Filmmaker Curtis Hanson has died at the age of 71.
A few months ago, I started wondering what ever happened to Curtis Hanson. The man had directed an important film in my life, Wonder Boys, a film that in many ways pointed me certain directions in my life. He’d been nominated for Best Director in the terrific LA Confidential and won the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay. He squeezed blood out of a stone, somehow directing Eminem to a solid performance in the still pretty great 8 Mile. But I hadn’t heard from him in a while, ad I was hoping he had something in the works.
I checked IMDb, and saw that he had directed Chasing Mavericks in 2012. Shit happens. Too Big To Fail for television in 2011… the decent Lucky You in 2007… but he had pretty much disappeared. Little did I know, until I looked him up one afternoon, that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimers, the disease which ultimately took his life today in his Los Angeles home. That sucks.
Any director with the trifecta of Wonder Boys, LA Confidential, and 8 Mile to their credit is worthy of great praise. LA Confidential, any other year and not up against Titanic, would have won Best Picture. But, hey, we know those don’t really matter (plus… I mean… we know which movie has aged better). 8 Mile was that pop culture sensation that seemingly brought Hanson’s name into entirely new circles. And Wonder Boys is my favorite of his, one of my favorite films of the 21st century, and one of the three finest performances in Michael Douglas’s career. It made me want to major in English.
But back up a little more and you’ll see Curtis Hanson, born in Reno, Nevada, son of a schoolteacher father, who began his career directing small thrillers and B pictures, had another pretty interesting trifecta. This time, it was a trio of commercially successful, popcorn thrillers.
It began with psychopath Rob Lowe defending milquetoast pushover James Spader in the delightfully seedy Bad Influence. From there, Hanson put his own stamp on the blooming Yuppie Thriller – introduced to us in 1987 with Fatal Attraction – with one seriously screwed up nanny in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Rebecca De Mornay plays the nutso looking to shoehorn her way into the lives of an unsuspecting family. In the midst of so many of these Yuppie Thrillers, Hanson’s stood out for it’s texture and a perfect sense of unease from the very beginning. There was no buildup here, only fist clenching.
Then came The River Wild, a whitewater adventure with the unlikely Meryl Streep as the hero of an action film Streep is terrific, and with Kevin Bacon as an adversary, this river chase film was a solid hit for Hanson and probably opened the door for him to tackle a prestige picture like LA Confidential. He may have never had that auteur style cinephiles so eagerly desire, but he knew where the humanity lay in each of his characters and his stories, and he was able to tap into that humanity as well as just about anyone.
And now, here we are, and Curtis Hanson is no longer with us. He made his mark, and he mattered in cinema.
2016 continues it’s heartless assault on people important in our pop culture lives. And we still have this election to look forward to.
R.I.P., Mr. Hanson.