It's easy to see the subtle brilliance of Gene Hackman's acting whenever we revisit modern classics such as The French Connection or The Conversation. This plain-faced master of character brings to the role of a grubby, dogged New York cop or a desolate surveillance expert all the low, discomfiting details of real life.
But the way Hackman elevates mediocre movies may be even more magical. Witness the corrupt lawyer he plays opposite Tom Cruise in the John Grisham-based potboiler The Firm, his delusional Hollywood movie director in Get Shorty or, best of all, the lunatic patriarch he plays in 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums (showing Friday and Saturday at midnight at the Mayan, First Avenue and Broadway).
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Director Wes Anderson's examination of a family of former child geniuses (played, as screwed-up adults, by Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller) generally lacks clarity, and the dark wit comes and goes. But Hackman brings Anderson's cloudy vision into focus whenever he's on screen. As Royal Tenenbaum, the self-absorbed philanderer who's fathered a brood of odd ducks and remains the cause of their vast dysfunction, Hackman is perversely funny and touchingly human. While trying, at last, to reconstruct his shattered family, he can't help wandering into his own lifelong blind spots and stumbling over all his self-made barriers.
Anderson (Rushmore, Bottle Rocket) was lucky indeed to have the great actor on his payroll, and Denver Hackmaniacs are fortunate to get a second big-screen look at one of his strangest, most oddly heroic performances. Information: 303-744-6796.