By: Trevor Chartrand
When a documentary filmmaker invests years of their life studying one subject, it goes without saying that this is a subject they have a lot of passion for. However, the real trick is to take this topic – whatever it may be – and get an audience equally invested. As much as the filmmaker may love the subject matter, the viewers need to care too. This is where The Coolest Guy Movie Ever fails.
On the surface, this doc explores the making of 1963’s The Great Escape, a classic war epic that has captured the imaginations of countless viewers for over fifty years. Imaginations including director Christophe Espenan and the film’s narrator, Lawrence Montaigne (who played a small role in the original film). Together with a group of film historians, they set out to revisit all the locations where The Great Escape was shot.
And honestly, that’s about all this movie does. We get scene after scene of people matching screenshots from The Great Escape with the German countryside. They’ll say ‘hey, look at that barn!’ – followed by a cut to Steve McQueen riding a motorcycle passed the same location in the original film. The pattern quickly becomes repetitive, and by minute-57, the trope is beyond overplayed. There’s no deeper meaning or purpose to their journey. It’s as if that friend of yours who visited all the locations from The Lord of the Rings decided to make a feature film using only their vacation photos.
While the film does contain behind the scenes interviews, the interesting ‘making-of’ tidbits are few and far between. In fact, the most fascinating take-away from this documentary is how reckless, chaotic and disorganized the original shoot was, to the point where multiple stuntmen were almost killed – not to mention how the filmmakers were caught several times shooting without permits, with actors wearing swastikas and Nazi uniforms that had been outlawed at that time.
The Coolest Guy Movie Ever isn’t exactly the coolest looking film ever, either. There are a few times where a prominent camera smudge blocks the frame, and plenty of unflattering lens flares that reveal unclean camera lenses. The film is edited using a picture-in-picture style, with the talking head interviews placed over location footage – but the framing choices are strange. The talking heads are always overlaid on the right side, mid-frame, or in the top left corner, without much logic to their placement. As a documentary that pays tribute to a cinematic milestone, there’s not much visual style here; with no effort made to recapture the look and feel of The Great Escape.
While I completely respect the journey these filmmakers have taken, a lack of focus and purpose makes for a pretty uneventful doc. The time and effort they’ve put into uncovering these landmarks of film history is a noteworthy undertaking, but their execution lacks any real cinematic punch. This film is nothing more than a personal journey. As an audience member, we are always on the outside looking in. The film never invites us to join the adventure – there is no sense of discovery, minimal narrative, and nothing at stake for the filmmakers. As a result, there’s not whole lot to learn from The Coolest Guy Movie Ever.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor