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The Films Of Bill Murray: A Retrospective

The Playlist By The Playlist | The Playlist July 3, 2010 at 6:14AM

Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola, Tim Burton — those are the names that have guided Bill Murray through phase two of the actor's long career and it's often easy to forget that this is guy who shot to fame going full retard in "Caddyshack." Truthfully, Murray's career from day one has been wildly varied as the actor/comedian tends to follow his whims rather than any prevailing Hollywood tides and trends. Following "Ghostbusters" he did a 180 and tried to dive deep into a dramatic role in "The Razor's Edge"; after earning wide acclaim for his turn in "Lost In Translation" he voiced the titular "Garfield"; following "Rushmore" he tried his hand at "Hamlet" and then went the tentpole route with "Charlie's Angels."
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"Charlie's Angels" (2000)
Yeah, you know what, who cares about this boring “girl power” tentpole other than it provides some great Bill Murray anecdote fodder. Not one to suffer fools gladly, and possessing a short fuse for stupidity and incompetence, it was probably only a matter of time before Murray lost his shit on somebody while filming “Charlie’s Angels.” Directed by McG (who seems to excel at getting the worst out of whoever he works with) the film starred Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu as the titular crew of crimefighters. But it was the latter who couldn’t defeat the most egregious crime of all: bad acting. Murray singled out Liu and lambasted the “actress” for her lack of chops, and the ensuing argument got so heated that filming had to be shut down for the day (and McG says Murray also headbutted him on-set). Needless to say, Murray and Liu are done. Professionally. And while the film marks one of the most faceless and boring of Murray's paycheck gigs — really, any marginal comedian could’ve stepped into the thankless role of Bosley (sorry Bernie Mac) — it does provide one important lesson everyone should know: don’t fuck with Bill Murray. [C]

"Lost In Translation" (2003)
Just over 25 years after he made his debut on "Saturday Night Live," Murray finally received his first Oscar nomination. While he may not have taken the loss to Sean Penn gracefully, the nod was more than well-deserved. Director Sofia Coppola wrote the role of an action movie star in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial, who begins a friendship with a newly-married young woman (Scarlett Johansson), for Murray himself, and he's never been better — rarely is he so sympathetic and soulful. He just about pulls the film's more culturally insensitive moments back from the brink, for one thing, while remaining consistently funny throughout. Most importantly, it's Murray's performance that balances the central relationship out; with another actor in the part, it might have seemed inappropriate, even creepy, but there's a lovely quality to Bob Harris that prevents this — instead, it mostly seems platonic, even paternal, on his side at least. It seemed to mark Murray's entry into the third act of his career, and what an entrance it was. [A]

"Groundhog Day" (1993)
Is it even possible to make a perfect film? Harold Ramis comes very close with "Groundhog Day." Some might argue that it's too sentimental (to which we'd like to introduce you to our friend Frank Capra, who cordially invites you to go fuck yourselves), but really, the film falls down with one terrible central mistake, one that's shared by smart filmmakers from Steven Soderbergh and Peter Weir to Robert Altman and the guy who did "Muppets in Space": the casting of Andie Macdowell. But it's a testament to the greatness of the film that it still ranks as a hall-of-famer despite Macdowell's performance (which to be fair, is probably one of her best). The screenplay is impossibly tight; packed with belly laughs, ingenious, profound and (like "It's A Wonderful Life") surprisingly dark in places. Ramis has never really delivered on the promise of this one as a director, but he does very strong work here, filling the supporting cast with terrific comic actors from Chris Elliot to Steven Tobolowsky, and never letting the pace flag. But really, try to imagine this with Steve Martin, or Tom Hanks (who were both considered), in the lead; it's Murray that makes it soar. The other actors were allegedly ruled out because Ramis considered them "too nice." Murray's at his cynical best in the early scenes, but also manages to sell the character's transformation in a totally believable way. So, not quite perfection, but damn close. [A]

"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004)
Oceanographer Steve Zissou is possibly the darkest of Wes Anderson’s protagonists, and it’s exciting that Murray refuses to color him in or make him too sympathetic. Yes, the character has wonderfully human grace notes, but they are often obscured by the generally ugly, unrepentant side of his personality. Murray’s Zissou is someone who’s likely made strides to become a better person, only to have those attempts met with indifference, anger, or unfortunate bad luck, and with a dead partner, a thwarted romance with Cate Blanchett’s reporter and a botched reunion with a long-lost son, he’s now trying to dedicate himself to no longer making any apologies. A weaker actor would make Zissou into a bully or even a boogeyman, but Murray’s stoicism and defiant “I don’t want you to be in on the joke” attitude belie a very human sense of loss and regret. [B+]

This article is related to: Bill Murray, Retrospective, Features, Feature


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