Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Big Fix (1978)

          The Big Fix attempts so many interesting things, and demonstrates such a high level of craftsmanship and intelligence, that it’s completely worthwhile despite significant flaws. Adapted by Roger L. Simon from his own novel, the movie introduces viewers to Moses Wine (Richard Dreyfuss), a former ’60s activist now settled into humdrum ’70s adulthood. A divorcé with two kids, Moses makes a sketchy living as a private investigator, mostly doing unglamorous stakeout work for corporate clients. Life is constantly humiliating for Moses until he encounters an old flame from college, Lila (Susan Anspach), who reminds him of the beautiful ideals they espoused in the ’60s.
          However, to Moses’ great disappointment, Lila has sold out to work on the gubernatorial campaign of a stuffy politician, and she needs help because someone is spreading rumors that her candidate associates with an Abbie Hoffman-esque radical named Howard Eppis. Moses reluctantly takes the case, but soon realizes he’s stumbled onto something heavy.
          The Big Fix is ostensibly a comedy, with gentle gags like the various explanations for the cast on Moses’ hand, and Simon provides appealing banter for Moses and the peculiar characters he meets. Yet the movie is also a detective thriller with a body count, and years before writer-director Lawrence Kasdan explored similar subject matter in The Big Chill (1983), this film asks why some ’60s activists joined the Establishment they once fought. In fact, the movie sometimes lurches awkwardly between light farce and murderous drama. What holds the thing together is Dreyfuss, who also co-produced the picture.
          Operating at the height of his considerable powers, Dreyfuss showcases Moses’ emotional journey—the character starts out bored and tired, gets jazzed by adventure, and ends up revitalized by the discovery that he hasn’t truly betrayed his old principles. Dreyfuss has many dazzling scenes, whether he’s hyperventilating after a shooting or demonstrating unexpected courage during an interrogation. It’s probably a better performance than the material deserves, but great work is always a joy to watch.
          Another strength of The Big Fix is the terrific supporting cast: F. Murray Abraham, Bonnie Bedelia, Jon Lithgow, Ron Rifkin, and Fritz Weaver each contribute something memorable and unique. Director Jeremy Paul Kagan moves the camera smoothly, shapes a number of good performances, and uses locations well, but as in most of his features, the pieces never fully cohere; The Big Fix is more a collection of enjoyable scenes than a well-told story. Nonetheless, the film’s virtues are many, and its offbeat take on the subject of ’60s counterculture is consistently interesting.

The Big Fix: GROOVY


Will Errickson said...

A charming, if somewhat convoluted, crime movie. Love Dreyfuss as Wine! The scene where he's crying about lost ideals... whew. The ending is quite sweet is well. Smartly the film avoided the weird Satanic cult aspect of the original novel.

Barry Miller said...

As of 2021, this film seems to be undergoing a startling new life of rediscovery and appreciation as one of the great "lost films" of the late 1970's. A brand new HD-restored Blu-Ray disc was released in July of 2021 with a newly written 38-page booklet, as well as reams of additional documentary materials. This was Richard Dreyfuss at the height of his immediate post-Oscar clout and power in 1978 Hollywood, producing and starring in one of the first lamentations over the lost radical ideals of the Sixties, and a unique snapshot of a languid, sun-bleached, and fern-bar 1970's-era Los Angeles, slowly teetering into the abyss of faddism, solipsism, and toxic apathy in the final and hazy-stoned days before the Reagan era would dawn and sweep any remaining vestiges of revolutionary hippie sentimentality right into the dustbin of history. It seems that in our present political moment of post-Trump anxiety and apathetic dread, this truly forgotten film is experiencing a singular and well-deserved scholarly reappraisal. (And it's Halloween setting is especially appropriate in terms of being haunted by the ghosts of one's long-faded and youthful hopes for a much better world.)