Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer
Who Is Gregory Hoblit?
“McKee says we all have to realize we write in a genre, so we must find originality within that genre. Did you know that there hasn't been a new genre since Fellini invented the mockumentary…? My genre's thriller, what's yours?”
Genre is a slippery slope, especially regarding film, actors, and books. Anything or anyone can be wrongly assigned a genre and linger there for the rest of time, while other work can transcend genre and amaze us all. Likewise, directors get stuck into one genre constantly. Just ask Kevin Smith or the recently fucked Kurt Wimmer.
Lots of so-called genre directors escape the public eye. It’s a given that only a few dozen can ever become well known, and fewer still reach a level of notoriety like a Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, or Tarantino. Some directors are just content to keep plying their trade and doing what works for them.
This latter group of bullhorners contains some of the finest minds working today. Richard Linklater, for one, is a virtual unknown outside of geeky movie sites. The same goes for Frank Oz, The Hughes Brothers, Lasse Hallstrom, and Greg Hoblit, the subject of this article.
Well obscurity be damned! I refuse to allow this man to linger in the shadows any longer. Greg has a weird name, yes, but it sounds kinda like hobbit, so I’m sure we can work with it.
Chances are, most people have seen one of his films and enjoyed the hell out of it. Still better are the odds that someone has watched his shows. He cut his teeth on Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue in the 80’s and 90’s before totally nailing his feature film debut, Primal Fear.
Can anyone say they didn’t enjoy that film? It’s Edward Norton’s original acting debut—and what a debut! He was nominated for Oscar and has been dazzling screens ever since as a sort of cynical everyman to the Matt Damons of the world. In Primal Fear, Norton absolutely carries the film, but Hoblit gave him his start.
Primal Fear is not your run-of-the-mill thriller. Sure, Richard Gere is a dripping pussy, but his persona tends to mesh well with his character, a slimy defense attorney. The storyline flows simply enough. A priest was murdered by Norton’s character, which no one is disputing, until Norton’s split personality “surfaces”, compelling Gere to seek a Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity plea.
Anyone could direct that plot; that is, assuming it didn’t have a delicious series of twists tugging at its core. Twists screw up a director’s ability to create a convincing film. There’s too much to consider, too many variables that threaten legitimacy. Just ask M. Night Shyamalamadingdong. Signs and The Village were both relative failures because their twists weren’t very engaging or interesting.
Not so Primal Fear. As layer piles on top of layer, the film picks up its own momentum, successfully masking the big twist regarding Norton. It’s a fascinating mix of true crime, horror, thriller, and suspense, all tied together in some of the more convincing court scenes in recent memory…that is, court scenes involving lots of legal butchery. Regardless, Hoblit proved his chops and went on to make some much-maligned and underappreciated follow-ups: Fallen, Frequency, and Hart’s War.
Fallen isn’t exactly Schindler’s List, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a first-rate thriller that never slackens its pace or reveals all of its secrets too soon. Of the dozens of Denzel Washington thriller vehicles to come out over the years, Fallen stands above them all as the only tolerable cop flick he’s ever done, Training Day excluded, of course.
Frequency, meanwhile, needs no support from this writer. With a very respectable 7.3 on imdb.com, the movie clearly found an audience. It tells the tale of a man who uses an old CB radio to miraculously communicate through time with his dead father. He manages to prevent a murder, but subsequently screws with the future. Like a serious Back to the Future, Frequency operates on multiple levels and once again provides the same tension as Hoblit’s other work. It represents the third attempt by this man to somehow raise the thriller genre above the blasé industry output and into the realm of "film."
Shifting gears slightly, Hart’s War offers a racially provocative WWII film with serious star power in the lineup, including Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Terence Howard, and Adrian Grenier. It’s been called the poor man’s A Few Good Men, but I think a more apt description would be the indie kid’s Amistad. Either way, Hart’s War is worth a look, if for no other reason than to see some current stars in different roles and for a glimpse of Hoblit’s true talents as a director. His work is slower, more methodical, and deliberate here, as he drops the thriller shtick in favor of a more adult affair.
So where is all this leading? Why am I wasting my precious time writing about an obscure Hollywood director with fairly underwhelming movies on his résumé? The reason is this: culmination. One man can only languish in obscurity so long without finally making the one film that will put them on the map.
Fracture, another thriller much in the same vein as Eye for an Eye or A Time to Kill, will be released later this year or early in 2007. It stars Ryan Gosling, Anthony Hopkins, and David Strathairn (fresh off an Oscar nod). I, for one, predict that it will be yet another taught, exciting, and possibly acclaimed film. Yes, I know this guy’s work is on the popcorn side of things, and I also know that he’s not exactly an auteur in the sense that Wes Anderson is an auteur, but damn it, sometimes I like to watch car chases and feel a little scared instead of falling asleep during films like Love Liza or whatever else is playing at the indieplex downtown. If you’re like me, you’ll definitely want to review Primal Fear or any of the other films I’ve mentioned and see Fracture when it comes out. Hoblit knows what he’s doing and deserves some advance recognition.