For many, Matteo Garrone’s 2008 Neapolitan crime epic Gommorah ranks alongside Fernando Meirelles’ City of God and Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet as a great modern example of the gangster genre. The gritty realism, inspired by Garrone’s kinetic faux-documentary style, combines with fine acting and carefully interweaving plots to culminate in one of the most exciting and fearless treatises on criminality in recent memory. After tackling crime syndicates and reality TV (in 2012’s aptly-named Reality) Garrone has somewhat surprisingly turned his attention towards high fantasy for English language debut Tale of Tales. The film, an adult fairytale set to be released in the UK on June 17, is inspired by several stories from Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile.
Tale of Tales marks a rather radical departure from the director’s previous offerings. We’ve decided to use this change of tack as an opportunity to look at some other notable directors who stepped outside their comfort zones. Many of them have experimented with unfamiliar genres, but was it worth the gamble?
Martin Scorsese & Hugo
Upon assessing Martin Scorsese’s coveted career, Hugo stands out as both an anomaly and a natural station in the director’s enviable canon. On the one hand, it’s effectively a family film that follows a young boy’s quest to discover the secrets of an automaton that his father left behind. On the other, Hugo is a stirring ode to both the magic of cinema and its wonderful if broken history. For a director famed for tragic antiheroes and gritty realism, it certainly was a shift in tone; sandwiched between Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street on his resume, Hugo marks a lovely change of pace and may well endure to be remembered as one of the director’s finest.
Steven Spielberg & The Color Purple
The term Spielbergian is most often applied to films that are family-friendly, brimming with cinematic wonder, contain at least one cute child actor, and have a strong sense of genre; E.T. is perhaps the most perfect crystallisation of this. Of course, that changed. While Spielberg’s brand has persisted — and will rear its head again in the upcoming BFG — there is ample evidence that the master filmmaker knows how to make films for adults too. Before Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Munich, however, came The Color Purple, the first clear example of a Spielberg film made exclusively for an adult audience. His adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is an exquisite piece of cinema and vital evidence of his ability to work with more difficult subject matter.
Rob Reiner & Misery
Say what you will about Rob Reiner’s more recent directing career; during the 1980s he was one of the best directors in the business. After a string of classics that includes This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, and When Harry Met Sally… — seriously, this guy was untouchable — came Misery, a nightmarish departure for the director. For Reiner’s second stab at Stephen King (after Stand By Me), he directed Kathy Bates to an Oscar win for her role as Annie Wilkes, a deranged fangirl charged with caring for her favourite author. While Misery doesn’t reach the heights of other King adaptations — The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, and Reiner’s own Stand By Me set a very high benchmark — the film has lost none of its power and remains a claustrophobic tale of madness and obsession.
Ang Lee & Hulk
Often Kenneth Branagh ranks as one of the more surprising directors to be given a superhero movie. In fact, Thor’s Shakespearian stylings aren’t too far removed from the director’s more acclaimed work. More unusual, really, is Ang Lee’s Hulk. Two years before Nolan brought gritty realism to Batman Begins, Ang Lee attempted the same with Marvel’s iconic green rage machine. The director (now a two-time Oscar-winner) tried to lend humanity to Bruce Banner and, while the film was for the most part dismissed upon release, he did some work to achieve that. Hulk isn’t a great film, but it’s an interesting one, and is ambitious in ways that current superhero films aren’t; a film more interested in character and depth of feeling than cramming in cameos and delivering sheer spectacle. It’s also fine evidence that Nick Nolte needs more work.
Sam Mendes & Skyfall
Like Ang Lee, Sam Mendes is a “serious” director who makes critically-adored, “serious” films such as American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and Revolutionary Road. A perfect choice, then, for a James Bond film? It certainly seemed so when the British Oscar winner was handed Skyfall. After a bit of a slump with Quantum of Solace, the series was in need of a shot of adrenaline. For the most part, Mendes delivered. Even if the plotting was a little uneven, Skyfall is a suave piece of filmmaking that boats impressive setpieces and a real sense of weight for a character who is often under-served in his own films. Shame about Spectre, mind.
David Lynch & The Straight Story
Nothing stands out in David Lynch’s filmography quite like The Straight Story, not even The Elephant Man. Having made a name for himself with nightmarish head trips such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks, the Montanan auteur took a drastically different path with The Straight Story. Starring an awards-worthy Richard Farnsworth in his final role as Alvin Straight, The Straight Story tells the story of an old man who travels across middle America on a lawnmower to rekindle his relationship with his estranged, dying brother. Despite its pure sweetness, this heart-wrenching story remains a precious oddity in Lynch’s career. He quickly returned to familiar ground with Mulholland Drive.
The Warning Tale: Francis Ford Coppola & Jack
Because not every risk pays off… No amount of preceding brilliance from either director Francis Ford Coppola or star Robin Williams can change the fact that Jack was the nadir in both of their illustrious careers. Regardless of what came later, Francis Ford Coppola will always be remembered as one of the greats; with the Godfather saga, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now to his name there is no disputing his legacy. Jack, however, is a low point among a few decades of low points. Starring the great but inconsistent Williams as a young boy with an age disorder, the film falls flat on every level.
What are your thoughts on the films above? Are there any that you think we’ve missed? Please let us know in the comment section below.