Free Money (1998)

Gothic, surreal and extremely stupid, Free Money (1998) is a very funny movie.  Daft, glorious and with an evil streak, it is almost what you may call ‘standard fare’ except for twists and the occasional joke that may not be considered palatable by film executives south of the Canadian border.  Directed by Yves Simoneau, Free Money stars Marlon Brando, Charlie Sheen, Holly Watson and Christin Watson, Donald Sutherland, Thomas Haden Church and Mira Sorvino — impressive to say the least.  But if you like your Marlon Brando buff and in 1950s motorcycle mode, you’ll be dismayed at the man mountain of dark comedy on offer here.  Still — hilarious to the last.

 

One crazy Brandonian man-mountain of comedy

In fact, of all the later Brando performances, which are The Freshman (1990), Christopher Columbus:  The Discovery (1992) for which he was Razzie-nominated for  Worst Supporting Actor; Don Juan DeMarco (1995), The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor,  The Brave (1997), Free Money  (1998), and The Score (2001) — Free Money is by far and away the best.

Marlon Brando with Holly and Christin Watson

First, Free Money isn’t simply a ‘Brando appears for a few moments of insanity’ type of appearance as most of the above films are.  No, In Free Money Brando is the leading actor, carving out a complete and detailed performance, pulling all sorts of hitherto unseen tricks from his actor’s travelling bag of tricks.  His character, a brutal prison warden called ‘The Swede’ is perfectly humanised by his all-American love of his truck, and by his devotion to his two daughters.  His bulk for once works in his favour, as it gives him all the authority he needs to have everyone in the room quaking in their boots.

Thomas Hadyn Church and Charlie Sheen

Charlie comes and goes from all our lives, and there have been some great strange moments such as the Christopher Dorner video plea.  Free Money demonstrates that whatever he’s done over the years, comedy is his metier.

On the downside, Brando doesn’t work that well with Donald Sutherland.  Sutherland has played his share of cold and calculating psychos, and although he plays a judge, you can’t help but be reminded of his character in Lock Up (1989); it’s a sort of one dimensional bad guy, who doesn’t fare well against Brando’s virtuoso multi-purpose comic creation.   That said, it is hard to envisage an actor having made more films than Donald Sutherland in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s — certainly over 100 in those three decades — so one can’t expect a complete new character creation each time.

Marlon Brando with Mira Sorvino

With Brando however — yes.  Character creation, and comic perfection.  It’s a relief to millions of people that in those last arid, turgid years, Marlon Brando pulled the stops out at least once and gave the world something great.

... finally