The career path of Robert Evans is the stuff of film legend. After a still-born bash at acting, he bagged the post of Head of Production at Paramount without having produced a single picture, and revived the dying studio’s fortunes during the late Sixties and early Seventies with a slate of films including Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Love Story (1970) and The Godfather (1972). Evans himself is stoking the legend here, in a highs-and-lows documentary which began life as a spoken-word version of his memoirs. A film version was apparently created as a free DVD with Vanity Fair, only for it to be judged too good to give away, whereupon it was granted a cinema release.
This is, perhaps self-consciously, the sort of rip-roaring tale that makes a fine movie – at least at first. In his heyday Evans was clearly on first name terms with Lady Luck, and the sheer exuberant rush of his adventures communicates well. The man himself narrates in care-worn tones, brandishing the sort of glorious turn of phrase that went out with the Ark, assuming the Ark had a sun roof and a well-stocked cocktail lounge. PC isn’t an acronym in his vocabulary.
All this is accompanied by bits of footage and inventive animated stills which are really just a basic moving backdrop to Evans’ narration. There’s a nicely-judged easy listening soundtrack, and the story of Evans’ early life is thrilling and provides its own momentum, but once he has risen to the top and is starting his long journey back down, the lack of visuals becomes more trying. It’s also hard to sympathise with a man of Evans’ obvious fortune too far, and the ‘happy ending’ is rather dubious: the supposedly glorious comeback he launched in the 1990s failed in spectacular fashion with a string of critical and commercial disasters. The Godfather (1972) may or may not be, as Evans claims, as much his film as Francis Ford Coppola’s – but he wisely neglects to mention his involvement in nineties efforts like Sliver (1993), Jade (1995) and The Saint (1997). Those looking for a compelling glimpse behind the scenes of Seventies Hollywood will get it, but they should be prepared for an equal amount of detail about how the roguish Evans charmed his way into the pants of the must desirable women of his day.
The strength of the material is undeniable, but despite some resourcefulness on the part of its makers, it lacks a human face – the odd talking head would really liven proceedings up (it doesn’t really help that Evans tends to drawl and mumble – all that high living must be hell on the vocal chords). Ultimately, all the deals and artistic stand-offs and boyish chutzpah start to pall, and it’s shown up for what it is – a glorified DVD extra. Evans’ story is compelling, but in this form it’s just an amusing, appealing diversion that eventually threatens to outstay its welcome, even at ninety minutes.