Wednesday, October 26, 2005
HIFF: THE WARRIOR CLASS & ALAN HRUSKA
Anson Mount and Erica Leerhsen outside the courthouse in The Warrior Class
The best of the films I saw at HIFF (The Hampton's International Film Festival) was The Warrior Class (TWC), written and directed by Alan Hruska.
TWC, Hruska's second feature, is a legal drama, based largely on his experiences in a long and successful legal career and, particularly, on one very important case at the absolute beginning of his practice.
Three factors make this movie entertaining, especially interesting, and even important.
First, it contains a wild mix of elements that includes a very strange love affair, an educated, sophisticated, polite and vicious gangster, wiretapping, murder and drugs.
Second, it treats each of these factors -- and the trial itself -- very differently from the way we usually see them in movies, and weaves these disparate elements coherently into the story, yet with quite a different structure than we've seen in other films. Hruska deliberately created a depiction of the trial scenes and the addiction which is unfamiliar, but based on reality. He calls it, "An antidote to what you usually see.")
When I watched the film, at first I was confused: it did not look like the trials and the addiction I was used to seeing in the movies, but he sold it; and I bought it. I believe it.
Finally, the performance by Erica Leerhsen, swerving dangerously back and forth from beautiful and caring to scarily dependent on heroin, looking nothing like the addicts we have seen before, is ingenious and powerful.
Hruska was an English major at Yale, interested in writing. But he took a sudden plunge into the Law School there, and ended up at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, where he is in semi-retirement now. While at Cravath, he published a novel, founded a publishing company, the Soho Press, and saw a lot of movies. (He says, "Movies have everything. They combine everything. It's the most intense art form.")
Alan Hruska - director of The Warrior Class - in his office
His first film, Nola, got some mixed reviews, some passionate fans, was part of the Tribeca Film Festival a few years ago, and can sometimes be seen on Lifetime, but is not yet out on DVD. Mary McDonnell appears in the movie, and the title character is played by Emmy Rossum who, at 19, is one of the rising young stars of the movies, having appeared in The Phantom of the Opera, The Day After Tomorrow, and Mystic River.
Hruska is currently directing a new production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot. One of the most important plays of the last century, and a notoriously difficult play to present successfully, but absolutely mesmerizing when the production works, this is Hruska's first experience directing a production for the stage. The opportunity came to him from a friend, Sam Coppola, who appeared in both his films, and is the further development of a project that was started by the actors themselves at the Actor's Studio. This production is scheduled to begin previews on November 8, 2005 at The Theatre at St. Clement's.
Having completed a successful -- and presumably abundantly lucrative -- career in law and publishing, Hruska's primary focus now is on creation. His freedom from the constraints, the conventions, the "notes," the traditions, and the pressures of commercial, studio directed movies, could allow him to enrich the art of cinema as he continues to write and direct. The Warrior Class is a genuine contribution.