Scorecard: Debuts by Actors as Directors

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Not everyone gets it right on the first try.

by Chason Gordon

With the upcoming release of Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey, we decided to take a look at other actors and their directorial debuts. Did they overreach, or chafe their colleagues with hitherto-unrecognized talents?  Let’s see.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind — George Clooney 7/10

In Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Clooney takes the story of Chuck Barris about as seriously as anyone could. Every scene is wonderfully over-the top, including the requisite moment when a table is cleared before sex. As Barris, Sam Rockwell adds an anxious charm that makes the character of a game show host/CIA hitman believable, if only for moments at a time.

Albino Alligator — Kevin Spacey 3/10

Albino Alligator is an incredibly dry film about a hostage crisis, so much so that even the hostages seem like they're waiting for something to happen. It has too many disparate elements that never quite come together. Though unsuccessful, the film isn’t nearly as bad as its title. Spacey would do better work with Beyond the Sea, which had the added bonus of showing us he could sing.

Buffalo ’66 — Vincent Gallo 8/10

Before directing, Gallo was successful as a painter, a musician, and an actor. His feature film debut, although thoroughly panned by Buffalo critics, is a sweet and humorous story about a man just released from prison. The first five minutes of the film follow the character as he desperately tries to find a washroom, and it’s that odd, unpredictable tone that sustains this very amusing film throughout.

Star Trek V — William Shatner 3/10

Although an entire article could be dedicated to Shatner trying things he never should’ve tried, we'll stick to film for now. Leonard Nimoy had already directed two Star Trek films, so they had to let the captain give it a shot. The results are clunky action sequences, a tepid story, and a seduction scene involving Uhura that is embarrassing for all parties involved.

The War Zone — Tim Roth 9/10

The War Zone is one of great directorial debuts by an actor in recent memory. Roth turns a story about incest into a realistic film about a family that refuses to acknowledge the obvious, never once letting the material slip into daytime television melodrama. The film’s richness and subtlety are what make it so haunting Mr. Orange definitely set the bar here.

Whip It — Drew Barrymore 5/10

If you can ignore the paint-by-numbers structure and the cavalcade of sports movie clichés, Whip It  sort of works. The action scenes are deftly directed, and there is a modicum of charm, but you’ve seen this movie a hundred times before: the only difference is that now it’s about a roller derby. 

Ordinary People — Robert Redford 8/10

Though Redford's Ordinary People is a smart and touching drama about a family suffering the loss of a child, and though it brilliantly captures the dynamics of sibling rivalry, I will never, ever forgive the movie for beating Raging Bull for Best Picture. Shame on you Ordinary People, shame on you.

Mr. Saturday Night — Billy Crystal 4/10

There’s an argument that you can give Billy Crystal a lot of credit for making a film about a repulsive character, but that’s essentially the problem with the movie. We spend about two hours watching an old-fashioned comedian mistreat people. Mr. Saturday Night needs a little more depth, a little more humor, and a little less sentimentality. This film is terrible PR for comedians.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada — Tommy Lee Jones 9/10

Not counting a made for TV movie, Jones’ directorial debut contains a leathery wisdom in its direction common to all of his performances. It's not quite a political film about the immigration debate; it’s more a tale of friendship and loyalty. Jones’ character tends to every aspect of his friend's death; and in doing so, more fully understands the gravity of life. 

Chelsea Walls — Ethan Hawke 4/10

Initially, I thought this was a propaganda film put out by the government to get the filmgoing public to hate artists. Based on a play by Nicole Burdette, there is enough pretentiousness in the film to fill up four art-school student exhibitions. But if you can excuse the lack of plot and the self-indulgence, you might just find a little poetry here, or at least a guide for how not to act as an artist.