Milius (2013) – A Review


A review of the 2013 documentary Milius, about the life and career of writer/producer/director John Milius

Writer/producer/director, movie maverick, controversial filmmaker John Milius’ life and career gets examined through interviews and film footage. His time being a young film student at USC to joining the ranks of the ‘Film Brats’ in the late 1960’s and 1970s, getting to add his voice to a string of popular films and then going onto direct his own. His bombastic personality and unapologetic attitude eventually steered him to a fall from the good graces of the Hollywood ranks, to the point of him being desperate for any work he could get.

His introduction to Hollywood movie making in the early part of his career is what I found the most compelling. His boisterous personality was clearly evident, but wasn’t enough to scare Hollywood off from working with him. He provided giving a distinctive memorable tone to many films. Dirty Harry, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Jeremiah Johnson, Apocalypse Now. His own journey directing Dillinger, The Wind and the Lion, Big Wednesday, Conan The Barbarian, Red Dawn. They all get ample time with insights from those who worked with Millius.

There are some wonderful interviews here! They offer up not only insights into the productions and the problems Milius faced in getting some of this words and views onto movie screens, but also the reaction by Hollywood and critics that would lead to his eventual downfall and being ostracized by the industry.

While the idea and premise of Red Dawn might seem relatively harmless today, upon its release it was controversial and all the criticism it took fell on Milius’ shoulders. It’s interesting to watch the older clips of reports about the film and be reminded just how big of a hot button topic it became. It’s shocking and depressing how desperate Milius became for work later in life.

While the film covers Milius’ journey and shows just what a unique and a grandiose person he is (and embraced the image), there is also an unexpected sympathetic turn the film takes.

John-Milius-writer-director-2013-documentary-Conan-BarbarianDuring the making of this film in 2010, Miilus suffered a stroke. Ironically, it occurred only a week before the filmmakers were scheduled to sit down and interview him.

This tragic event silenced the voice of the man which the story revolves around. It’s his colorful words and no holds bar attitude that makes Milius such an interesting subject to explore. Now incapacitated and unable to speak not only became a challenge for him, but also the filmmakers. How could they tell Milius’ story without him and what’s the ending for his story?

Directors Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson had to put the film on hold and rethink how they could add Milius’ voice and perspective to his own story. They settled on using past interviews of him talking about his films and life. Along with a laundry list of contemporaries, fellow filmmakers (including George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas), family and friends, the doc paints an excellent portrait of Milius the man and filmmaker.

The end of of the film shows Millius trying to learn how to articulate his words once again. The silence from him is tragic to see after learning seeing what a loud, expressive voice he once had. Spielberg describes Millius’ current medical battle as the worst thing that has ever happened to one of his friends. Taking on the fight, Milius looks determined to get back his voice and return to telling the stories he wants to tell with no apologies.

It’s very well done documentary and it’s worth it just for the compilation of interviews that are featured.

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