Thu
May 10 2012 10:30am

The Revival House: Twilight (1998)

The Revival House: Shining a light on underrated crime films. The coulda beens and shoulda beens you ought to know about.

Tonight’s Screening: Twilight (1998)

Poor Twilight. Never a big hit when it was released, and thus proving to Hollywood accountants that movies starring people over 50 will never do well, it has since been relegated to forever being confused for that other Twilight movie and feeling the anger of every tween girl who got confused when accidentally adding the Paul Newman-starring film to their Netflix queue. 

Twilight plays as a sort of spiritual cousin to Newman’s Harper from the 1960s. It is a swan song, in a way, to a classic style of mystery. A little slower, less sex and car chases. Newman gets to play a retired cop and investigator who is friends with Gene Hackman as an aging, cancer-stricken movie star. Susan Sarandon is Hackman’s trophy wife, starting to feel her age as well. And let’s not forget James Garner as a pal of Newman’s. Not exactly a cast for the teen set.

There is a very young Reese Witherspoon doing her before-they-were-famous topless moment. Lucky for her it is buried in a film too few have seen.

The plot is appropriately twisty in a way Raymond Chandler would have been proud of. Newman gets asked to do a favor for the still very influential Hackman, and the troubled past of Sarandon’s character starts to come out. Of course when the favor is delivering what appears to be blackmail money, an old salt like Newman knows there is more under the surface and his cop instincts won’t let him ignore what is staring him in the face.

My favorite moment in Twilight is emblematic of the film, and how it is so different from films with non-AARP casts.  There is a scene where Newman is prowling around a supposedly empty house on the hunt for clues. Someone takes a potshot at him. (M. Emmet Walsh, for the record. So you know the film has got to be good) Now, in almost any other film ever made, even one with other septuagenarians like Clint Eastwood, Newman would have pulled a gun and a wild shootout would have occurred where our hero proves his exceptional marksmanship despite his advanced age. But not in Twilight

Paul Newman and Susan Sarandon in Twilight (1998)No, Newman does what any of us would do. He panics. He runs. He crouches awkwardly to escape the bullets. It is a refreshing moment of reality in a genre that routinely eschews bothersome things like reloading or aiming a gun.

Director Robert Benton and star Newman were hot on the heels of their collaboration Nobody’s Fool when Benton and novelist/screenwriter Richard Russo wrote this vintage-style love letter to the rapidly aging world of on-screen detectives, and indeed to Hollywood itself. The vapid celebrity culture is not treated nicely in this film and the far-reaching influence of money and power can seemingly cover up any indiscretion.

There is a 20-year-old murder, quite a few secrets, some unrequited love and a femme fatale. Plus three Academy Award winners. It should have been a hit. Instead it sat quiet and unnoticed until another film with the same title came along and eclipsed it into permanent obscurity. 

Well, we here at the Revival House are all about fixing that.

I mean, other than having a cast of high-quality actors in their own twilight years, the film has everything going for it. Too bad the pedigree behind it couldn’t lift the film even into the top 100 for the year. It is a sad state of affairs when Patch Adams makes nine times what a great film like Twilight makes.

And, lest you think it would gross you out, the love/hate romance between Newman and Sarandon works quite well, even when they suck face. Susan Sarandon would have made a hell of a Film Noir actress had she been born sooner. 

Now’s your chance to rediscover this movie made by old pros at their experienced best. There is almost no effort to the film. It glides along like warm butter, like the smooth rumble in Newman’s aging voice. Heck, go ahead and see it for Reese Witherspoon’s boobs for all I care. You’ll find a really satisfying mystery and an incredibly well-acted story as a bonus.

Don’t let shimmering vampires suck the life out of a crime film worthy of your time and the effort it will surely take to hunt down a copy. But then again, Twilight is old school enough that it probably looks best on an old VHS copy.


Eric Beetner is an ex-musician, one time film director, and a working television editor and producer, as well as author (with JB Kohl) of the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and one really great dog. His upcoming novella Dig Two Graves will be out later this summer, along with short stories in the anthologies Pulp Ink, D*cked, and Grimm Tales.

Read all of Eric Beetner’s Criminal Element posts.

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2 comments
Carmen Pinzon
1. bungluna
You forgot to mention Margo Martindale, Liev Schreiber and Stockard Channing, who also shine in this film, imo. I love this one, but then I'm a fan of film noir as opposed ot sparkly vampires. Now I'm off to re-watch this gem.
Stephen Darlington
2. StephenD
Great movie. And the dialogue is immensely quotable. I'll always remember the line “When the client says you don’t need a gun, that means bring two”.
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