Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Warren Beatty
Stars: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Oliver PLatt, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergin, Steve Coogan, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Hart Bochner, Chace Crawford, Marshall Bell, Michael Badalucco, Holmes Osborne.
Despite the fact that he died in 1976, eccentric billionaire, aviator and movie mogul Howard Hughes continues to fascinate filmmakers. Hughes has previously been played on screen by the likes of Jason Robards, Tommy Lee Jones, Dean Stockwell, and Leonardo Di Caprio, who played a younger version of the millionaire gripped by phobias and paranoia in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Now Oscar winning director Warren Beatty (Reds, etc) steps up to tackle the role of the enigmatic and eccentric billionaire in Rules Don’t Apply, a film which he has also written and directed.
The film opens in 1964, when the reclusive billionaire was forced to make a phone call to a room full of journalists in order to prove that he was very much a live and sane. Then the film moves to 1958, a time when Hughes still ran his RKO studios and had a bevy of aspiring starlets on the payroll. Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins, from Mirror Mirror, etc) is an aspiring film star who has been signed to the studio as a contract player. A virginal and naïve former small town beauty queen, Marla arrives in Los Angeles accompanied by her deeply devout mother (Annette Bening).
Hughes has a fleet of drivers to ferry the starlets around town. But he has forbidden any sort of romantic involvement between his employees, under penalty of instant dismissal. But there develops a burgeoning romance between Marla, who is growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress with her promised screen tests, and he driver, the handsome but ambitious Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich, from Beautiful Creatures, Stoker, etc). Frank and Marla flirt and defy the rules, and their flirtatious and forbidden romance occupies much of the film. Soon 1950’s puritanism and sexual repression gives way to the more liberated outlook of the 60s.
Meanwhile Frank also begins to develop a close, trusted relationship with the reclusive Hughes, and begins to move up the organisation to a position of power.
But it seems that Beatty is also taking a liberal approach to some of the details regarding Hughes’ life. Beatty has taken a slightly unorthodox approach to his depiction of the increasingly erratic character of Hughes, who refuses to meet with businessmen face to face (which leads to a comic confrontation with a group of powerful New York bankers, led by a frustrated Oliver Platt, who want to buy his TWA airline), and who only seems to come alive when he is flying. However, the film is a little slow in patches and is unevenly paced. There are too many subplots running throughout the film, and the screenplay busily tries to juggle them.
Rules Don’t Apply marks Beatty’s first acting role since the dire, critically mauled Town And Country from 2001, and his first film as director since 1998’s Bulworth. He seems to be having a lot of fun here and he plays the maverick Hughes with a mischievous twinkle in his eye at times. He revels in the role, bringing a wicked sense of humour to his portrayal. But he also captures the idiosyncrasies – his germaphobia, his OCD, his reluctance to actually meet people face to face, and his paranoia. For a long period of time he locked himself away inside his hotel room, controlling his vast business empire while refusing to emerge into the public spotlight.
Ehrenreich has charm as Frank, but he also shows a ruthless streak. Collins is great as the initially naïve Marla who eventually grows in strength and confidence. A number of well-known faces pop up in small roles, including Alec Baldwin as Hughes’ CEO, Candice Bergin as Hughes’ loyal secretary, Marrtin Sheen as his lawyer, Steve Coogan, Ed Harris, Matthew Broderick, Paul Sorvino, and Dabney Coleman.
The film spans the years from 1958 to 1964, and moves from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and Acapulco. Beatty’s production design team have done a superb job of authentically recreating Los Angeles of the period. Jeannine Oppewall (LA Confidential, etc) captures an authentic look and feel for Los Angeles of the era, and the cars especially look great. The film has been shot by veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (National Treasure, etc), who bathes it in a warm nostalgic glow and soft brownish hues.