One step short of larceny, the aluminum siding salesmen in this movie sell their wares, compete with each other, and engage in a lot of great dialog. Tin Men focuses on the rivalry between BB Babowsky and Ernest Tilley. At the same time, the end of small world of which they are kings looms near as a government probe investigates their industry. Written by
TIN MEN is certainly among the dozen or so movies that I have watched more than a dozen or so times, so I have no claim to being objective about critiquing it. It's just one of my favorite movies. Beyond the obvious praise it's due for its period detail and its terrific supporting comedic cast and the balancing act Levinson achieves between its overall tragic arc and its genuinely funny script, what keeps me coming back to this movie time after time are its many "perfect" moments, most of which come courtesy of Barbara Hershey.
I don't know if Ms. Hershey is indeed one of our best actresses... it's quite possible that her performance in THIS movie for THIS director in THIS setting is brilliant out of sheer serendipity, but her quiet, unmannered performance here is one of my Favorite Things in This World. Her chemistry with Mr. DeVito is pitch-perfect, and their scenes together serve as the movie's thermometer. The dialog she is given and what she does with it are marvels. When her house is repossessed and she encounters her husband on the front porch, she complaints that her husband doesn't give a damn about her or about the many things of hers still in the locked-up house: "The headboard, that was given to me by my Aunt Josephine, that's gotta be at least a hundred... you know, 50 years old, or... you know, it's OLD." If reading this bit doesn't convey the idea of "perfect moment" understand that Ms. Hershey's character is a person who so values honesty, in the midst of a life surrounded by professionally dishonest people, that she self-corrects on a trivial point. So much information is telegraphed in that brief stutter--and in similar moments throughout the movie... I've seldom fallen so hard in love with a movie character as a result.
Elsewhere, when Richard Dreyfuss's character professes his love for her in a rain-soaked scene, it culminates in: "I wanna... ... ... you know?" And the thing is, you DO know--again, all essential information about this character and his situation is telegraphed in the elipsis.
These moments have become part of my personal movie mythos: they serve as the nearest-in-reach examples of what a great movie is made of. Certainly more--a lot more--is needed for a great movie, and whether Tin Men has all the other elements in place is a question I'll leave to the professional critics. But I'm sure of the many moments of greatness in Tin Men. This movie is NOT a guilty pleasure.
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