The Guys
review by Nicholas Schager, 4 April 2003

Theater director Jim Simpson takes very few risks in his cinematic adaptation of The Guys, Anne Nelsonís celebrated two-person play about a journalist helping a NYC fire captain write eulogies for the men he lost in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and the film suffers as a result of his caution. Shot with a detached, economical precision that infuses the drama with an awkward tentativeness, the film, more often than not, feels unsure of how to confront its subject matter. One can sense Simpsonís hesitation to plunge headfirst into examining the damaged psyche of Nick, a captain wracked by survivorís guilt, and his unlikely partner Joan, a writer whose time with the firefighter allows her to confront her own feelings of powerlessness and despair. Simpson packs his film with unspectacular close-ups and two-shots set in the kitchen and living room of Joanís perfectly-maintained Upper West Side apartment; his camera, instead of intimately probing his charactersí rage, frustration, and misery, remains nothing more than a passive observer. With the exception of a few poignant excursions out onto the bloodied and battered streets of New York City, this leaden visual storytelling winds up simply revealing The Guysí theatrical origins.

Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia star as Joan and Nick, and these veteran performers -- who spent considerable time last year portraying these characters on the stage -- bring a lived-in familiarity to the roles. Weaverís Joan is a successful journalist who, in her youthful days, spent time in Latin American reporting on the most dangerous revolutionary events she could find. Now living a safe, quiet life ensconced in her affluent Manhattan abode with her husband and two children, Joan no longer feels intimately connected to the material she writes about on her word processor. When a friend asks her to help Nick construct his tributes, itís as though Joan has discovered a way to become emotionally involved in the story that every New Yorker -- just by reporting their safety to loved ones, friends, and colleagues -- has been forced to accept as their own.

Arriving at Joanís apartment, Nick is devastated. His slumped body language, warily jumpy eyes, and curt, slightly wavering speech reflect a man whose life has been stripped bare. Eight men under his command were lost on that fateful day, but Nick canít seem to get any of his memories out on paper. What he does know is that his fallen comrades were just regular guys doing their duty the best they knew how, rather than the saintly heroes that he hears about on television. Nick is determined to speak about the men he knew -- the rookie only a few weeks on the job, the commanding senior officer everyone looked up to, the wisecracking comedian, and the inspirational leader who was his best friend -- without overblown proclamations about their noble sacrifice.

The Guys can hardly be faulted for its decision to confront 9/11 on an individual, rather than a sweeping historical, scale. But once the filmís predictable pattern has been established -- Nick reluctantly begins remembering one of his colleagues, Joan coaxes more information out of him about each guy, Joan types up the eulogy and Nick reads it aloud, and then Joan tries to sort through her thoughts about 9/11 at her laptop before the cycle begins anew -- Simpson and Nelsonís tidy screenplay begins to lose a much-needed sense of urgency and surprise. The repetitiveness of this structure doesnít completely hinder our ability to sympathize with Nick (only a callous soul could feel no sorrow while watching him struggle through this torturous process) but it does sabotage any dramatic momentum the film might have. Rather than building toward a revelatory climax, the film merely duplicates itself by recounting further stories of lives cut tragically short.

Not to say that the filmís narrative monotony isnít occasionally interrupted by images and scenes of tender, insightful grace. As Joan sits at her computer trying to make sense of the attacks (words being the only tool she has at her disposal), we hear her thoughts in voice-over as her prose -- white letters against a black background -- literally appears on screen. This blunt presentation of her thoughts ("Are you OK?" "When do we go back to normal?" "I know you absorb some of the toxins listening to the pain") not only conveys the rawness and desperation of Joanís laments, but also compels the audience to examine their own feelings of guilt, loss, and anger. Joan and Nick are searching for a "reason" that so many lives were lost in 9/11ís sudden flash of light, fire, and rubble, and the appearance of Joanís words implicates us in this pursuit for answers.

Of course, there are no easy answers, and The Guys wisely doesnít try to posit any. At one point in their talks, Nick reveals that he has spent years learning to dance. Before we know it, heís holding Joan in his arms, guiding her through a tender tango around the living room. The scene, as Joan quickly reveals to us, never happened except in her mindís eye. But what this imaginative diversion represents is something The Guys all too frequently tells, rather than shows, its audience: how two people from different worlds can discover common ground, and survive by finding a sturdy shoulder to lean on.

Directed by:
Jim Simpson

Sigourney Weaver
Anthony La Paglia
Irene Walsh
Jim Simpson

Written by:
Anne Nelson

PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate
for children.






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