The Good, The Bad and The Badass: Michael Douglas
I've always been a huge Michael Douglas fan. Having been born in '81, I've been alive less time than Douglas has been a star. Over a career that launched with the TV show The Streets of San Francisco, Douglas – whose father Kirk is another Hollywood legend – has put out so many good movies that choosing only ten for my list below was really tough. And that's only counting the movies he's acted in, as Douglas is also an incredibly prolific producer, having gotten films like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, STARMAN, FACE/OFF and many others made.
As a leading man, Douglas has done it all. He's proven himself as an action hero (BLACK RAIN), a romantic lead (ROMANCING THE STONE/THE JEWEL OF THE NILE), a hardcore dramatic actor (WALL STREET, TRAFFIC), the go-to guy for thrillers as a tortured hero (BASIC INSTINCT, THE GAME), victim (FATAL ATTRACTION) and bad guy (A PERFECT MURDER), and even the occasional comic lead (THE WAR OF THE ROSES, WONDER BOYS, THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT). Truly he's done it all and then some.
Obviously, most would say WALL STREET is Michael Douglas' best film, and I'm inclined to agree. But, I can't help but put ROMANCING THE STONE down as his best movie for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it's one heck of an action/comedy/romance, with Douglas pitch-perfect as a scoundrel soldier-of-fortune who romances Kathleen Turner's naive romance novelist. Turner and Douglas had white-hot chemistry (although ladies-man Douglas always made sparks with his leading ladies) but the beauty of Douglas' performance is that you're never sure that his Jack Colton is a good guy until the very end, as he spends much of the film trying to fool Turner into guiding him to a precious emerald that will make him rich. As a child, I watched this and the sequel THE JEWEL OF THE NILE over-and-over again, and outside of the INDIANA JONES trilogy and some golden age Hollywood classics, for me this ranks as one of the greatest adventure films of all-time, making director Robert Zemeckis an A-lister overnight. Sadly, the writer – Diane Thomas – whose screenplay deserves a lot of credit, was killed in an accident shortly after the film was completed. As such, she didn't work on JEWEL and while it's still a fun movie, it lacks the sense of humor the first one had,. However, I'll maintain that it has one of the greatest sequel premises ever, asking the question “what happens to our heroes after the happily-ever-after fade-out?” I still wish they'd do a third installment, although it seems that ship has sailed. Him and Turner did team-up again (with co-star Danny DeVito once again in tow and directing to boot) in THE WAR OF THE ROSES. Oh boy, I can't tell you how much that movie confused me as a seven-year-old.
Honestly, I could do a weekly column called “The Underrated Films of Michael Douglas” and it would still take me months to list off all the solid movies he's done that people don't give enough credit to. Here I'm just going to write about a few. The first is an oldie but a goodie called THE STAR CHAMBER. This came out the year before ROMANCING THE STONE turned Douglas into a bona-fide star, and it's kind of sunk into obscurity. My father was always a big fan of this one so I saw it at an early age. Douglas plays a young judge who – after being forced to acquit two particularly nasty baddies– joins a vigilante group of judges, who hold top-secret mock trials and routinely murder the criminals they've been forced to set free on a technicality. I'm not usually one to advocate remakes, but THE STAR CHAMBER has such a killer premise that I'm amazed no one's tried to re-do it (although it almost got turned into a TV series a few years ago).
Next up is a favorite of many of ours here at JoBlo.com – Ridley Scott's BLACK RAIN. Douglas was never tougher than he was as semi-crooked cop Nick Conklin, who finds himself hunting a killer in Japan. Teamed-up with Andy Garcia and Japanese legend Ken Takakura, Douglas is in full-on action hero mode, whether shooting it out in Scott's futuristic looking version of Japan, chasing bad guys on motorcycles, or duking it out mano-a-mano with the crazy baddie. This is such a tight movie, with a great score by Hans Zimmer, and some wicked set-pieces including a crazy scene where Andy Garcia winds up (literally) losing his head. It's unforgettable.
Last but not least is THE GHOST & THE DARKNESS. This wound-up getting panned by both critics and screenwriter William Goldman, but I'll say this – seeing this in the theater was one of the most memorable movie-going experiences I've ever had. I'll never forget how scary the sound mix for this was as Douglas (as a mysterious hunter) and Val Kilmer (slightly miscast as an Irishman) hunt two man-eating lions in the late nineteen century African bush. If you've never had the chance to see this, it's readily available on Netflix. Just make sure to turn off all the lights and crank the volume on your sound system.
FATAL ATTRACTION was a smash-hit upon its release, and many consider it to be a classic. I've never felt that it deserved to be held up to such acclaim. While Glenn Close is brilliant in it as Douglas' unhinged fling, it's bizarrely sexist film thanks mostly to studio re-tooling that changed Adrian Lyne's dark erotic drama into a thriller, with an action movie ending that lets Douglas' icky yuppie hero off far too easily. That said, it did serve as a precursor to Douglas' truly great erotic thriller, the amazing BASIC INSTINCT, which remains one of the hottest movies ever to emerge from mainstream Hollywood.
While ROMANCING THE STONE is my favorite of his movies, it can't be denied that Douglas will always be remembered for playing Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's WALL STREET. While I think they made a huge mistake doing a sequel (which tried to humanize Gekko), the original is an all out masterpiece, and Douglas' as Gekko remains the de-facto icon of eighties greed. His “greed is good” speech is one of the most widely quoted film sequences ever and it's not hard to see why Douglas won his only acting Oscar (although he won for producing CUCKOO) for it.
Like I wrote above, Michael Douglas is showing no signs of slowing down. His latest film, BEYOND THE REACH, is available now on VOD, while this summer he follows in Robert Redford's footsteps by dipping his toe into the superhero arena with Marvel's ANT-MAN.