Feature film directed by Peter Bogdanovich released in April 2002. This is being promoted as Bogdanovich's comeback effort, his first since 1993's The Thing Called Love which was widely avoided despite being the last film River Phoenix appeared in before his death from a heroin overdose. This film also focuses on death among Hollywood celebrities, recreating the real-life last cruise of producer Thomas Ince in November 1924 and the unexplained mystery that surrounded it. Also aboard the yacht of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (the alleged basis for the title character of Citizen Kane) were stars Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, and Margaret Livingston as well as British novelist Elinor Glyn and New York gossip columnist Louella Parsons.
This is not a conventional murder mystery, since you are told from the outset that Tom (played by Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride fame) will die, so you are simply watching the story unfold for clues as to how. It must have something to do with the love triangle of Hearst, (played by character actor Edward Herrmann, who I remember from Big Business with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin as two pairs of twins), Davies (played by luminous It Girl Kirsten Dunst), and Chaplin (played by Brit stand-up comic Eddie Izzard). All four actors display impressive range, switching from comedy to melodrama in a second. The script was adapted by Steven Peros from his own play and frankly still feels stagy, liable to leave the audience a little cold, though there is a good deal of enjoyably witty repartee.
In the end, this is a fable about money, love, and power, and how those three are juggled in an attempt to achieve happiness. The subject matter reflects Bogdanovich's interest in film history (he is the author of over a dozen books on the subject). In addition, Hearst's obsession with Davies' success and affection could be said to mirror the scandal Bogdanovich had with his own blonde mistress, Cybill Shepherd, during the shoot of The Last Picture Show in 1971. Though not one of my favorites of the year so far, this film is certainly more thought-provoking and smoothly shot than your average multiplex fare, and I recommend it.