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A classic feature of Danny DeVito's (far too few) works as a director is
that they are utterly evil. Cruel. Wicked. Merciless to their characters and
merciless to the viewer. Although this is often combined with slight
exaggeration, it is exactly what I love about them.
After seeing The War of the Roses the second time after having grown a little older, I still feel that particular satisfaction. But this time, there are a few more things I think about, a few more questions I ask myself. For instance: who is the bad guy in the film? Who is `to blame'? And although it's clear that the Roses both have extremely unmoveable and stubborn characters, which partly leads to the catastrophe, I came to the conclusion that Barbara is the driving force of the whole divorce story. She announces her wish to divorce upon grounds that are not quite convincing. Maybe people who do not like Michael Douglas can sympathize with her but her reasons are not fair. She invariably follows her instinct without paying any respect to other people. Kathleen Turner portrays her most believably in this insufferable phase.
Oliver Rose, on the other hand, is one of those people who are proud of doing everything in a perfectly correct manner. He is therefore very sensitive and easily confronted if one doesn't acknowledge his correct behavior. He then becomes completely helpless and unable to react properly. That makes him an ideal `victim' to Barbara's striking egoism.
I'm mentioning this only because it is a new aspect I found during second viewing, and I am sure it was also DeVito's intention to develop characters like this, so for him, the turbulent divorce story is not just a parable on how stupid people are in general. He of course reserved the best role in the film for himself he is the wise man who tells the parable and who emerges victorious in the end.
The War of the Roses with its merciless cruelness remains one of my favourite comedies of all time.
Director Danny Devito and the writers are to be credited for following this story's dark premise straight to its grim conclusion, and not opting for a cop-out 'happy ending'. Maybe that accounts for the movie's relatively low user rating. Whatever. Turner and Douglas are superb here. I saw Douglas on the Carson show after the movie came out, relating how, after a day's shoot, he and Turner would get together to remind each other that they were still friends. Seeing the movie shows why they had to do this. Note how the movie begins in the openness and light of Nantucket in summer and gets progressively darker, ending in the claustrophobic closeness of the nailed-up house. A classic black comedy for grownups. Don't watch this one with your spouse unless you are on really good terms.
DeVito is a hit-and-miss director. He's turned out some very good films
and some very bad ones. Sometimes his satire just falls short ("Death
to Smoochy," for example); however, "War of the Roses" is his strongest
directorial effort to date.
It's got everything - a clever script, great interaction between its two stars, exciting thrills, funny gags (without ever resorting to unnecessary crudity), and to top it all off, the direction is very effective - DeVito is heavily influenced by Hitchcock and that is very clear in the final sequence, which is reminiscent of "Vertigo" and "Rear Window." Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner play the Rose couple - two once-happily-married people who are now, after many years together, bitter and at the end of their frustration. Deciding upon a divorce, they begin to split apart; however, negotiations regarding belongings begin to go awry as Oliver Rose (Douglas) demands more from his wife, claiming it's his money that purchased their enormous house and all objects inside.
DeVito turns in a performance as the narrator, and Oliver's lawyer, who tells us at the start we are about to watch a sad tale about divorce. By the time the film has ended we've seen events spiral totally out of control - beginning with absolute believability and ending in absolute absurdity.
That's the crucial part of all this. Black comedy relies on whether the dramatic arc of the content - the leap from reality to lunacy - can be believable. Many times in DeVito's film, it isn't. "Smoochy," for example, was clever satire at first, and fairly reminiscent of real-life people and events; then it turned into an over-the-top revenge rampage.
"War of the Roses" is more careful, and the arc is subtler. It's believable because the characters are given such room to grow and their conflict blossoms throughout the picture.
I'd classify "War of the Roses" as one of the funniest, cleverest and most underrated black comedies of the 1980s - it's one of my personal favorite movies and never fails to crack me up. A cult film? Maybe; but I think many more people would enjoy it if they gave it a chance.
I just saw this on telly again after a long time, and, having quickly
browsed through user comments, I realise pretty much everything has
been said about this film - in some cases to nauseating detail too -
including all sorts of social and psychological analysis of the "battle
of the sexes", etc etc....what people forget is that this is
essentially a story about how love turns into blinding hate and that
everything else that goes on is completely incidental, including the
characters' backgrounds, sexes, social status, the milieu they live in,
or the current sign of the times. From that point of view this is
primarily a study of characters (and a fascinating one too) rather than
Turner and Douglas wrap up a brilliant script and a sparkling dialogue with what seems to be considerable ease and an impressive attention to detail, no doubt guided along by De Vito, whose direction is firm and playful at the same time, and in many instances even inspiring - he gets the mood just right, the tone constantly on an uncomfortable edge between a mordantly funny comedy and an ugly human conflict. In fact, the whole length of the film film ticks exceptionally well - slowed here and there, possibly, by the lack of strength of secondary characters - Sagerbrecht is a bit uneasy in this, at least to my liking, and the kids are completely bypassed -the scenes involving them are perhaps the weakest. The ending moral finger-wagging given by De Vito's character is also a bit heavy handed - but then this is Hollywood after all. It could have easily been much worse, we could have been fed a happy ending, god forbid. Instead, De Vito calls his own sweet wife and says he's coming home. Well, I can live with that, although some European director would have just left Oliver and Barbara laying there smashed under the chandelier and that would have been it. But I shouldn't complain....
Overall very funny and enjoyable. Check it out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Maybe the grisly ending accounts for the relatively low user rating of
truly black comedy. At any rate Danny DeVito and the writers are to be
credited for following the dark premise of the story straight through to
inevitable, grim conclusion, without opting for the cop-out of a typical
Hollywood 'happy ending'. Note how the atmosphere of the movie shifts
inexorably from the open light of Nantucket in summer to the
darkness of the nailed-up house at night.
After the movie was released, I saw Douglas on the Carson show speaking of how he and Kathleen Turner, at the end of a day's shoot, would get together to remind themselves that they were still friends, so intense was the animosity of their acting.
Should not be watched by couples whose relationship is anything less than really solid.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Give Danny DeVito the right story and he clicks. He does it here.
What do a tornado, a hurricane, and an ex-wife have in common? They all get the house. Except when the husband's lawyer manages to dig up some rule that allows the husband to stay in the house as long as he and his wife lead separate lives.
The husband is Douglas, the wife is Turner, and the lawyer and mediator is DeVito. There's also a housekeeper and two not especially lovable children (thank heavens for small favors) but they're probably less important than the husband's dog and the wife's cat.
So how do two rich yuppies lead separate lives in their mansion? Simple. First they ignore and curse each other while passing on the stairs. "Filthy slut," mutters Douglas. "Bastard," murmurs Turner. Finally Douglas proudly shows DeVito a plan that he has worked out with Turner. It is a blueprint of the house, divided into red, green, and yellow sections. Douglas explains that the red sections belong to him, the green sections are hers, and the yellow rooms are neutral. "I had a little trouble with the kitchen," he says, "but we worked out alternative hours." DeVito is aghast.
"This seems -- RATIONAL to you?" Douglas: "I'm gonna win this." DeVito: "Oliver, nobody WINS anything here. There are only degrees of losing." And Douglas leans forward conspiratorially, grins insanely, and whispers: "I got MORE SQUARE FOOTAGE."
It's Douglas's best performance, I think. He's not a simple outraged bourgeois, as in "Fatal Attraction" or "Basic Flaw" or whatever it was. And his character has more dimensions than his Gordon Gekko, and almost as good a name. The couple eat at opposite ends of a long empty table, like Charles Foster Kane and Emily. Douglas is waiting for an important phone call and is a bit anxious. He pays no attention to his wife sitting motionless and silently, staring at him. He stabs at the food on his plate and slices it viciously. And watch the half-demonic expressions that play across his face as he attacks and eats his food. The scene is an almost perfect embodiment of black comedy because, in context, it is outrageously funny -- but it could have been yanked straight out of a horror movie without changing a thing.
It's a fine script and DeVito does well by it. I guess it gets a little tiresome by the time they're chasing one another around the darkened half-ruined mansion, nailing boards over windows and unloosening nuts, and throwing plates. And when in the midst of their hatred, Turner serves the pleasantly surprised Douglas her superlative pate and then claims it was made of Benny's liver, I could have done without the quick shot of the living Benny in the bushes outside. But those are relatively small acnestes bracketed in a very funny movie.
There is a crazy logic to the story too. The couple begin by loving one another but are then separated by, well, THINGS. Douglas works very hard to make enough money so that his wife can find and furnish a perfect home for him. A little tritely, Turner discovers that she has grown not only to dislike the distracted Douglas but to hate him, so she wants her independence. Initially, the little frictions are minor. With a table full of dinner guests that Douglas is trying to impress, he asks Turner to explain how they happened to acquire the Baccarat wine glasses they're using. Nervously, she begins with a trip to Paris but so many dependent clauses intrude themselves that her narrative begins to resemble a 19th-century German sentence. So Douglas cuts her off: "To make a long story short.....", and wraps it up in two declaratives. (I can't emphasize too strongly how deftly DeVito handles this scene. Absolutely none of the irritation is spelled out except by the actors and the camera and editing, and yet we are left with a full understanding of the little disaster that's just taken place and the empty anger that follows.) The gathering enmity shows up in tiny ways. "I just wanted to push you," Douglas says to his wife's back, trying to explain some rudeness. "After all, everybody needs a little PUSH once in a while." (He picks up her cat and flings it aside.) And after his big dinner with his superiors, the couple are in bed and Douglas worries a little. "I hope they didn't notice what a jerk I was." Turner: "They never seem to." Douglas is so smug that the barb sails completely over his head. It's like Neal Simon, if Simon had become delicate.
The humor, if that's what it is, grows more physical and in some ways less funny. Douglas, drunk, urinates on some fish while Turner is giving HER big dinner for potential customers. In turn, while the assembled guests watch open-mouthed from the doorway, she revs up her two-million horsepower SUV with the big knobby tires and the 20 mm cannon on top and noisily smashes into his tiny classic Morgan convertible. Then she backs up and drives completely over it with Douglas inside. Douglas emerges shakily from the compressed car and says, sounding perfectly reasonable, "Look, I don't want to create a scene. I mean, I live in this neighborhood too."
See this movie if you have a chance. I would recommend it even if it weren't so good, simply on the basis of the last scene between the Roses. They have fallen 30 feet on a chandelier and lie dying next to one another. With his last bit of energy, Douglas manages to move his hand lovingly on her shoulder. And just before she dies, without being able to look at what she's doing, Turner reaches slowly out, puts her hand over his, and flips it away.
You know a movie is funny when you're by yourself and laughing out
loud. This is a hilarious saga of a divorcing couple, both of whom
refuse to leave their house. "The gloves are off," Michael Douglas
announces to wife Kathleen Turner, although for the viewer, they had
been off for some time. Both stop at nothing to drive the other out.
It's a strange film in a way because it starts out as a love story and slowly builds, as little signs that all is not well in paradise begin to emerge. Once the ugliness starts, there's no stopping it, and the film rapidly becomes a very black comedy.
Turner and Douglas receive able support from a very funny Danny Devito, who also directed, and the wonderful Marianne Sagebrecht, who provides a gentle presence amidst the chaos.
The War of the Roses offers the best analysis of the emotions behind
the end of a relationship when one partner irreversibly falls out of
love with another, who remains terminally hopeful that their love can
be rekindled. Danny Devito manages to accomplish this while
simultaneously putting together a very entertaining and funny black
Kathleen Turner does a tremendous job depicting a frustrated homemaker who has gradually and irreversibly grown to loathe her husband, played by Michael Douglas. Douglas in turn cleverly plays the oafish and smug breadwinner desperately seeking to preserve the marriage, though never quite admitting it to the audience or himself.
Overall, the War of the Roses remains a classic movie generally under-appreciated.
A very good movie, one that holds up well after repeated viewings. Even if you're familiar with the story, DeVito's methodical and precise direction makes it thoroughly absorbing all over again. This movie has the directorial perfection of a good Alfred Hitchcock thriller, but it's not either a thriller or a comedy; it's a unique mix of elements from several genres, that does contain some laughs and sardonic humor, but also has serious undertones, mostly thanks to Michael Douglas' three-dimensional character and surprisingly sensitive performance. Strongly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Divorce is an ugly business. Just ask any married couple who've gone
through it. It breaks up families. Its hell on the kids. But I think
the worst part of divorce proceedings is that the whole act only
reveals the ugly side of human nature. And Danny DeVito's The War of
the Roses seems to understand that. Which is why its such a brilliant
examination of marital bliss gone to hell. Its also an hilarious and
merciless black comedy that spits and claws to the bitter end without
ever holding back.
The couple in this film are Oliver and Barbara Rose (Michael Douglas & Kathleen Turner). The story of their marriage and eventual split is told to us through their lawyer, Gavin D'Amato (DeVito). He is consulting with one of his clients about the pitfalls of ill-advised marriages. And the Roses are a perfect example.
They first met at an auction. They were both bidding for the same item. And it turned into a fierce competition. Barbara won out, but it sparked the flames of desire, and before you knew it, the two fell madly in love. They eventually got married, bought a nice home, had two lovely children, a cat and a dog. And they lived happily ever...
Hold it right there! That's not the story being told here. If it were, Danny DeVito would never have agreed to direct. Oh sure, things started off well. As they always do. But over time, the cracks started to appear, and before long there was trouble in paradise.
Tiny details blossom into big problems. Oliver became a successful partner at his law-firm. But Barbara was stuck in the role of the dutiful housewife. Something that caused no end of frustration. Oliver is quite content with the way things are, and when Barbara tries to assert her independence, he's indifferent to her needs. Tiny things start out as minor irritations that become vehement hatred. Like Oliver's fake laugh at dinner parties. And Barbara embellishing details while telling a story. And when it looks like Oliver might die, Barbara is surprised to find she didn't care in the slightest. And one suspects, vice versa. That's the last straw. And so begins divorce proceedings.
Its at this stage in the film where things really pick up steam. Oliver and Barbara refuse to leave their magnificent, opulent mansion. And it sets the stage for what will become a battlefield between the Roses. A fight that rotates between spite, barbs and eventually attempted murder.
The War of the Roses is my favourite of all of Danny DeVito's black comedies. Because his direction here is so excellent and controlled. In some of his films, he has a tendency to overplay his hand to the point that what starts out pleasingly spiteful turns into unnecessarily farcical. Death to Smoochy was a particularly guilty offender.
But that's not the case here. DeVito's direction is assured, and gradual. He allows things to build slowly and surely and he never deviates from that. The material is quite attuned to his sensibilities too, and he's served by two excellent performances from Michael Douglas and (especially) Kathleen Turner.
DeVito made the canny choice of reuniting with his Romancing the Stone co-stars, because he understands their abilities, and he knew how well they would compliment each other. TWOTR is a complete polar opposite of RTS. Where that film had them as two different people who fall in love, this film has them as two people who start out in love and drift further and further apart.
Douglas and Turner get right into their roles with pure, undiluted relish. They bring the same energy and enthusiasm that fired up a lot of Romancing the Stone, and watching their rivalries explode into violence provides us with a source of great entertainment.
The part of an inattentive husband is something that Michael Douglas could play in his sleep. But he doesn't. He recognises the potential in the screenplay, and he plays straight to the hilt. He knows he's got great chemistry with Kathleen Turner, and the sparks that fly from the two are truly superb.
Turner has an equal amount of fun. Playing the role with a real arch sensibility, she positively sizzles. Barbara increasingly comes to dominate the picture. The mansion is her domain. And she knows it. Turner doesn't fly into the OTT theatrics that scuppered her later film, Serial Mom. Her performance here is more subtle and grounded in reality. And the film is all the better for it.
Mention should also be made of Danny DeVito's wonderful humour. He's not afraid to plumb the real depths of people going through a messy divorce. Physical violence is one thing. But DeVito goes even further than that. At the height of black humour, Oliver ruins a swish dinner party for Barbara's posh friends by peeing on the main course. And she returns the courtesy by turning his beloved dog into pate on a cracker.
But TWOTR is more than just bitchy oneupmanship. It is a cautionary tale. Otherwise we wouldn't have DeVito pulling double-duty as the lawyer telling us the cold hard facts behind the bitchiness. And its this element that allows the film to transcend its origins to become a surprisingly powerful fable in its closing scenes. Like most divorces, there is no happy ending, and this one ends on a real downer. Kudos to Danny DeVito for having the courage to keep things harsh and fatalistic, instead of resorting to anodyne clichés at the end.
The War of the Roses is fun, witty, gutsy and most of all true to life. And its an astounding rarity among black comedies. This one actually has something to say.
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