1985 in Film – Jagged Edge

Release Date: October 4th
Box Office: $40,491,165

This piece by Scott Jeffery was originally posted on his movie blog Film Dribble which is awesome and is one you should regularly read

Ah, the 1980s, what a different cinematic landscape it was. Nostalgia aside (I will happily argue it remains the greatest era for family-friendly comedy adventures) there were very real differences between then and now- video shops for one, the lack of an internet for another. Crucially it was also a time when the multiplex had not yet colonised the landscape. Smaller, independent cinemas still existed and while big-budget tent-pole movies certainly existed it was possible to see a wide range of genres in the average cinema. When David Fincher’s excellent Gone Girl was released in 2014 there was a lot of talk about the death of the ‘mid-range’ movie that Gone Girl represented. The mid-range drama was a staple of 1980s cinema. These were realistic dramas (a splash of thriller often involved, but not necessarily), likely to be rated 18 (R in America) because of the potential sex, language and violence.  But they were not exploitationers; these were films with big stars and respected directors, created within the traditional industry mode- respectable budgets, equipment, time, and so on. In the current globalised market the mid-range drama is a difficult sell, with cultural specifics of drama (and comedy come to that) making such films less marketable in foreign countries, unlike action movies, superhero films or fantasy epics. Consider the top ten grossing movies of 1985. Back to the Future tops the list, but The Colour PurpleOut of Africa and Witness all feature (at 4, 5 and 8 respectively). Compare that to the current box-office so far this year, where the only mid-range drama is Fifty Shades of Grey, and even that was always a safe bet, being borne of an already successful literary franchise.

Jagged Edge is an archetypal example of the mid-range drama. Its stars, Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges, were well-established actors by the time the film was produced. Close had already scored a hat-trick of Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations for The World According to Garp (1982), The Big Chill (1983), and The Natural (1984), while Bridges had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for 1971’s The Last Picture Show, and Best Actor in 1984, for his role as the alien in John Carpenter’s Starman. They’re surrounded by a strong cast of character actors, including Robert Loggia as a heavy-drinking investigator and friend of Close; a role which earned him a Best Supporting Actor nominationCome to think of it, those five films taken together are solid examples of the mid-range drama themselves. The film was directed by Richard Marquand, fresh off Return of the Jedi, the kind of big budget fantasy which in th1980s was an exception rather than the norm.

The script was by Joe Esterhaz before his most perverse excesses took over (looking at you, Basic InstinctSliver and Showgirls), and concerns Close’s lawyer Teddy Barnes, who has quit criminal law after some shady incident with DA Thomas Krasny. When Bridge’s Jack Forrester awakes from being knocked unconscious to discover his wife’s horribly mutilated body, Krasny doesn’t buy his story. Forrester convinces Barnes to defend him, and while the courtroom drama unfolds she deals with mysterious, mocking typewritten letters about the case and the details of her past with Krasny slowly begin to surface. This is a well-told piece of pulp fiction, as long as one gets over Teddy’s decision to sleep with her client. Which is dumb but still serves to ratchet up the tension in the story so I guess we can forgive that. Meanwhile there are some neat twists, turns and red herrings along the way.

Jagged Edge is never going to change anyone’s life (well maybe, but not in any way I can immediately think of) but its a great example of a kind of well-crafted, Hollywood product that is becoming increasingly rare. They DO make them like this anymore, just not as often as they should.

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