Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Bill Murray……….Don Johnston
There becomes a point in every man’s life where he reflects upon what he has done with it. Steve McQueen ended his career doing it, reflecting upon the hero at his twilight as an action star beyond his glory days with Tom Horn and The Hunter, and would have continued it as John J Rambo in First Blood if he had not died of cancer. John Cusack wondered aloud about the state of affairs in his love life in High Fidelity; it seems that there are certain points in a man’s life that he reflects upon what he has done and wonders about the path not chosen.
More recently, Bill Murray has been on this same sort of cinematic kick lately. With an Academy Award nominated turn in Lost in Translation and critical acclaim for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Murray’s last two major roles have featured him contemplating life as a former major star seeking to come to grips with his descent from glory. And in Broken Flowers Murray plays this same of character in Don Johnston.
Having made his fortune “in computers” and romanced many women, Johnston is a man who has never settled down. After his current girlfriend (Julie Delpy) leaves him for feeling like his mistress, he gets an unaddressed letter in the mail proclaiming the arrival of his son. He’s not very fascinated by it, but his armchair detective neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright) does. Winston tracks down the locations of his flames from around that time and sets Don up to visit them all on a whirlwind tour, ostensibly to find out who the mother of his son is.
He finds Laura (Sharon Stone), widowed and raising a rather sexually suggestive daughter named Lolita (Alexis Dziena). Dora (Frances Conroy) sells real-estate with new husband Ron (Christopher McDonald). Carmen (Jessica Lange) works with animals while Penny (Tilda Swinton) has retreated into a sort of Deliverance-style life in the middle of nowhere.
Unlike Michael Caine in Alfie, Murray isn’t a man who has realized what a cad he’s been early on. Murray is a man who is that cad and perfectly accepts it; the lifestyle of being Don Juan (who he chafes at being referred to as) is one which he has accepted. The letter is almost a wakeup call, as despite his protestations to Winston he wholeheartedly engages in this quest. There is a certain lack of hope in his eyes and he sees what has happened with everyone who has been in his life; everyone has moved forward, he is still the same guy. As he looks for the woman who could have sent the letter, Don reflects upon his life and everything (and everyone) he’s done.
And Murray once again shows that his acting talents are on par with his comedic skills. Once having made his living as the funniest man on the silver screen, Murray’s dramatic side has been a surprising revelation as of late. And in Broken Flowers he provides a stunning portrait of a man reflecting on what he has accomplished. He may not say it, but Don is a man filled with regrets which are amplified with each ex-girlfriend he meets. Having honed his comedic talents with looks and reactions as opposed to comedic lines over the years, Murray lets his physical presence and his face do the work. He’s comfortable enough with the material provided to let it do the work for him; he’s not trying to chomp scenery or steal every scene.
Credit Jim Jarmusch for providing a solid view and story. Murray is obviously the star and it would be easy to paint a pathetic kind of person in the best possible light. Jarmusch lets us like Don not because he forces the audience to but because he’s likeable in spite of the type of person he is. Making a character that normally would be condemnable into someone likable takes a strong actor and a gutsy director; Broken Flowers has both.