By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 30, 2012 at 1:08PM
Cannes can have a huge impact on careers--as the world media watches. That walk up the red carpet can be dazzling for talent, but boos and reviews can be deadly, too. Ask Lee Daniels, who had to pull out the race card to explain the devastating pans for "The Paperboy," which Avi Lerner's Millennium may wind up releasing itself.
Cannes 2012 also highlighted the brutal truth faced by Hollywood talent these days. Actors are on their own if they want to carve out a real career. They can't rely on the studios to supply them with decent roles to showcase their skills. No, they have to pick and choose indie projects--often assembled by agencies such as CAA-- for little pay. "These are what you call art films," Murray memorably quipped at the "Moonrise Kingdom" press conference. "All we get is a trip to Cannes." Yet Murray and the rest of Wes Anderson's goofy ensemble came out ahead by taking that deal.
But do these actors have any choice? Their names can get better mid-budget dramas financed, the kind that can win Oscars. But often without strong producers steering the ship, indie projects get lost in the weeds. "The Paperboy" is a classic case of a follow-up to a major Oscar-winning hit ("Precious") that pushed everyone to take a risk. That didn't pay off.
So who came out ahead? And who wishes they hadn't showed up?
Brad Pitt: He may be seeking an Oscar, but Weinstein Co's hardboiled gangster flick "Killing Them Softly" is no "The Tree of Life" or "Moneyball." The star is true-blue loyal to Down Under director Andrew Dominik ("The Assassination of Jesse James"), but watching Pitt maneuver the tricky politics of the "Killing Them Softly" Cannes press conference was painful. On the one hand he didn't want to espouse the cynical "America isn't a country, it's a business" politics of the film, and admitted that he was proud of his country while still a Left-leaning Liberal. On the other, he said he admired Thomas Jefferson as a thinker and architect, who the film dumps on for owning slaves. Roger Ebert's wife Chaz then challenged Pitt as to whether he admired the architecture of Jefferson's slave quarters? Pitt dodged the question by saying that he followed the script, and later went out of his way to say that while he had no trouble playing a gangster assassin in this film, he might have trouble playing a racist. Not one of Pitt's better days--but more people will remember images of Pitt waving from the Palais steps and his quote about no set date for his and Angelina Jolie's marriage than anything else.
At the top of the Hollywood food chain, Pitt has many other fish to fry: he stars in Marc Forster's zombie epic "World War Z" (June 2013), and the currently-filming third feature from Steve McQueen ("Twelve Years a Slave," opposite Michael Fassbender), is more likely to provide him an Oscar vehicle.
Mads Mikkelsen: The Danish star of "After the Wedding," "Casino Royale" and "Valhalla Rising" won the Best Actor prize for Thomas Vinterberg's "The Hunt." He plays a sad-sack divorced kindergarten teacher who is accused of pedophilia and suffers the tortures of losing his friends and being shunned by his community. Mikkelsen is sensitive and brilliant as a passive decent reactive man who is forced to fight back--and become a man. Remember that awful "Clash of the Titans"? Mikkelsen was one of the few actors who emerged unscathed. He's high-cheek-boned and gorgeous, has an action star's physique, can be dangerous, sexy or vulnerable. More roles will come to him now: he can do anything, villain, lover or hero--even if this movie, which appears on the surface to be a movie-of-the-week but delves into much more unsettling issues about witch hunts, friendship and loyalty-- disappears stateside. Not if Magnolia can help it; the distributor grabbed the movie after his win.
Nicole Kidman: While Lee Daniels' low-budget "The Paperboy" did not play as well as the actress might have hoped, she delivers a memorable turn as a boldy sexual woman infatuated with incarcerated killer John Cusack (also chillingly excellent). Daniels draws great performances out of his actors, that's not the issue--but the movie itself is as chaotic and messy as its swampy setting. Daniels added homosexuality to McConnaughey's character, turns the housekeeper (Macy Gray) into the narrator, and cast David Oyelowo as a fish-out-of-water journalist who was written in the original novel as white. At the press conference Kidman admitted that when she commits to a role she goes all the way, and in this case stayed in character on set. She created her own hair and makeup and assembled her provocative wardrobe out of her own closet. She's a trooper.
But while Kidman looked classy and glam on the red carpet, the film did not serve to counteract such recent duds as "Just Go With It" and "Trespass." She fared better in her second Cannes film, Philip Kaufman's HBO biopic "Hemingway & Gellhorn," opposite Clive Owen. And still to come is the role of Grace Kelly in Olivier Dahan's "Grace of Monaco."
Matthew McConaughey: On the comeback trail after William Friedkin's "Killer Joe" (SXSW), Richard Linklater's "Bernie" and "The Lincoln Lawyer," McConnaughey's two films playing Cannes--Daniels' "The Paperboy" and Jeff Nichols' "Mud"--proved to be let-downs for most critics, although he emerged unscathed. Next up is Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" (June 29) and a cable series with chum Woody Harrelson. At least McConnaughey has drunk the indie Kool-Aid and turned skeptical about studio fare.
Zac Efron: "The Paperboy" did not do much to help Efron, 24, shed his light pretty boy image, as openly gay Daniels lavished long lingering shots on his often naked physique. Still to come is Josh Radnor's Sundance pick-up "Liberal Arts," in which he stars with Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney.
Tom Hardy: While "Warrior" proved that Hardy ("Bronson," "Inception," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") is not yet a marquee draw, the resourceful Brit's time will come. He dominates John Hillcoat and Nick Cave's southern gothic "Lawless" as a ruthless and powerful Prohibition era rural Virginia bootlegger who looks out for his family and their moonshine business and yet is utterly incapable of dealing with a powerful city woman (Jessica Chastain) who applies for a job at his tavern. While he was inarticulate at the press conference, doing press at Cannes boosted both his and the film's international profile. (When I turned up at the press suite at the Martinez, he ran over and gave me a bear hug. Could have knocked me over. I wasn't even interviewing him! I had to settle for Hillcoat and Cave.)