review by Gregory Avery, 16 August 2002

As Ivan Beckman, an agent in a high-powered Los Angeles talent agency, Danny Huston, at one point in ivans xtc., does this wonderful, hop-skip dance through the offices where he works, after having gotten an important Hollywood star to sign with his agency in order to make a movie of a screenplay that everyone -- everyone who has read it -- says is awful, or worse. Ivan has been telling everyone the exact opposite -- it's possible he hasn't even read the thing at all, and it's probably a good thing that he hasn't or else he'd never be able to sell the thing. Rather, it's all about getting the star to sign to make the movie -- what isn't on the page, Ivan tells his girlfriend (who's read the screenplay, and says it's awful, too) will end up on the screen. Or so he's led himself to believe. No wonder some people in Hollywood are said to have become peeved towards ivans xtc. It shows how the agents have taken over the asylum and sucked all the quality and integrity right out of commercial cinema, so that it is all about power and the making and execution of deals rather than about storytelling or making something that has enough legitimacy for people to expend the effort to watch it.

The star, Don West, is played by Peter Weller as someone who has totally succumbed to this delusional and superficial way of living, and he helps to bring a darkly comedic quality to the first half of the picture. Don proudly tells people that his wife, Yolanda, and kids are completely out and away from the industry life; the next, he's snorting cocaine off the extended, bare leg of the girl whom he's going to a movie premiere with. Don's world has been reduced to movies, drugs, sex, fame, and firearms -- he impresses people with what his bodyguard is packing -- and Weller plays him as a jolly jester who doesn't even know that he's way gone 'round the bend. He doesn't seem to know what's real from one moment to the next, but that doesn't make him any less powerful or a "star".

Ivan's been living unrealistically, too -- he's ignored all the warning signs until, one day, he gets a call from his doctor asking him to come in for a consultation, and to "bring a friend". The intimation is immediately sobering for Ivan, even more so because he can't find someone to go with him (even flirting with the possibility of asking his secretary to go). ivans xtc. is based on a Leo Tolstoy novella, The Death of Ivan Illyich, written by Tolstoy after he had gone through a conversion late in his life and fully embraced a pure, aesthetic form of spiritual faith, and the film has evoked the present-day Hollywood milieu not so that it can go trawling for the purposes of rubbernecking over drug-fueled parties stocked with tanned, pneumatically beautiful girls who will do "anything". It's as aggrandizing and self-contained a world as the aristocracy must have been at the time Tolstoy wrote his story. The movie tips us off at the start that Ivan's death amounts to precious little among his colleagues and alleged friends when it occurs -- at his agency, there's a moment of silence, then "damage control", and his associates quickly turn to bickering over deals that are unraveling.

Danny Huston (son of the director John Huston, and a filmmaker in his own right), who gives a brilliant, cut-to-the-quick performance, plays Ivan with rounded, oracular tones, and puts forward how Ivan has not lost the ability to have, to want, true experience, whether it's how the wind passes over his hand while he's driving, the moment before he savors the first, crisp taste of a freshly-made martini, or the beautiful halo that has formed around a full moon in a nigh sky. The film itself was made using High Definition Digital video equipment, which allowed the filmmakers to work very fast (and to maintain a high amount of control over their project), and the results have a "floatey" quality which at times looks as if the people and events were moving through an aquarium. This actually works in favor of the film overall, since the opening images (and I wonder if some of these images, with their particular quality, could have been caught on conventional celluloid) set the stage for a story that appears to be taking place in a luxuriant purgatory (one of the reasons I have not settled permanently in the Los Angeles area).

The film closes on a profoundly moving note which stresses the need, the importance, for having true human contact -- after much suffering, Ivan receives the one genuine thing that he needs to put everything into perspective and to also become free. Bernard Rose, the UK director who made ivans xtc., and Lisa Enos, who produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay, have not forgotten to leave out the human element. It makes this feel like the type of movie that the people in the movie would be incapable of making, but which is exactly the type of movie which needs to exist.

Directed by:
Bernard Rose

Danny Huston
Lisa Enos
Adam Krentzman
Morgan Vukovic
Joanne Duckman
Peter Weller

Written by:
Bernard Rose 
Lisa Enos

NR - Not Rated
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