief experienced so acutely by Americans at that time is felt less keenly and has been replaced by a permanent sense of damage done, resilience and discomfort at the arrival of terrorist acts on US soil. Will they want to see a movie which relives the first days of shock and despair after Sept 11' More likely than hardened international audiences, for sure, who will wince at the earnest dialogue and unapologetic sentimentality on show here. But even well-intentioned Americans will struggle with the stagey, maudlin solemnity of the piece. Destined to be a novelty item on the world's specialised movie screens, The Guys will draw the curious few (it opens in the US on Dec 13 for a one-week Academy run), but most adult audiences will flock instead to truly cinematic period pieces like The Hours or The Pianist.
Chamber piece plays are always hard to open out onto the big screen and rarely do big business - witness the modest box office performance in recent years of starry adaptations of Death And The Maiden, Hurlyburly, Simpatico or The Big Kahuna. The Guys is particularly stage-bound, taking place virtually all in one room with just two actors. That those actors are the always excellent Weaver and the electrifying LaPaglia goes some way to compensate for the no-frills format of the film.
Indeed there's very little set-up before the central conversations begin. The high-brow journalist Joan (Weaver) is struggling to come to terms with the attacks on New York when she volunteers to help the fire captain Nick (LaPaglia), a down-to-earth man who needs help in composing eulogies for his lost men. As the two go through the process of writing portraits of the men, the human face of the tragedy becomes stunningly clear.
World premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept 11 this year, The Guys should in reality have remained a stage phenomenon. While Weaver and LaPaglia practice as much restraint as director Simpson can muster, the raw emotion which feels so searing in a live theatre is rendered glib on a big screen. The film would sit better on a small screen where, courtesy of HBO, plays such as Wit, Angels In America and The Laramie Project have recently found their home.
Prod cos: Open City Films, ContentFilm
Worldwide dist: Focus Features
Exec prods: Edward R Pressman, John Schmidt, Bonnie Timmermann
Prods: Jason Kliot, Joana Vicente
Scr: Anne Nelson & Jim Simpson, based on Nelson's play
Cinematography: Maryse Alberti
Prod des: Susan Block
Ed: Sarah Flack
Music: Ron Carter
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Anthony LaPaglia