Rules Don’t Apply

Year: 2016
Production Co: Regency Enterprises
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Warren Beatty
Producer: Warren Beatty
Writer: Warren Beatty
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Matthew Broderick, Candice Bergen, Martin Sheen, Paul Sorvino, Haley Bennett, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Oliver Platt, Alec Baldwin

Back when they were promoting Dick Tracy I remember a story in the media entitled Warren Beatty's Last Chance, no doubt referring to the huge gamble he and his studio were making on a project that – back then at least – seemed like a long bow to draw. It also came after a long time away from the spotlight to the extent that kids who grew up watching movies in the 80s and 90s probably didn't know the first thing about his storied career even that long ago.

So the question that inevitably comes up around Beatty's first movie in 15 years is whether anyone apart from fusty film journalists over 50 will care.

The answer from audiences was a resounding 'no', and it's hard to say why. It might be because Beatty had faded into obscurity long before most of the primary movie-going audience of today was even born, but it also might be that (according to the narrative about the long-gestating passion project), he threw the original story out and decided to make it about two kids who work for Howard Hughes rather than Hughes himself.

Maybe audiences who did show up were looking for another insight into his psychology after Scorsese's The Aviator, and they didn't get it.

To the extent he cares about his box office performance, Beatty might also be feeling very bitter about the success of Damien Chazelle's La La Land, because a large element of Rules Don't Apply is a love letter to Hollywood's golden age.

The story deals with Frank (soon-to-be Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich), a driver employed by the mysterious industrialist, and Marla (Lily Collins), an ingénue installed in one of Hughes many Hollywood Hills homes for work in his movies.

Both of them go about their duties, not laying eyes on Hughes for weeks, in Marla's case growing bored in the beautiful house she's sharing with her conservative mother (Annette Bening) waiting for a screen test or audition.

The two slowly start to develop feelings for each other, all the while mindful of Hughes edict that none of his employees fraternise with each other, and eventually we get to see the famous recluse in a couple of scenes of mystery and anticipation that befit his status.

Unfortunately, as if Beatty didn't have enough faith that his subject would be interesting enough, Hughes is a mere support role. He's in it enough of the running time from then on, but the story constantly moves away from him towards the (much blander) love story.

It's even more bewildering because the glimpses we get of Hughes as a character are more interesting than anything going on with Marla and Frank. More than once he refers to his father, a figure he appears to deify and can't possibly live up to, and there's his strange and contradictory treatment of the many women who work for him and his iconic personal quirks.

It all hints at a far more complex movie than the one we're given (as does the high quality among the rest of the cast), and if Beatty is only going to do a movie every 15 years from now on, Dick Tracy might well have been his last chance.

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