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Movie Review: Being Michael Madsen

DVD cover featuring Michael Madsen giving the finger

The film, of course, doesn’t really have anything to do with Michael Madsen. Oh, he’s in it a lot and he’s allegedly playing “himself,” but this fake documentary by Michael Mongillo is about the out-of-control culture of fame in which we currently live where it seems that anybody can become “famous” in the blink of an eye, whether they deserve it or not.

Madsen is, however, an excellent choice for the film to have the action centered on. Really, any sort of famous, but not ultra-super famous, actor could have sat in Madsen’s seat here for the film to make it’s point. Has Madsen ever headlined a film? Certainly not from lack of talent. There’s no denying he’s an unbelievably gifted performer, but his persona seems to lend itself to playing major parts in film, but not the headlining talent. He’s not even really the lead here, either, believe it or not.

The guy, as you can see in his credits list, has been in a ton of films. So, he’s famous in that regard. Probably since his groundbreaking role as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, he went from being an “Oh yeah, it’s that guy from that other movie” type of character actor to “Awesome, Michael Madsen’s in this!” Even when “this” is Free Willy. We see the guy so much on-screen and he’s almost invariably playing some kind of badass — I dunno, I haven’t seen Free Willy, but I assume he’s some kind of badassery in that no matter how kid-friendly the film is — so there’s a built-in public perception of the guy. In the film, his sister Virginia even mocks him about how hard he’s worked building up that persona. Actually, the best part of the film is that in all her interviews, all Virginia does is talk shit about her older bro. She’s extremely funny.

And it’s funny because recently I was pondering, and somewhat bemoaning to people who would listen: Where have all the good “tough guy” actors gone? Has no one stepped forward to fill Kurt Russell’s shoes? Shit, where have even all the John Saxons and Michael Ironsides gone? Yeah, those two guys still work a ton, which is great, but it seems the era that best utilized their scary and intimidating personas has passed us by. Madsen may be the last great “tough guy” of the movies.

So, when Being Michael Madsen revolves around a tabloid’s charge that he may or may not have killed a young actress, you kinda go with it that that’s in the realm of possiblity. While the film isn’t asking us to believe that the actions in it really happen like a great Mike Z hoax does, but Mongillo does an excellent job of making the proceedings seem true enough. Obviously, I know Madsen was never accused of killing somebody because it’s always been part of my professional career to keep up at least in part a passing interest on celebrity gossip. But the film has enough of a convincing air that way down deep in the back of my mind there were times watching the film where I though that, well, just maybe … it did happen.

This is an especially difficult illusion for director Mongillo to maintain because the film combines “testimony” from some very big acting names appearing as themselves as well as from some less experienced actors playing roles. In addition to Michael and Virginia, we get appearances from Darryl Hannah, David Carradine and Harry Dean Stanton. The rest of the cast, and the film is really their story, is filled with actors portraying the tabloid media that bedevils Madsen and a documentary film crew Madsen hires to bedevil the tabloids.

When the backstory finally gives way to the real action of the war between the documentarians and specificially one shameless papparazzi, the film kicks the proceedings into high gear and becomes a fun romp between what is real, what isn’t and what could be. Also, while I don’t want to give anything away, the climax of the film involves yet another actual celebrity, the choice of which I thought was just brilliant. It’s almost as inspired a casting choice as it was to get Michael Madsen to do the film in the first place.

Watch the Being Michael Madsen movie trailer:


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