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Overall Rating

Awesome: 28.57%
Worth A Look39.29%
Average: 7.14%
Pretty Bad: 25%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Razor's Edge, The (1984)
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by Jay Seaver

"Something its star just wasn't ready for."
2 stars

The 1984 version of "The Razor's Edge" had a well-worn behind-the-scenes narrative attached to it almost as soon as it was announced - the comedian who wanted to be taken seriously, proved unsuited to it, and failed spectacularly. He goes back to making people laugh, but has he learned that this is even more important than making them cry, or has he been crushed by the realization that he will always be second class? In real life, Bill Murray hones his craft for the next fifteen years and ages into the kind of guy melancholy suits, but that doesn't mean that the first part of the story didn't happen.

For his dramatic debut, Murray and his collaborators adapt a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, with Murray playing Larry Darrell, a laid-back college baseball star who, along with classmate Gray Maturin (James Keach), volunteer to drive an ambulance on the front lines before the United States has officially entered World War I. He leaves behind sweetheart Isabel Bradley (Catherine Hicks) and married friends Bob (Joris Stuyck) & Sophie MacDonald (Theresa Russell). He comes back confused and dissatisfied with the gilded life awaiting him back in America, deciding to spend a year on Paris - and not the classy enclave Isabel's uncle Elliott Templeton (Denholm Elliott) picks out for him.

It stretches out to more than a year, of course, and is quest to find some understanding of the world takes him to many places other than Parisian grottos. In the meantime, life back "home" goes on without him, until the group inevitably reunites over a decade later. Indeed, it seems like everything that can happen does - every period-appropriate tragedy, every bit of soapy melodrama, every way a person can contemplate Just What All This Means. There is nothing that seems out of place, but also nothing that seems like it comes from the characters, rather than happening to them, the most serious moments picked from their lives and lined up by screenwriters who figure the way to maximize drama is to maximize the obviously important scenes.

And yet, even as he and his co-writers are making sure that the audience knows this is all serious business, Murray seems to be hedging his bets, having Larry suddenly break out jokes and silliness that don't feel like a sad person putting on a front. They come and go too quickly and remind people of what he does well compared to the doe-eyed signification of both malaise and tranquility he is not ready to pull off. He's got some nice moments, but he winds up too deadpan for the story's melodrama and too afraid of being laughed at to ever truly rip this guy's heart open.

Something kind of similar happens with Theresa Russell, in that the filmmakers fall back on emphasizing her curves even as she's trying to play tragedy. Like Murray, she's not quite up to it, although she gets loud compared to his quiet, and they don't quite find a way to make their characters two sides of the same coin. Catherine Hicks isn't bad, though - a bit theatrical, sure, but able to find something individual in the times when she's called upon to make Isabel shallow or unsympathetic. Everybody could take lessons from Denholm Elliott, though; he quietly plays out an arc for Templeton in the background that may wind up resonating more than those of the younger characters on the foreground.

Around the sometimes ill-chosen cast, director John Byrum and his crew put together a film that has all the properties of the prestige piece it is trying to be. It's impressively mounted, with great locations and a gilded color scheme where appropriate that never feels particularly ostentatious. It certainly would not look out of place next to similar Merchant-Ivory films, and there's no doubting the sincerity of everyone involved. This is not just an imitation of classy films, but a sincere attempt to make something with some weight.

Making that sort of classic literary drama is just not something Murray was ready for, and even today, he might not truly fit into it, even if cast in the Denholm Elliott role. The ambition is laudable, even if poorly-targeted, and it's quite a watchable movie. It's just a poor match, and even thirty years later, when Bill Murray in a dramatic role is not a high hurdle for the viewer to get over, it still never feels right.

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originally posted: 01/17/15 14:35:22
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User Comments

7/18/16 Jeff Murray bit off more than he could chew. Read the book. 2 stars
2/20/16 Margie Bang Larry followed the lessons he learned in Tibet admirably! 5 stars
7/08/15 brian Looks beautiful, but Murray's dead eyes leave his acting flat. Slow. Not awful, though. 3 stars
1/18/15 Lynn Guier One of my very favorite Bill Murray movies!! 5 stars
11/14/14 Len Daley I watch this movie for inspiration and enjoy it deeply every time. 5 stars
4/18/14 the unlikely guru hey if you like this watch the oridginal the different take on it is a cool comparison. 4 stars
9/25/11 Chad Hautmann A superb movie, one of my all-time faves--and I'm not alone in that assessment. 5 stars
4/04/11 Robert Peterson One of my all time 10 best films. I love it. 5 stars
11/12/06 mr.mike not bad,but i recall it dragging on too long.... 3 stars
2/25/06 Kankasaur Maugham's "Darrell" played tentatively by Murray, not yet an acting force majeur. 4 stars
6/20/05 Richie Alternating layers of shallow and profound, which echoes reality - nu? 5 stars
2/05/04 Judy One of my absolute top favorites 5 stars
9/26/03 Charles Tatum Much better than you think 4 stars
3/03/03 Jack Sommersby Flawed and uneven, yet, miraculously, it manages to affectingly touch. Russell is superb. 4 stars
11/22/02 S. Reuter You know, it is really a well done flick. It's serious, "existential" (50cent word) and... 5 stars
7/27/02 Soulis well acted, serious plot, good film, don't rent it for laughs 4 stars
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  19-Oct-1984 (PG-13)



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