GORKY PARK: MARVIN’S LATTER DAY BRILLIANCE

Gorky Park (1983), director Michel Apted’s adaptation of the popular Martin Cruz Smith thriller, was not well-recieved when first released but it may be worthy of re-evaluation. There are several reasons I say this but the main reason, is of course, Lee Marvin’s performance.

Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne in Michael Apted’s GORKY PARK.

It was not only one of the actor’s last films, it would be the last time he would play a classic villain, as he had earlier in his career. I don’t want to give a spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film (which I highly recommend) so simply the premise will suffice here. It’s a complicated ‘whodunit’ in which Soviet-era police detective Arkady Renko (William Hurt) is tasked with finding who is responsible for the three mutilated bodies found in Gorky Park. There are several suspects and among them is shady American businessman, Jack Osborne (Marvin). To Marvin’s credit, as good as he looks in uniform, he looks even more impressive in the dapper expensive suits his character wears.  Watch the way he carries himself, as well. The brilliance mentioned are the touches the actor adds that are clearly not in the script. Dressing after a day at the sauna, he uses the back of his index fingers to straighten his collar and expensive tie he admires in the mirror. Then there’s the way he dallies the cat-and-mouse dialog with adversarial Hurt.

(L-R) Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne, William Hurt as Russian police detective Arkady Renko and Ian Bannen as Renko’s superior.

I genuinely believe it’s one of Marvin’s best performances that creates a through line of sorts to his career. Think of Paul Newman as the idealistic lawyer Anthony Lawrence of The Young Philadelphians (1959), and then the tragic alcoholic Frank Galvin of The Verdict (1982). There are other such examples to be made but I like to think that in Jack Osborne’s wilder youth he was not unlike the dapper yet violent Vince Stone of The Big Heat (1953). See Gorky Park and judge for yourself, of course.
As for the film, I was fortunate enough to interview British director Michael Apted for Lee Marvin Point Blank and his insights as to the films success and/or failure is on the money, as well as the fascinating anecdotes about its production. So check it out again wherever possible and give Lee Marvin’s performance a second look. I think you’ll pleasantly surprised.
– Dwayne Epstein

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