Cinemalphabet: W is for Welcome to Mooseport (2004)
In the summer of 2004, Oscar winner Gene Hackman told Larry King he had no future plans to act and was retiring from show business. Sure many actors before him had issued similar statements only to show up later in some straight-to-DVD release or as a guest star on a hit TV show. For Hackman fans this was quite a blow because his performances leading up to his retirement – starting with Enemy of the State released in 1998, and his brilliant work in The Royal Tenenbaums – ranked up there with some of the best film has to offer. Four years passed with nary an appearance from Hackman – save his voiceover work for Lowes – and the actor confirmed his retirement, which should have been the final word, except nobody noticed.
Hackman turned 81 this year and while he’s certainly kept his military figure (Hackman was in the Marines) and busy (he’s written three novels with undersea archaeologist Daniel Lenihan) he is 81 and fully entitled to pursue other interest no matter how frustrated this makes his fans (myself included). In addition, Hackman hasn’t always been appreciated for his fine work because he was so prolific. But Newsweek sums up this point much better:
One reason why we haven’t valued Hackman properly is a slur that’s been flung at him since the ’60s: character actor. But Gene Hackman is not a “character actor.” He’s a great actor, full stop. (He’s only a “character actor” in the way that Jackson Pollock is a “painting painter.”) Hollywood’s habitual bias toward pretty leading men slights the actors who have the range to play all sorts of roles. This, surely, is Hackman’s greatest distinction. Good ol’ boy Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde. Comically diabolical Lex Luthor in Superman. The blind hermit in Young Frankenstein. The coach in Hoosiers. Saintly cowboys, panicky astronauts, philandering steelworkers, several kinds of president … Like every actor, he had some misfires, and there’s no denying that he signed on for some seriously regrettable films. But this side of Meryl Streep—which is to say, here among the mortals—it’s hard to think of a contemporary American actor who could convince you he was born to play so many far-flung roles.
I’m not holding out hope for a grand return to acting for Hackman, which means trying to understand the quiet coda that is Welcome to Mooseport. The 2004 film boasts an impressive cast, an amusing premise – Former president moves to Maine and decides to run for Mayor of his adopted home town – and is satisfying in the way that My Fellow Americans, Space Cowboys and Grumpy Old Men is (all films I count as tasty treats). Yet, the film was critically and commercially panned and currently enjoys approval ratings in the teens by critics and the twenties by audiences. Of course, at the time who could have known this would be the last film ever made by Hackman. I certainly didn’t at the time and I enjoyed the film.
It was classic Hackman comedy, though the role could have easily been inhabited by Eastwood, Freeman or Garner. That said, if everyone had been aware it was Hackman’s swan song I’m certain the film would have been treated much kinder. So far there hasn’t been the kind of rush to revise as was the case with The Big Lebowski, but as each year passes without a screen appearance from Hackman, I’m sure it’s coming. The revisionist train is slow, but never late.