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Playing It Safe

In moments like these, Altman is functioning as an artist. But most of the time he's playing it safe--at least for him. No overlapping dialogue, no complex soundscapes, no dynamiting of genre expectations. So why was Polygram Films, which made the movie, so nervous about what Altman gave them? Last summer, in a highly publicized move, the studio actually took the picture away from Altman following some lukewarm test-audience reactions and attempted its own re-edit--which didn't test any better. One might think that a director of Altman's stature would be beyond the reach of such movie-company meddling, but why be surprised? Polygram's behavior is a prime example of modern Hollywood at its bottom-line basest. The studio execs apparently never bothered to look at Altman's other movies, or else why hire him to make a Grisham sausage and then complain that there's some Altman in it, too?

The irony is that The Gingerbread Man, for all its flair, is too conventional. Altman gave Polygram what it wanted, and the studio didn't even know it. It's the best of the Grisham movies. Now, if only it were the last.

The Gingerbread Man.
Screenplay by Al Hayes, based on an original story by John Grisham. Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Berenger, Daryl Hannah.

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