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5 Movies That Needed to Remove the Main Character

By Dan Saipher | Lists | March 25, 2011 |

By Dan Saipher | Lists | March 25, 2011 |

Sometimes the what-could-have-been films that we dream up in our head far exceed what we’re presented with on screen. As studios see it necessary to insert predictable subplots of romance, or try to push a blank slate protagonist on us, we let the better parts of a film become obscured. Perhaps there isn’t enough time to explore the secondary characters and stories, and perhaps their limited time on screen makes them all the more memorable, but we still want more.

Attempting to ignore poor acting performances, the following movies provoke us to wonder what they’d be like without the main character moreso than without the headline actor. While this character certainly changes the context and events within the film, I’d like to believe these movies could still exist without too much alteration.

1. Mary Reilly — Julia Roberts

Gambon. Malkovich. Michael Sheen. Directed by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen). An award-winning re-telling of the Jekyll and Hyde yarn in book, and an unmitigated disaster headlined by Julia Roberts on the silver screen. Equestrian jokes aside, and Roberts’ performance aside, Mary Reilly worked in book form because it explored the character’s abusive backstory as well as the historical interests of foggy London. The movie wastes this new perspective through a poorly-written romance and conventional frights and tension. Could the studio-backed (but never realized) teamup of Tim Burton and Daniel Day-Lewis have saved this one?

2. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels — Eddy (Nick Moran)

If you’re playing cards with gangsters, you had better figure someone is stacking the deck against you, boy. Poor Eddy should have been known surveillance on that card game was tight. Out of the cadre of Cockney small-time bad boys, Soap, Bacon, and Tom are all better characters in Guy Ritchie’s interconnected chaos. Eddy gets to spend most of the movie in disbelief and dishevelment while everyone else acts cool as a cucumber. In fact, would you have rather given more screen time to Eddy, or his bartender father as played by Gordon Sumner?

3. Do The Right Thing — Mookie (Spike Lee)

Spike Lee’s introductory offering went unrecognized by Oscar envelopes, and perhaps a bit forgotten now that Lee has had a few stinkers. Looking back, it’s almost downright criminal that Lee couldn’t swing a Best Director or Best Picture nomination. His portrait of a Brooklyn neighborhood played out like a hip-hop opera, composed by Public Enemy, post-Reagan urban neglect, and racial divide. Mookie is our everyman, followed high and over the shoulder through the streets, but he fails to offer us compassion or interest as compared to other players. Not to mention he’s chained to Rosie Perez.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End — William Turner (Orlando Bloom)

We should have known what troubled seas we were in when the opening scene of a light-hearted adventure film hangs a young boy at the galleys. By pushing Jack Sparrow over the edge, the character loses his selfish yet charming purpose, and the perspective moves to Mr. Turner and his machinations. Where the first film had a limited number of angles for each party to play, the third film jumps unnecessarily, as if we’re supposed to be shocked where the final loyalties lie. The plot twists serve no greater purpose; in the end everyone winds up on the predictable side at the climax, almost like a 3 hour game of Chutes n’ Ladders that ends with everyone sliding back down to the first game space. Orlando Bloom’s sideways tactics and lack of chemistry with Keira Knightley doomed this film; didn’t we want to see her end up with Jackie boy anyway?

5. The Last Samurai — Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise)

The catalyst for this list. Some cats dig cowboys, some dig ninjas, but I’m a sucker for a good samurai tale. The opening of trade routes with Japan’s isolated people culminated in the Satsuma Rebellion in the last part of the 19th century. As the samurai found their centuries-old traditions outlawed, they made a last stand to hang on to their place as a separate and influential (and yes, corrupt) caste in society. Even with the necessary Hollywood script changes, the film is completely stolen by Ken Watanabe as Lord Katsumoto, and never gives us enough of Hiroyuki Sanada as the stoic badass Ujio. Instead of deeply exploring the parallels of Native America suppression with modern upheaval in Japan, we get the drunk rebirth and romance of Tom Cruise’s predictable bombast. Cruise does accomplish one major feat, though; he manages to make Timothy Spall seem subtle.

Dan Saipher has no problem being the gaijin meat in a Watanabe-Sanada samurai sandwich.

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