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Badly neglected by both audiences and critics at the time of it's
original release, NUTS is a film that is ripe for reevaluation. Based
on Tom Toplor's 1981 courtroom play, NUTS is definitely a
dialogue-based film with little Hollywood flashiness. Though extremely
well-written (by Toplor, adapting his own work with Darryl Ponicsan and
Alvin Sargent) and sharply staged and directed by veteran Martin Ritt,
it is the cast whom is really responsible bringing NUTS to life. Barbra
Streisand gives an absolutely bravura performance that should have
earned her an Oscar nomination. Alternately hilarious and frightening,
Streisand is always mesmerizing as she delves so far into character.
Richard Dreyfess is nothing less than Streisand's equal as her public defender. He too was robbed of an Oscar nomination. The supporting cast is a top-notch ensemble of professional character actors (Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach, Robert Webber, James Whitmore, and Karl Malden), all of whom work their craft flawlessly. NUTS' screenplay does indulge in the predictability of some of the typical courtroom-plot conventions a little too often, but Toplor's absorbing script still deserves high praise for it's fascinating exploration of what constitutes as normality and whether or not the insane should be required to receive treatment. NUTS isn't going to win over any fans of 3-cuts-per-second action films, but it will leave lovers of thought-provoking, expertly-acted dramas fascinated.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's interesting, in looking through the "official" reviews of this film
that such questionable illuminaries of film criticism as Roger Ebert
to miss the point: the desire to mark Claudia as insane seems to run
strongly through reviewers, much as it does through the courtroom that the
Streisand plays an abrasive, uncooperative, deeply rebellious person. Clearly, she's shown as intelligent. Clearly, she understands the rules of the game; she just doesn't want to play. I find it interesting that so many people seem to consider her insane, at the same time that Nicholson's McMurphy is a rebellious revolutionary hero, working against a repressive system. It's passe to suggest that sexism plays a role in how we view movies, but this one points it out on two levels: Claudia's trap, in the film, bears an uncanny resemblance to the trap the film's been placed in by reviewers: the fact that she isn't a nice housewife seems to suggest to many that she's unstable.
Sure, the movie (like the play) uses the facile psychological excuse of childhood molestation to explain her refusal to play the good-girl game. But maybe, just maybe, she refuses to play because she recognizes that she's not allowed to win. It's not for those who hate Streisand on principle, certainly. But, if you're willing to take a tough walk through the definition of sanity and the gendering of that idea, take a look at this film.
Based on Tom Topors's off broadway play, NUTS is a highly charged drama that
raises some uneasy questions. NUTS opened in late 1987 to little hype and
This is a film that deserves to have a second life on video. While the court room plot devices are predictable, the film raises some important issues and questions. Questions like, "What is normal?" and "Does the law have the right to force help upon those who don't want it?"
What really makes this film worth watching though, is Barbra Strisand's bravura performance in the lead. I cannot believe she failed to receive an Oscar for her work here, it's crime that she wasn't at least nominated. Director Martin Ritt keep the film going at a perfect pace and also gets strong supporting performances from Richard Dreyfss and Maureen Stapleton.
This is a film that deserves more attention then it originally received, it is honest, though-provoking, and features a brilliant performance from Streisand.
My score for this excellent film: 9/10!
This movie is very psychological and emotional. The realism of Claudia's abuse as a child and its effects on her life as an adult is very heart-wrenching. It made me so furious to see Claudia's helplessness in a fight against the judicial system and her wealthy parents. It is depressing to see just how far the power of money can take us as a society - free killers and lock up (in this case institutionalise) the innocent. It is even more terrifying to know what kind of "licensed professionals" get to judge people's "mental capacity." This movie shows that there is still some hope and justice in the world.
After viewing this superior film, a viewer might wonder where in blazes the original idea came from; The Twilight Zone or ripped from todays headlines. This film is laden with so much talent I'm surprised it didn't establish itself as a mega movie. The premise is that of a talented lawyer, Aaron Levinsky, ably played by Richard Dreyfuss, who is forcibly thrust into a competency case which he does not want. His adversary is a formidably D.A, Francis MacMillan (Robert Webber) who has spent a considerable amount of time putting unwanted criminals and mental undesirables, behind bars. Thus he sees no reason why he should spend more time than necessary on a simple case of mental incompetency. Unfortunately for him the woman in question is spirited, independent Claudia Draper, (Barbra Streisand) who is desperate to have her day in court. Arrayed against her aside from the D.A. are her loving parents, Karl Malden as Arthur Kirk and Maureen Stapleton as Rose Kirk, who guard a terrible family secret. In addition, there is formidable Eli Wallach as Dr. Herbert A. Morrison, a psychiatrist who is convinced that Draper is insane. In Claudia's eyes, everyone seems hell bent on having her locked up in insane asylum. The courtroom drama is superior as Judge Stanley Murdoch, (James Whitmore ) tries to discover why the authorities want Draper incarcerated. A most convincing performance by all to create a memorable film. ****
In New York, the public defender Aaron Levinsky (Richard Dreyfuss)
witnesses the high-class call girl Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand)
beating her attorney while waiting for his hearing in the courtroom.
Judge Stanley Murdoch (James Whitmore) assigns him to defend Claudia
and soon he learns that she killed her client Allen Green (Leslie
Nielsen) in self-defense. However, her mother Rose Kirk (Maureen
Stapleton) and her wealthy stepfather Arthur Kirk (Karl Malden) want
her declared mentally incompetent to go on trial. Dr. Herbert A.
Morrison (Eli Wallach) prepares a medical report stating that she is
mentally unstable to support the trial, but Claudia wants to prove that
she is sane; otherwise she would spend the rest of her life in a mental
institution. Along the hearing, the District Attorney Francis MacMillan
(Robert Webber) and Levinsky question the defendant, her mother, her
stepfather and Dr. Morring and the painful truth about Claudia's
childhood is disclosed.
"Nuts" is one of the best courtroom dramas ever made. The story is developed practically in one location, but the performances are awesome highlighting Barbra Streisand. This actress deserved at least a nomination to the Oscar. The conclusion has a corny moment, when Claudia hugs her mother. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Querem me Enlouquecer" ("They Want to Drive me Crazy")
This is the third of three great courtroom dramas from that time. "And
Justice for All,"(1979) and "The Verdict," (1982) were the other two.
Because of all the courtroom dramas on television in the 1990's and 2000's, many of the things in the movie now seem as clichés. It is important to remember that it was quite original when it came out. It is only cliché today because it has been copied so much since. Women were generally terrible victims of much psychiatry in the 20th century, this film, "Francis" (1982)and "Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959) are the only three movies that really demonstrate that.
The cast is full of great actors and actresses in small rolls: Eli Wallach, James Whitmore, Maureen Stapleton, and Karl Malden know that less is more and underplay their roles smoothly. The only problem with the casting is Leslie Nielsen as a crazy client. Nielsen became so associated with spoofs like "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun" one almost laughs automatically when he's on the screen, no matter how serious the scene is. Stars Richard Dreyfus and Barbara Streisand are at the top of their form and work well off each other.
The one criticism of this movie that is valid is Streisand's age. She is a bit too old at 45 for the character who is supposed to be in her late 20's. It is a minor irritation, and we should remember that male actors in their 40's also frequently play such roles. For example, Brad Pitt was 41 when he played Achilles, and Sylvester Stallone was 60 when he played in his last "Rocky" movie.
This is Barbara Streisand's grittiest movie with rape, incest, and madness being key themes, yet it still has a lot of witty lines and funny moments. It is just well balanced and well done. The DVD contains some fascinating commentary by Ms. Streisand.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like most issues in life, the question of sanity vs. insanity isn't
nearly as cut and dried as it might seem on the surface. And Nuts is a
film which definitely dives beneath the surface, and brings up some
Nuts is based on the true story of Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand), a high priced call girl who killed a john (Leslie Nielsen) in self defense. The facts leading up to the murder are told in flashbacks that leave little question as to the nature of the killing. It's the aftermath that is both surprising and disconcerting. Claudia's mother (Maureen Stapleton) and step father (Karl Malden), wishing to cover up any embarrassment over the crime, decide to have Claudia declared criminally insane. While Claudia doesn't wish to have this happen, her general paranoia and lack of cooperation don't help her case much. When she breaks her attorney's nose for not doing what she wishes, she is indeed institutionalized, pending further evaluation and another hearing. Her court appointed attorney, Aaron Levinsky (Richard Dreyfuss), also finds her less than cooperative, but ultimately comes to agree that she shouldn't be declared insane. However, with Claudia as a client, Levinsky has his work cut out for him as they try to convince Judge Stanley Murdoch (James Whitmore) that Claudia shouldn't be institutionalized for the rest of her life.
This is a fascinating story, told with a great deal of skill. While Claudia does seem insane at first - violently so - as the film delves into her background and the events leading up to the murder, the audience discovers a very intelligent, very disillusioned woman. Her disillusionment has turned her both cynical and abrasive. She trusts no one because those she has trusted have repeatedly let her down, or even abused her. Nonetheless, in order for Claudia to win her freedom, she must learn to trust both Levinsky and Murdoch. Her growth as she begins to do so is most satisfying to watch.
Streisand turns in another excellent performance, showing both her skill and her range as an actress. Her portrayal of Claudia shows the many facets of the character with astonishing skill. Dreyfuss also turns in his usual skilled performance as a lawyer who becomes more passionate about the case the longer he is involved with it. His eventual concern for Claudia is touching. Stapleton does a nice job of showing a woman who blinds herself to what she doesn't want to see, only to be forced to face it, and realize the damage she has done. Her regret is skillfully portrayed. Malden gives off a smarmy arrogance that is perfectly appropriate to his character, only to reveal a pitiful sort of vulnerability when the mask is stripped away. Whitmore does a wonderful job maintaining control in a situation that frequently threatens to get out of control. And Elizabeth Hoffman's cameo is amusing and skillfully done.
This is a disturbing film, and not one that is for the faint of heart - or even not a Streisand fan. Strangely, there was also a great deal of criticism for the fact that Claudia is not a "nice" character. But the point the film makes is that Claudia's only reward for being "nice" was to be mistreated. It's small wonder that she's not "nice." Still, this movie is a skillful portrayal of her story, and she does become a sympathetic character by the end of the movie.
Overall, a thought provoking film, and one that gets better with repeated viewings.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A top notch cast: Barbara Streisand, Richard Dreyfuss, Eli Wallach, James Whitmore, Maureen Stapleton, and Karl Malden star in this excellent courtroom drama about a high priced prostitute who is declared mentally ill and unfit to stand trial for manslaughter.
Claudia Draper (Streisand) lives in a plush condo on 66th Ave. in NYC. She dresses in elegant apparel, wears minimal but lovely makeup, and meets nice looking businessmen in fancy restaurants. She's not your typical hooker. She doesn't have sleazy tattoos, she doesn't wear cheap miniskirts and KMart boots like Julia Roberts did in PRETTY WOMAN. She doesn't shoot up with heroin. She doesn't hang out on corners and drink malt liquor and try to wave down cars. You'd never know she was a hooker, because she doesn't fit the traditional description. Her MO is different. She had no pimps telling her what to do. She chooses who she will have sex with, preferring soft candlelight and sexy piano music and champagne to a smelly alley littered with needles or diesel trucks smelling of sweat and dead chickens. Believing herself to be of the highest quality among sex workers, she charges big money for her time, and that is how she lives, how she pays the rent and bills. She didn't run away from home at age 14 and fall prey to deviants, she divorced her husband and went into the age old profession by CHOICE.
For these very reasons, I have a bizzare facination with Claudia Draper. I admired her, for being who she wanted to be and not giving a damn what anyone thought about it. She doesn't seem to have a problem with it morally, and she's a grown woman anyway. And she's not had any serious problems with clients...until one night, when a client steps over the line and tries to treat Claudia like she's his wife, acting proprietary, then menacing.
Claudia ends up facing manslaughter charges, and because her profession is such a scandal and disgrace to her parents (Stapleton and Malden), she finds herself fighting with everyone about whether or not she is able to stand trial. She's a prostitute, so surely she's crazy. What sane, respectable woman would choose to do what she does for her living??? Her parents, who don't want her "destroyed" in an open trial, demand that she be locked up in a mental ward. They insist she's mentally sick, and her psychiatrist (Wallach) agrees and wants her deemed insane and hospitalized. Claudia passionately disagrees with everyone's opinion of her mental status, and would rather go to trial and even to prison. Her dignity and choice to not take an easy way out was another feature I admired. She admits she killed someone, and that it was in self defense. She didn't kill someone because she had been slowly breaking down because she was a call girl. Her lawyer Aaron Levenski (Dreyfuss) is the only one who seems to listen to her and hear what she has to say. Everyone else ignores her and talks to her as if they are talking to a dog who won't do tricks on command.
Family dysfuntion thrives in this woman's history, but as Claudia asserts, "It's not relevant to what's going on here." And she's right. She's had some bad things happen to her, but she doesn't want a pity party, she doesn't want to be tucked neatly away so that people don't have to look at her and accept her and realize that some people lead lives different from ours. Everyone is so busy hating her because she's a "whore" "call girl" "hooker" that they WANT her out of their sight so she won't BOTHER them anymore. Sometimes, the most benevolent looking people are the worst of all, and like many families, Claudia's hides its secrets. If they can deny it long enough, maybe it will go away. If they put Claudia away, maybe their own guilt will go away.
Stapleton had a line that made me think really hard: "A divorced woman is an easy target. She's vulnerable to any polite man who comes along." Hmmmm....
A very well executed psychological legal drama with good writing and great acting by all. A+++!!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read that Barbra Streisand considers "Nuts" her most personal movie,
due to how her stepfather verbally abused her. It may be hard to
determine how that affected the movie itself, but the movie certainly
did come out pretty good.
Streisand plays mentally unstable Claudia Draper, charged with murder. Naturally, before they put her on trial, they have to determine whether or not she's mentally competent to stand trial. Her attorney Aaron Levinsky (Richard Dreyfuss) is convinced that not only is she mentally competent, but that she's not a vicious murderer. What he discovers may not shock people royally, but it does make for a good movie. Martin Ritt directed another really good movie, and Karl Malden, Maureen Stapleton, James Whitmore, and Leslie Nielsen (yes, THAT Leslie Nielsen) all play excellent supporting roles.
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