Gerald Wright's Movie Coverage
I'M STILL HERE
Directed by: Casey Affleck
Running time: 106 min.
Release date: September 10, 2010
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
MPAA Rating: R
Oscar-nominated actor Casey Affleck makes his directorial debut in this documentary. I'm Still Here has stirred as much controversy as the subject matter of his film. It is questioned as to whether or not this is a mockumentary or a serious expose' of Academy Award winner Joaquin Phoenix's retirement from a successful film career in the fall of 2008 to reinvent himself as a "rapper" in the hip-hop music industry.
The film examines Joaquin Phoenix from a raw and candid manner starting from his announcement in 2009 to retire from being an actor at the completion of the TWO LOVERS film production. Filmmaker Casey Affleck, who is also the brother-in-law of his subject Joaquin, takes his camera and crew through the daily routines of Joaquin and his ragtime entourage. Capturing Joaquin in self-indulgance and quite often moments of self-destruction, this documentary is a slow-burning character study.
There are five basic elements used in documentaries. Interviews are the first and, in this film, this element is used in a random format. Hip-hop mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs is a major player, as Joaquin constantly tries to set up an interview with him to show his work. This is the part of the film that goes in and out of the Joaquin's erratic behavior of missing appointments while chasing drugs and prostitutes. His interview with Ben Stiller for a role in the GREENBERG (2009) film was a farce. Then there is the infamous television interview with David Letterman last year, when a confused and mumbling performance prompted suspicion of the retirement to be a hoax.
As a film critic, I interviewed Joaquin during his promotion of the his last film TWO LOVERS while this documentary was being made. This was when he first made his startling announcement of leaving the film industry. I asked him and Casey several questions concerning his retirement and reinvention while the film was rolling.
In this documentary film, I am given a small speaking cameo where I ask him, "Will you actually do your own music and lyrics"? He looked at me in his disheveled bearded image and replied, "Yeah, Sure". I just look at him in wonderment and was amazed as to why a person would abandon a lucrative career.
Another element of making a documentary is "cutaways". These are close-ups of exteriors, such as people's bodies, windows, ashtrays, airplanes, etc. Filmmaker Affleck managed to capture this effect quite well as we see Joaquin smoking weed, frolicking with topless prostitutes, flying to and from locations, and ranting around his home and hotel rooms.
"Chill Footage" is a very important element that Casey Affleck uses in the documentary. This is when the film captures and reveals the emotional part of subject or, in this case, the character. Then there is the "Process Footage" and "Archive Footage", which has to do with the style of shooting the film and the historical footage used as a foundation or backstory. In this case, the "process footage" was more of a gorilla style shooting of Joaquin and his entourage as they are seen in foolish and childish charades. However, I was impressed with the archival footage of Joaquin as a child along with his family. It shows him in his innocent years and this footage gives merit to whom he once was.
This film project is by no means a great job. Yet, I cannot thoroughly penalize the purpose of its execution. I'M STILL HERE is a portrait of a self-destructive young man.
FILM RATING (C+)