John Krasinski continues to impress me with his talent. The actor, who’s achieved stardom on the NBC’s The Office, has shown great range on the series this season, displaying many facets of his character, Jim’s, personality. It’s been fun watching him. Now comes the DVD release of his directorial debut, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, an accomplished adaptation of the late David Foster Wallace’s book. For any of you who’ve read any of Wallace’s work, you’ll know that it’s no small feat translating Wallace’s dense writing onto film. Krasinski, who also wrote the screenplay, captures the essence of Wallace’s writing, creating a literate, thoughtful film, while still making Brief Interviews With Hideous Men a fully realized cinematic experience.
Julianne Nicholson stars as Sara, a graduate student working on a project interviewing men. She probes their minds, getting them to open up about their desires, failures, fears, resentments and successes. Many of the interviews take place in a nondescript room, windowless, at a metal table with a folding chair. In some ways it feels like a police confession. But, the men speak freely and are remarkable candid. Some of her subjects deliver one long monologue, while in other interviews the film flashes back to the incidents being described. And still other subjects are strangers that Sara observes, at cocktail parties, in a coffee shop, during work hours at the University where she works, and also one painful confession by her boyfriend (played by Krasinski).
The large ensemble in the film includes some of the finest character actors in television and film, including Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent) Will Forte (SNL), Frankie Faison and Clarke Peters of The Wire, Timothy Hutton, Christopher Meloni (Law & Order:SVU) and Josh Charles (The Good Wife). Each actor manages to create a three dimensional character out of their limited screen time. This is a credit to Krasinski’s succinct writing and his capable direction. Nicholson is required to react and listen throughout most of the movie. As the interviewer, Sara has to remain impartial, yet we need to see that the stories she’s hearing are moving her or angering her without words. The film hinges on Nicholson’s performance as she is our eyes into the movie. With expressive eyes and subtle facial reactions, she is outstanding.
Krasinski chose a non linear approach to his film; it’s not until the very end of the movie that we realize where the story began. However, you don’t feel like you’re being duped or that this is some pretentious art film. Everything flows naturally that once you get to the end, everything makes sense. Visually, cinematographer John Bailey, whose storied career includes such character studies as Ordinary People, The Big Chill, The Anniversary Party and he recent The Greatest) really knows how frame a scene that involves mostly talking and not a lot of action. The mise en scene of Brief Interviews of Hideous Men is lovely to watch and lit with the golden hues of autumn.
The making of this film was a labor of love for Krasinski. He secured the rights to the book with his first monies earned from The Office and spent nearly two years shooting the film and editing it together. You can feel his passion for the source material throughout the movie and his excitement for Wallace’s artistry seems to have rubbed off on his cast and crew.
The bonus features on this DVD are sparse, including some behind the scenes interviews with the cast. The most interesting dialogue occurs with Krasinski, humble and excited about his accomplishment. It’s refreshing to see a director express so much gratitude to the people who helped him complete his vision. I hope we see more films from Krasinski in the future, both in front of and behind the camera.