photo credits: ALAMY
In this film built from hundreds of hours of audio recorded by Marlon Brando himself, director Stevan Riley (Everything or Nothing; Blue Blood) gives us a biography told by the man himself.
From his humble beginnings and problematic parents, to him meeting mentor and Method embassador Stella Adler and landing the role of Kowalwski, right to his eclipse after Mutiny on the Bounty, his love affair with Tahiti, the string of embarrassing roles that followed, and at last his return with The Godfather and Apocalypse Now; there is nothing left out from this documentary, told from the point of view of a dead, yet immortal man. And just like a fiction film, by the end of the second act everything seems to be going south for Brando, after the disaster and clashes on set of Mutiny on the Bounty (that also sank – momentarily – director Carol Reed’s career), and his painful family affairs, that reached a particularly dark end with daughter Cheyenne’s suicide.
Starting with a strange digital “clone” of Brando’s face that recites Shakespeare to the eternity, Listen to Me Brando manages to be captivating even when its pace starts faltering by the end. Its excellent use of archive and stock footage, interlaced with the unmistakable, thick American-accented voice of the actor, means you will not be able to take your eyes off the screen during the film’s 90 minutes. Needless to say, the actor’s insights into the craft of acting are particularly shiny gems, and to hear them from the man that changed cinema acting forever is a rare delicious treat.
The strength of this documentary is in its intelligent non-use of telling it all. Things are suggested, half-said, mere shadows and tricks. Most of the times, Brando’s story is told through the characters he incarnated on screen. Brando’s womanizing is rendered with a montage and some footage of him flirting with his interviewers; his serious disagreements with Reed are reenacted by footage of the cursed film they worked together in, Brando’s rant about directors playing along. Sometimes you feel you want to know more about something – Bertolucci’s words about the actor and their time together when working on Last Tango in Paris feel like just a crumb of information (and the only direct instance when someone else but Brando talks about the actor), but the end comes too soon.
There isn’t a happy conclusion to the story, as all biographies end with the death of the protagonist. Brando, betrayed by his directors, was not the victim of a sacrificial killing like Kurtz, but, just like the mysterious jungle leader, his legacy will live on, whether we like him or not. He still is a contender.
RELEASE DETAILS – October 23rd, Digital 9th November, DVD & Blu-ray 30th November