Michael Caine, Josh Lucas, Jonah Bobo and Christopher Walken star as Henry, Jason, Zach and Turner in Jordan Roberts Around the Bend
A film thats hard not to keep thinking about
Compelling story of fathers and sons struggling with their relationships
By Jerry Tallmer
Jordan Roberts and Christopher Walken sat side-by-side in front of a screen in the Loews at 19th Street and Broadway where a startlingly good new film called Around the Bend had just been shown to a preview audience.
Roberts had written and directed it, Walken plays the figure in the center of it a suddenly reappearing bad father and now director and actor were fielding questions about how it was made, but every so often the Q&A broke off as the whole theater shook for 20 or 30 seconds with a huge underground roaring.
Finally, after this had happened four or five times, Roberts lost his cool. What is that? he exclaimed. Walken gave him and the people in the seats a cryptic Christopher Walken smile. Welcome to New York, he said to Roberts. Thats the subway. Then, to the audience: Hes from California. Out there if they hear that, they think its an earthquake.
What gave the tiny jesting admonition a little extra twist is that in playing Turner Lair, the bad father of Around the Bend, Walken is superbly, sharply, hauntingly bringing back from the grave certain asocial elements of Jordan Robertss own real father. Which is just the way Roberts the real-life son wrote it.
Around the Bend opens Friday, October 8, at the Angelika and the Lincoln Plaza. It is as refreshingly anti-Hollywood, and as hard not to keep thinking about, as a slap in the face.
Actually its about three generations of fathers-and-sons: a quirky archaeologist grandfather in his 60s or 70s (Michael Caine, brilliant of course); that mans enigmatic long-missing 50-ish son (Walken); his preoccupied, scarred-by-abusive-dad 30-ish son (Josh Lucas); and that sons curiosity-driven, irresistible 6-year-old (the extraordinary Jonah Bobo, native of Roosevelt Island, NYC, 6 years old at the time of shooting, 7 years old now).
Its the grandfather who sets everything in motion by dying and leaving behind a will of scraps and pieces of paper and crumpled Kentucky Fried Chicken paper bags that add up to a sort of inverse treasure hunt of where to scatter his ashes. The movie then becomes a road movie, with Walken, Lucas, and young Bobo in a battered van pursuing clues all across the parched, landscape of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Twenty-four hours after that 19th Street preview and Walkens crack about Californians, amiable, curly-haired Jordan Roberts who prefers not to reveal his years in this ridiculously ageist culture, but it cant be so very many said he wasnt as non-a-New Yorker as all that.
I met my wife here in New York 15 years ago, Roberts said. We were Off-Broadway actors. You know, I dont think they used to build movie theaters over subways. I thought maybe it was a sound effect for some movie next door.
Yes, the Walken character, Turner Lair, is based in some important respects on the writer/directors own father. I dont want to
say his name. I havent done that yet.
Did he in fact knock you around?
Mmm-hmm. Definitely. Physical violence against my brother and myself.
He said the father left wife and two sons when Jordan was 3, and after that would be around for a while and then disappear. He was kind of a con man and a filmmaker a disastrously unsuccessful filmmaker who would raise money by shooting somebody elses film in a week so he could make his own film . . .
Sort of an Orson Welles?
No but not dissimilar. He was slightly more successful dealing drugs to the rock-n-roll bands with which he traveled.
Roberts started writing this script eight years ago or, rather, started it as a play in which the absent father shows up to see his daughter in Central America.
My brother died of a heroin overdose 20 years ago. My father died a little under two years ago. Shortly before he died he seemed to be trying to make a connection. When he died I rewrote the film once again. Thats why I credit him as Off-planet Producer.
So I rewrote it, and people started saying Yes. Mark Gill, the president of Warner Independent Pictures, loved the script and put up the money. We went into production within six months of my fathers death.
They shot it last winter, in and around Albuquerque. It was cold.
Doesnt look cold.
That was acting!
Archaeology plays an important part in the movie. I always knew I wanted the older man [the Michael Caine role] to be an archaeologist. Someone who loves digging up old shit a line that screenwriter Roberts put into the mouth of the Christopher Walken character. Of course digging up old shit is what this whole movie is about.
He got Walken and Michael Caine simply by sending the script to their agent (they have the same agent). Walken said yes right away, then read it over and over again.
At that preview Q&A on 19th Street, Walken, the bakers son and sometime hoofer from Queens, New York (did you ever see Pennies From Heaven? fabulous), said that, unlike many actors, he never does any research. He finds it all somewhere in himself.
Michael Caines feeling about Around the Bend comes from the press kit: What I look for now, to make my life interesting and because Ive been acting for a long while, are characters who are as far away from me as possible, and Henry [the grandfather] is that. I like to come out of a different box every time. It not only keeps the audience amused, it keeps me amused. It makes me want to get up in the morning.
You might say that landing Sir Michael was a stroke of luck . . .
Yes, I should say so, said Roberts.
Josh Lucas, who plays Walkens son and the 6-year-olds father, does good work in a somewhat thankless, colorless part. As for Jonah Bobo, the (then) actual 6-year-old, hes, well, something. We auditioned maybe 50 kids, and saw a lot more on tape. Jonahs been reading since he was 2 1/2. Hes a genius. Literally.
The man who said that has a son of his own whos now 7 and was then 6. Jonahs father works in software. His mother is a physical therapist and personal trainer. Wonderful, wonderful people. What makes Jonah so fascinating is that hes grounded.
Roberts says that his own mother loves Around the Bend. She is longtime General Hospital actress Bobbi Jacobson. His Danish-born wife (echoed in the film by Glenne Headley) is painter, no longer actress, Marianne Larsen.
He has been writing scripts for some years now. Most of them dont get made. Also been rewriting other peoples scripts. He did some uncredited work on Road to Perdition, that tough-as-nails PaulNewman picture. Its script is by David Self, a wonderful writer. I was brought in to add some father-son elements.
Getting a rep at that, wouldnt you say?
Yes, beginning to.
However hes now at work on a script that links Albert Barnes, progenitor of the incredible and for a long time non-invitational Barnes Collection of modern painting, outside Philadelphia, to novelist James Michener, who, says Jordan Roberts, was stalked and harassed by Barnes for many years after hed gained entrance to that museum disguised as a coal miner.
The only daddies in that story are Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Braque, Picasso, Matisse & Co., and their ashes arent scattered over Albuquerque. Id like to see Michael Caine as Cezanne and Christopher Walken as Picasso, wouldnt you?