Running time: 113 minutes
Screenplay: Zach Helm
Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah
With a startlingly original premise, Stranger Than Fiction grabs your attention from the start. Like the average Charlie Kaufman script, writer Zach Helm has presented something never seen before, at least by me. Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, a man who works for the IRS and has a routinely dull life, filled with numbers, tax figures and counting brush strokes. One day, he hears a voice in his head. The voice is not talking to him, but is narrating his life, as though he is a character from a book. At first he fears he may be going crazy, until the voice lets it slip that he will soon die. Looking for help, he meets Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a literacy expert who agrees to help him discover what kind of story he is in, and possibly track down the writer before he is killed off.
|Harold Crick: a small man with small dreams.|
What begins as simply an interesting idea becomes something far bigger when Harold learns the exact circumstances of his forthcoming death, and also when Karen Eiffel, the writer (Emma Thompson, on particularly fine form) is confronted with the fact that her character is a living breathing person. It forces you to consider the question; if you knew that you were going to die, including how and when, but knew that you were going to die accomplishing something wonderful, would or could you still allow it to happen? To my shame, I am forced to admit that I really don't know if I could, which in these circumstances, would almost certainly doom me. And that is why Eiffel decides to spare Crick's life, much to Professor Hilbert's disappointment; because he agreed to let her kill him. As she says, isn't he (unlike me) the kind of person you want to keep alive? She's a hair's breadth away from a complete breakdown as she's writing the pivotal scene, knowing the injuries she's inflicting on her real life character, but later, is content and calm in the knowledge that she sacrificed her masterpiece to save a man that was worth saving. I can see how the book might suffer from the decision to keep Harold Crick alive, but the ending to the film is much more satisfying for it.
Every cast member is excellent, portraying believable characters in the face of an outlandish story. It is of course no surprise that Hoffman and Thompson put in wonderful performances (when have they not?), but what is surprising is Will Ferrell. Who would have thought that Ron Burgundy (Anchorman) and Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights) would be capable of such a perfectly understated dramatic performance? Before this, I would have laughed loudly in your face had you even suggested such a thing, but this should have done for Ferrell what The Truman Show did for Jim Carrey.
Funny, heartbreaking, emotional and beautiful stuff - like any good story should be.
|Tortured artist Karen Eiffel.|
Roger Ebert & James at Reelviews seem to agree.