Milius - DVD Review

'When you consider the offbeat and often provocative nature of Milius the man, it feels all the more of a misfire to have made Milius the documentary so safe and conventional in its execution.'

In choosing John Milius as the subject of their inaugural feature documentary, directors Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson have in many ways struck big screen gold. The highs and lows of Milius’ career in filmmaking make for fascinating viewing, and the man’s unique and uncompromising personality have an enigmatic quality - be it as a creative genius or a social and professional car wreck.

Figueroa and Knutson formidably back up their choice to document Milius’ life through a comprehensive array of Hollywood A-list talking heads. We hear the reminiscence of Milius’ contemporaries and friends including Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, as well as perspectives from cinematic icons Milius has worked with throughout his career such as Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even the less recognisable names here are the likes of former production studio presidents and successful screenwriters. There isn’t a single nobody in sight, and it’s hard not to be very impressed.

Unfortunately, beyond this Figueroa and Knutson’s inexperience begins to show. Whilst technically sound with some attractive graphics regularly interspersed amongst the interviewees, the co-directors never take Milius anywhere particularly special. The whole thing comes across as distinctly by-the-numbers. When you consider the offbeat and often provocative nature of Milius the man, it feels all the more of a misfire to have made Milius the documentary so safe and conventional in its execution. John Milius wasn’t afraid to push boundaries, so why are Figueroa and Knutson so consistently conformist in their approach?

The filmmakers also tackle the various elements of Milius’ life with varied success. It’s clear they revere their subject's work as both a writer and director; a segment focusing on Milius writing the script for Apocalypse Now, and his involvement with Coppola in making the movie, is undeniably one of the film’s strongest sections.

But at the same time it never feels as though Figueroa and Knutson satisfyingly get under the skin of their subject enough. Milius’ son and daughter give interviews, but we only get cursory insights into their relationship with their father and never hear about their lives as children growing up with him. Neither of Milius’ two marriages are even mentioned; whilst there might well be good reason for this, omissions of this type unfortunately make Milius feel less comprehensive than it should be in some important areas.

Some of the filmmakers’ choices also feel critically misjudged at times. After successfully building to Milius’ career decline from the start of the 1990s, the directors then choose to skip over almost twenty years of the man’s life to his much more recent trials recovering from a stroke. Not only does this leave a jarring gap in Milius as a biography, but the aforementioned lack of focus on Milius’ personal life prior to this final chapter means his admirable fight against the stroke’s debilitating after-effects never resonates as fully as it rightfully should. Figueroa and Knutson also make the strange choice to relegate some of the most fascinating elements of Milius’ life during the nineties (such as his being the Coen Brothers’ partial inspiration for Walter Sobchak, John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski) to brief mentions during the end credits.

Milius ultimately ends up as less than the sum of its parts. John Milius is a worthy subject for a documentary such as this, and with so many big names participating and such a unique life and career to relate, this should - and could - have been an excellent documentary. As it is, there’s too much here which falls victim to the co-directors’ lack of both experience and ambition. Milius is certainly an interesting and mostly engaging watch, but never feels as though it lives up to its subject’s towering and unorthodox persona.

Milius was released on UK DVD on 18th November.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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