Directed by: Joey Figueroa & Zak Knutson
Everyone who was around Hollywood during the 1970s and 1980s seems to have a John Milius story – and the new documentary about the man seems to have found most of them. Milius is a larger than life figure – he is physically huge, and has a huge personality as well. If you’ve seen The Big Lebowski, than you’ll remember John Goodman’s Walter – who the Coens based on their friend John Milius. To those who think Walter was little more than a comic caricature, I suggest you check out this movie. It doesn’t look like the Coens exaggerated too much at all.
Milius was originally from the Midwest, but his family moved to California when he was a kid – and he embraced the lifestyle – especially surfing. He attended USC Film School at the same time as such other famous alums as George Lucas and Walter Murch – and eventually met others like Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola – all of whom formed lifelong friendships with Milius. Unlike most University students in the 1960s, Milius was a staunch conservative – a pro-Vietnam war believer, who was angered that his asthma kept him out of "his" war. When he got out of film school, he got his start in Hollywood as a scriptwriter – re-writing movies like Dirty Harry (he, apparently, wrote his famous speech in that movie – although he didn’t received credit) as well as writing the likes of Sydney Pollack’s Jeremiah Johnson with Robert Redford and John Huston’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy with Bean with Paul Newman. He became a director, with Dillinger, he says mostly to protect himself. They only filmed about 60% of his Jeremiah Johnson screenplay, and thought Huston and Newman screwed up Roy Bean. He wanted to direct so he could protect what he wrote – although he continued to write for others as well – including the legendary speech Robert Shaw delivered in Jaws and the screenplay for Francis Ford Coppolas Apocalypse Now – which still gets my vote for the best movie ever made. But as a director, he saw his friends go on to make hugely successful films, he struggled for a while – studios and audiences didn’t respond to his directorial efforts the way he wanted them to. He had two hits in the 1980s – Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn – the latter of which was hugely popular, but was so hated by films and cultural critics that, according to Milius at least, he was effectively blackballed from Hollywood.
The documentary Milius is entertaining – letting the many interviews Milius gave over the years take center stage, as well as interviews with all of Milius Hollywood friends, who delight in telling stories about the man – even if at times they contradict each other. That is both the strength and weakness of the documentary. The stories are entertaining – and well told by most (none more so than by Milius, who everyone agrees is the best storyteller around) – but they mainly have the ring of a print the legend mentality. There is no real effort made to get beyond the legend that Milius and the other have created for him. Watching the film, I got a good impression of John Milius – The Legend, but I don’t think I got to know much of anything about John Milius – the Real Person. The Legend is entertaining – so the film itself is largely entertaining. However I kept expecting the film to dig a little bit deeper, and was disappointed that it never really did. If you are a fan of Milius – or the 70s generation of filmmakers – than the film still offers an entertaining way to spend a few hours. I just wish it was more enlightening as well.