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Home » Film

Jack Goes Boating

Submitted by admin on September 30, 2024 – 9:12 amNo Comment

In the history of film there are moments where really good actors have turned to directing, and subsequently only directed one film. In many cases it has shown remarkable staying power. Take the case of Charles Laughton and The Night of the Hunter or Marlon Brando and One-Eyed Jacks.

Although in some cases the results aren’t as memorable. Take the Matthew Broderick directed Infinity (1996), or the fact that the  inimitable Anthony Hopkins has helmed three movies of which nobody has ever heard.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (that name has always sounded like a cat name to me) could be one of the great directors of all time if he ever wanted to go that route because he has taken what is basically a static play about two oddball adults and their forlorn romance and made it a visual feast. Jack Goes Boating was a play that ran off-Broadway to great acclaim a few years back. Of the four-person cast, three have been retained for the film (Hoffman, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega) with the lead femme being played by Amy Ryan (replacing the play’s Beth Cole). Hoffman has also opened up the film to its New York City locale offering various views of the city as well as the working class apartments where the character’s relations rise and fall.

The title suggests irony since Jack cannot go boating until he learns to swim. Jack, who works as a chauffeur, wants to improve his lot in life and he applies for a job with the transit department while additionally taking culinary classes. Even when he conquers the backstroke Jack \ cannot go boating with his lady fair because the story is set in the midst of winter. It’s hard to row a boat in Central Park when the lake is frozen.

Here is where Hoffman’s directorial finesse comes into play. One scene involves a long bit of dialogue between Hoffman and Ortiz in a parked car. The camera point of view is from the backseat looking at the two guys in front. The windshield is slightly out of focus but we can detect the falling snowflakes landing on the glass. All of a sudden there is a whirlwind of editing as a bus passes by and splashes the windshield with slush (snow and street dirt). When we cut back inside the car the windshield now forms a new background. As if the signal the end of the scene Hoffman transforms the meaning of everything we just heard by having the windshield wiper sweep away the snow. It’s part of the film’s visual seduction.

Jack Goes Boating never feels late to the party or irrelevant. The characters achieve their arc and winter transforms to spring.

– Michael Bergeron

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