Jeff Goldblum in Adam Resurrected
Jeff Goldblum in Adam Resurrected

I never realized how much I missed Jeff Goldblum (The Big Chill, Independence Day), the leading-man. Since the start of the 2000’s, he’s been playing second fiddle, supporting characters in 2006’s Man of the Year and 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the latter in which he had a hilarious stint as WASP seaman Alistair Hennessey. His haunted performance in Paul Schrader’s latest, Adam Resurrected, is a reminder of why he has remained a consistent, if not star, presence in Hollywood. Too bad the merits of the film are unable to match Goldblum’s performance.

Based on the treasured Israeli novel, Adam Resurrected was one of the first harrowing, fictional accounts of Holocaust survivors. A patient at the Seizling Institute (exclusively for Holocaust victims), circus-animal impersonator, Adam Stein (Jeff Goldblum), trots through the asylum’s halls with gravitas and charm. Once Germany’s funniest clown, Adam’s talents — clairvoyance, magic, and showmanship — are wasting away in middle-age, entertaining and tricking the clinically insane.

The sophisticate is also a fiery lothario, involved in a clandestine but much rumored about relationship with head nurse Gretchen (Israeli actress, Jenya Dodina). It is not the furtive relationship that intrigues; rather, it is Adam’s bestial, sexual proclivities. At the request of her handler, Gretchen seduces Adam by getting on all fours, rolling on her back (paws in the air) and barking like a dog.

As revealed through flashback, Adam in hopes for his family’s chance for survival underwent a year of dehumanizing misery sleeping, eating, and barking like a dog in a Nazi ghetto. His master, Commandant Klein (the routinely solid Willem Dafoe), took the magician in as his personal pet, to torture and amuse. The literal hand-to-mouth life as a canine slave acts as a wonderful allegory for the conditions Adam and his people endured in the Nazi ghettos and death camps. However, allegory takes a visual showmanship to translate to screen, yet director Paul Schrader, the writer of masterwork screenplays like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, is better suited behind the typewriter than for directing literary adaptations.

Having shown visual audacity in Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Schrader fails to evoke a similar ingenuity in Adam Resurrected. The film seems better suited for a director with a fanciful but distorted imagination, like that of Terry Gilliam.

In scenes of heightened circumstance, Schrader plays for realism instead of fantastic whimsy, and when the script delicately balances sharp transitions of morbid terror to mordant playfulness, the film suffers. The flashbacks in the death camp and Adam’s interaction with the Seizling Institute’s traumatized patients are ineptly handled.  Adam Resurrected is as tonally cohesive as a Jackson Pollock canvas; one’s interest sways from strangely amused to detached abhorrence, especially in the film’s hackneyed ending.

But at the soul of Adam Resurrected, carrying it through the doldrums of mediocrity, is Jeff Goldblum’s noteworthy performance. In a thick German accent and fluctuating cadence, he complements his speech with spotty movement but in precise calibration to his character, matching Adam’s erratic, uncontrollable genius. For the wiry Jewish actor who in the mid-’90s oddly flirted with action hero stardom, fighting extra-terrestrials and sprinting from Tyrannosaurus Rexes, Goldblum is finally the lead on the silver screen again (he was excellently featured in The Pillowman on Broadway). To the lanky man who never really went away, here’s to a warm welcome back.

Adam Resurrected. USA 2008. Directed by Paul Schrader. Written by by Noah Stollman from the novel by Yoram Kaniuk. Cinematography by Sebastian Edschmid. Edited by Sandy Saffeels. Original Music by Gabriel Yared. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Ayelet Zurer, Moritz Bleibtrau and Jenya Dodina. 1 hour 47 minutes. MPAA rated R for some disturbing behavior, sexuality, nudity and some language. 2 stars (out of 5)

5 Responses to “Review: Adam Resurrected (2008) **”

  1. Fascinating. I am looking forward to this, though your review does not make it sound particularly successful as a cohesive film, as you bluntly state. I agree that Schrader displayed a “visual audacity” with Mishima, though he also employed some intriguing cinematic tricks with Light Sleeper and some other films since. His screenplay work adapted by Scorsese, however, is what he will likely remain best known for. Excellent review!

  2. Excellent sophomore effort here Sam, albeit for a middling film, that you at least celebrate for the lead performance of Jeff Goldblum. good point that you making posing that a director like Terry Gilliam could have been more effective with this material, instead of the “behind the typewriter” schrader, whom I agree is a far better writer than director, MISHIMA notwithstanding.

    I will see the film for Goldblum’s performance.

  3. Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of Schrader the director, but I’m drawn to this one because of Goldblum.

  4. A director like Terry Gilliam would have been totally wrong for ADAM RESURRECTED. Gilliam’s “fanciful but distorted imagination” is a brandname, the shticky obviousness of which would have both dulled and obscured the edgy psychological realism that keeps ADAM’s take on potentially hokey themes (ie how “maddness” can be redemptive and truly sane) fresh and thought provoking.You need a director like Paul Schrader for material that intends to shock in new ways: Schrader’s almost prudish sensibility as a director and writer, which tends to reveal his austere Clavinist moral heart, also indulges the wilder and more dangerous aspects of human behavior (and cimena); in turn, Schrader’s matter-of-fact though audacious style of film making provides the only vital continuity with story material that is all about the “sharp transitions” of both debasement and redemption. Moreover, Schrader’s tenacious vision here is also the reason why everyone involved, including the audience, feels like they have earned the film’s ending, which though “hackneyed”, is still cathartic. Gilliam’s tame vision, on the other hand, though it might have succeeded in reaching the still-beating heart and soul at the core of it’s debased human clowns, would have failed to also beautify and canonize them, which, I believe, is what Schrader’s film is trying to acheive. We need this more right now… You might not agree or like Schrader’s vision overall, but in a film like ADAM, it is not accidental. This is the film Schrader was born to direct.

  5. Thanks for stopping by Aldemar. You’ve convinced me maybe I should have a look at AR after all. I agree that Schrader is a talent, but his visions don’t always speak to me and I’ve been luke warm on most of his directorial work. I wouldn’t mistake that matter of taste however for a judgement about his artistry.

    I’m tempted to see this one because of Goldblum though and what you say might put it over the top.

    I’m a big fan of Gilliam, though having not seen the film in question I can’t say you’re wrong about his suitability for AR.

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