Make it a Double: LOGAN & SCOOP

Based on audience and critical reaction, Logan has not just redeemed its central character from a pair of previous lackluster solo movie outings, but it has virtually rewritten the comic book movie as well thanks to the strength of its story and director James Mangold’s overall approach.

The film shows Jackman in top form in what will surely remain his most iconic role. The actor has always embodied the character of Wolverine so expertly that it’s oftentimes hard to imagine him as any character that isn’t a variation on the classic comic book mutant. However, Jackman is first and foremost an accomplished actor adept at playing any genre or character thrown his way, even if that character is a suspected serial killer in a Woody Allen comedy called Scoop.

Released in 2006, Scoop Stars Scarlett Johansson as Sondra Pransky, an American journalism student visiting friends in London. When she attends a magic show featuring The Great Splendini/aka Sidney Waterman (Allen), Sondra is pulled up on stage to participate in a disappearing act. During the trick, Sondra is visited by the ghost of the recently-deceased Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), a well-respected newspaper reporter who has gotten a tip from a credible source that well-to-do businessman Peter Lyman (Jackman) is the prostitute-murdering individual known to the police and the public as “The Tarot Card Killer.” Using Joe’s tip, Sondra enlists Sidney’s help in discovering whether the charismatic Peter is really a murderer.

Being an Allen flick, Scoop is loaded with much of that classic Woody dialogue his fans have come to know and love, which the actor/writer/director is quick to spout, regardless of whatever scene he’s in. When asked by a guest at a party Peter is giving what faith Sidney is, he says: “I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism.” Every joke in the film is classic Woody, from Sidney’s argument of not having children because they eventually grow up and “accuse you of having Alzheimer’s,” to the scene where Sondra exclaims: “This guy is a serial killer! He could just kill at any moment,” to which Sidney replies: “Yeah, I heard that part. That’s when I knew I was gonna make other plans.” And yet there are a number of subtle moments where the traditional Allen formula is turned on his head, such as when Sondra spontaneously enlists Sidney’s help on the spot by referring to him as “Dad” in front of Peter. “Dad,” Sidney asks, looking around with a stunned face as Allen finally acknowledges to critics and audiences that he’s accepted the fact that even he thinks he’s too old to be romancing younger leading ladies.

What ultimately makes Scoop so appealing however is that it gives Allen a rare, yet always welcome, chance to delve into the world of magical realism. Each time Allen decides to tell a story grounded in reality, yet infused with an otherworldliness, the results are never anything less than enchanting. Previously lauded Allen efforts like The Purple Rose of Cairo and Alice blended fantasy and reality in the most seamless of ways, all the while touching on themes of desire and destiny. The tone in Scoop is vastly different, yet Allen still treats the surrealist aspects as if they’re just another part of life. It’s for that reason that Sondra and Sidney don’t contact psychics or see a doctor after being visited by Joe. Instead, they embark on a lighthearted mission to capture a serial killer at a dead man’s insistence. While Scoop’s type of magical realism may not be as profound as the previously mentioned films, it still carries with it a delightful, uncomplicated, self-contained whimsy noticeably absent from most 21st century cinema.

Performance-wise, Allen unsurprisingly does Allen, which you either love or you don’t. He manages a great rapport with Johansson and the pair share such an easy, natural chemistry, making for an unconventional buddy team that works from scene to scene. As the film’s leading lady, Johansson avoids falling into the trap of being a re-worked version of Allen and makes Sondra her own creation, exercising a sorely underused comedic talent in the process. Jackman for his part his little to do but come across as charming, yet manages to give off different variations on charming mixed with an accessibility. Finally, McShane may have the film’s most low-key role, yet acquits himself well while turns by Romola Garai as Sondra’s friend and Charles Dance as a newspaper editor help move things along.

Released straight after the Woodman’s resurgence following the critical and box-office success of Match Point, Scoop was given a somewhat chilly response from critics who, at best, thought the film was a pleasant, if forgettable diversion. While the relatively inexpensive film made a healthy profit at the box-office, the release a couple of years later of the much more successful Vicky Cristina Barcelona further pushed Scoop into Woody Allen obscurity where it remains to this day.

As a Woody Allen apologist, I am the first to defend many of the director’s later efforts, Scoop included. Sure, the film may not be on the same level as Hannah and Her Sisters or Midnight in Paris. The same could be said for a number of other titles like Celebrity, Anything Else or You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger. However Allen is a filmmaker who, for better or worse, with such a distinct voice, that he has only ever been competing with himself. If that’s the case, certainly a man who has crafted more than his share of classics in an unmatched career is allowed to tell the stories he wants, regardless of reception. In this age of hyperbole where any film that isn’t great is deemed not worth our time, it’s important to remember that a film labeled as simply good, is never a small achievement.

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