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Based on a True Story: 5 of Hollywood's Most Overlooked Bio Films Ever Made
What is a biography? According to the dictionary, it's an account of someone's life whether it's in a book or in a movie. Both formats are seemingly unfiltered portrayals of real people who go through some of their best and worst moments of their lives set to an inspiration motif. Many critics find issue when some celebrity autobiographies tend to glaze over the juicier moments and focus on the smaller ones. In honor of the upcoming release of Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, let's examine the finer points of why certain biographical films work and others don't.
When it comes to biographical films, Hollywood tends to focus on the more uplifting side of the stories. Sometimes that gets them into some trouble (1999's The Hurricane is a prime example) when certain less than favorable facts get cleaned up for the sake of marketing or storytelling purposes. Mostly, these stories earn mixed critical acclaim and a few Oscars in their wake. For the rest, those films get ignored by most of the viewing public and are left to be rediscovered at a later date. Here are a list of five biographical movies that weren't given their proper due when they were released for various reasons. Read on to see if they deserve another chance at a second viewing.
White Hunter, Black Heart (1990)- Heart is based loosely on the behind the scenes story of the troubled production of The African Queen. Director Clint Eastwood portrayed larger than life Director John Wilson, which was a clear alias to his real life counterpart John Huston. The story followed Wilson as he led his staff on some wild adventures in Africa as the production budget went up and tensions flared. What might've caused audiences to overlook the film when it was released was the fact that Eastwood strayed from portraying his usual Dirty Harry type characters. Eastwood's Wilson was brasher that Harry and often downright offensive as he insulted his cast, crew and the African locales. The supporting cast might be displayed rather weakly, but Eastwood's performance and the idyllic imagery make seeing this film worth viewing.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)- Unfortunately, Mind was released on the heels of star Russell Crowe's Best Actor Oscar earlier that year and suffered from some serious backlash. At the box office, the film made over $170 Million to make it a commercial and early critical success. The story had makings of Oscar gold, which followed John Nash (Russell Crowe) who was a brilliant mathematician by day and dealt with his demons at night. He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia that threatened to derail his career and his marriage to the overly supportive Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). Sadly, the movie lost a lot of steam come Oscar time due to some storyline flaws (Alicia and John's divorce/remarriage) and Crowe's recent bad boy behavior didn't help matters much. Once the show aired, Connelly was the only winner from the movie in acting category and Crowe has had a love/hate relationship with Hollywood ever since.
The Aviator (2004)- Director Martin Scorsese's look at the famed Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his ever complicated life from a promising start to a sad conclusion. Hughes was on top of the business (aviation) and in love (dating actresses left and right). Aviator also dealt with Hughes' bouts of mental instability which forced him to lock himself away from the world and even many creature comforts. Most people tend to remember Cate Blanchett's glorious performance as Katharine Hepburn that won her many awards recognition. Her presence and Kate Beckinsale's (Ava Gardner) helped to salvage the movie from going completely off the rails due to Scorsese's heavy attention to detail, which sunk the latter half of the movie. The Aviator is still worth watching, even though it's not necessarily one of Scorsese's better films. The acting is top notch and the story is fascinating for a decent portion of the movie. It's just the pacing that made some audiences turn away from it in movie theatres. Pace yourself when you watch it.
Cinderella Man (2005)- Sadly, this Ron Howard film wasn't given its proper due because it released at the worst possible time when most audiences would avoid a film like it: summertime. It's a shame because the story is really an inspirational one about a man struggling for work and to provide for his family. Due to sheer determination, he beat the odds. Russell Crowe played down on his luck boxer Jim Braddock and Renee Zellweger was his wife Mae. The Braddocks fought poverty just like everyone else during The Great Depression. Just some luck and good motivation allowed him another shot in the ring. Man would've been better served if it was released this year instead 6 years ago, because the story is more timely with the current economic situation. Rent it instead to see why it needs to be seen at least once.
Crazy (2006)- Meet Hank Garland (Waylon Payne) who was one of Nashville's most sought after guitar players in the 1950s. He had girls chasing him left and right, but he fell in love with the ruthless Evelyn (Ali Larter) who wanted a better life. Hank tried to fight his best impulses, but they eventually won out and threatened his marriage as well as his sanity. Can his musical talent survive his marriage crumbling? Payne and Larter's performances were fueled with enough grit and sexual tension to keep audiences interested. The story about a musical talent that most were unfamiliar with also made Crazy a film worth discovering for the first or second time.
In the end, not every part of a story is meant to be told. That's why reality shows are edited into story themed segments and not run as a live 24 hour feed just in Ed Tv. The ugly truth isn't always meant to be seen on the big or small screen. That's why one of the character's names was altered for Black Hawk Down because the real life counterpart was a convicted rapist. To a few discerning individuals, the change was obvious but a necessity to not overshadow the story itself. Hopefully, J. Egar won't sanitize the infamous head of the FBI's life too much that some invaluable details get left out. Time will only tell if that's the case. At least, it's being released during the summer. One clear advantage going for it.