Starring: Alan Arkin, James Caan, Loretta Swit
Directed by: Richard Rush
Freebie and the Bean (1974) is the ultimate buddy movie. The constantly shifting dynamic of the two leads, the realistic, erratic inconsistency in their behaviour defines this sub-genre. Not by chemistry, but by sheer unpredictability. Although Bean (Alan Arkin) is the smartly dressed one, buttoned up in a 1960s rug salesman’s suit, he can be just as wild as Freebie (James Caan).
Like his partner, Freebie is a borderline corrupt cop (he hooks free threads, they both indulge in police brutality); unlike his partner, Freebie likes trashing cars and dressing as a honky pimp. He tends to be first into the action, though Bean and his terrible temper have no qualms finishing it. They are both as foolish and reckless as each other. The blind leading the blind; their only stability is their stupidity.
Alan Arkin has built a respectable and eclectic body of work during fifty years in film. This is perhaps his most accomplished role, simply because it is so deceptively complex. His schizophrenic everyman, equally smart and stupid, violent and passive, is a genuinely deep portrayal of human nature. Whenever Bean is put under pressure we never quite know how he is going to react; he’s incalculable, just as we all are.
The scene where Bean questions a man by all but threatening to toss him off a building is priceless. Bean is play acting, of course, but Arkin’s jittery performance ignites the teensiest flicker of doubt. Would Bean really off a guy just to get the information he wants? No. Definitely not. Well, probably not. He certainly thinks nothing of marinating a suspect in soup then batting him with a ladle.
Watchable as always, Caan plays Freebie as a wannabe stunt man with bigger balls than skills; ably demonstrated when he instigates a car chase through the streets of San Francisco that makes Bullitt look like Herbie Goes Bananas. Director Richard Rush stages this pursuit as both realistic and utterly ridiculous, achieving a chaotic blend of destructive excitement and hilarity. It stands up perfectly well today on sheer audacity alone.
Freebie and the Bean works because it dares to. Everything is tossed into the mix and most of it holds together. It’s the best darn movie of the seventies you’ve never seen.
© 2009 – 2012, Chris Laverty.