The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Albert Brooks

Last week, we took a look at the career of underrated leading man Sam Neill. This week's subject is one who, at first glance, may seem like an unlikely choice for a bad-ass – but certainly fits into that category...
Albert Brooks
albert brooks drive

Alright folks, let's get one thing straight. Albert Brooks was a bad-ass long before Nicolas Winding Refn decided to cast him in DRIVE. While he may not have ever jammed a fork in someone's eye on-screen before Refn had a go at him, throughout his long career Brooks has been a force to be reckoned with. As a writer-director of his own big-screen vehicles, Brooks has often been called a West Coast Woody Allen. Born Albert Einstein (Bob Einstein- aka Super Dave Osborne is his brother), Brooks started as a stand-up before parlaying that success into some work-for-hire as an actor – notably as the cynical campaign office manager in TAXI DRIVER – and as writer-director of pre-filmed segments during the first season of Saturday Night Live.

albert brooks broadcast news

From there, Brooks went on to write-direct and star in his first feature, the pioneering mockumentary REAL LIFE, which led to a whole slew of relationship comedies including MODERN ROMANCE, the classic Yuppie satire LOST IN AMERICA, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, MOTHER, THE MUSE and more. He also remained much in-demand as an actor, notably for director James L. Brooks, with him starring opposite William Hurt and Holly Hunter in the classic BROADCAST NEWS, as well as the less-successful I'LL DO ANYTHING, which was originally a musical with songs by Prince – only to have all the music cut at the eleventh hour. Around the mid-nineties, Brooks also became much in-demand as a voice over artist, often putting in guest spots on The Simpsons (most famously as Homer's Bond-villain boss Hank Scorpio) before hitting pay-dirt with Pixar's FINDING NEMO, and this week's sequel FINDING DORY.

albert brooks drive

While all that would have been enough to make him a legendary figure, Brooks has totally reinvented himself in recent years as a character actor, often taking on serious, non-comedic roles. It began with his part in 1998’s OUT OF SIGHT, but DRIVE seemed to mark a stark departure in the kind of roles he found himself in-demand for. Since then, he’s also done rock-solid work as Oscar Isaac's lawyer in A MOST VIOLENT YEAR and recently stole scenes as Will Smith's boss in CONCUSSION.

His Best Work
albert brooks julie hagerty lost in america

While BROADCAST NEWS is probably the best movie Brooks has starred-in (TAXI DRIVER isn’t being considered here as it’s a very small part), as a writer-director-actor, his masterpiece, for me, remains LOST IN AMERICA. I actually only saw this one for the first time a few years ago, when Drew Barrymore picked it as one of her “Essentials” while she was guest-hosting on TCM. In it, Brooks plays a bored Yuppie who, along with his wife (played by the great Julie Hagerty) decides to chuck his six-figure job, buy a motor-home, and live a life on the open road, a la EASY RIDER. One quick stopover in Vegas, where the wife liquidates their nest-egg at the crap tables, is all it takes for this eighties fantasy to turn into a comic nightmare. The bit where Brooks tries to convince Garry Marshall's casino manager to give all their money back is a classic (“you can just give it back!”).

His Most Overrated Work
eddie murphy albert brooks dr doolittle

This is an impossible category for Brooks. While he's had a few flops, Brooks's movies have always been more traditionally underrated than overrated. I guess the only thing I can list here is his paycheck part as Jacob the depressed tiger in the abysmal Eddie Murphy remake, DR. DOOLITLE, which, shockingly, made so much money is spawned a sequel. Luckily, Brooks sat that one out.

His Most Underrated Film
meryl streep albert brooks defending your life

One of my favorite Brooks movies is DEFENDING YOUR LIFE. A staple of pay-TV during my childhood, in this one he stars as another mild-mannered yuppie, who after dying in a car accident, finds himself on trial for the privilege to move on-to another plane of existence in this place called Judgment City, where he falls in love with Meryl Streep, who plays a woman in the midst of very different experience. A classic opposites-attract situation, Brooks and Streep have remarkably good chemistry and that, paired with a superb supporting cast (it has Rip Torn at his best), a terrific premise, a good score and a deft mix of comedy and pathos make this one a neglected classic.

His Best Scene

I must admit that Brooks's part in BROADCAST NEWS hits pretty close to home for me. When not writing for JoBlo.com, I work in the anglophone Montreal media, primarily behind-the-scenes in radio copy-writing, but also occasionally on-air. I've done it all, from anchoring to news and traffic, and I often do live TV hits where I talk – mostly – film, in addition to my junket-work for JoBlo. This all relates to BROADCAST NEWS because the first time I ever had to do a live TV hit, in a clip that's mercifully never found its way online, I did pretty much what Brooks does here, which was break-out into uncontrollable sweats and stammering. Luckily, my predicament cleared-up really fast once I took a deep breath, but what's depicted here by Brooks is the stuff of nightmares for anyone who's ever done a live TV hit.


His Five Best Films


Up Next

Always a busy guy, Brooks, in addition to this week's FINDING DORY, has another lucrative voice gig coming up in this summer's animated THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. He also still turns-up on The Simpsons from time-to-time and recently wrote a novel, “2030”. While he seems to be more focused on straight acting/voice gigs, I'd love to see him take another stab at writing-directing. Anyone who follows his Twitter feed can tell you Brooks has a smart take on virtually any subject under-the-sun, and another well-written satire would be most-welcome.

Source: JoBlo.com



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