The title subject of Milius, the latest documentary about an under-appreciated artist, sums up the film’s shortcomings when he grouses, “Like they say, ‘Time will dignify anything.'”
While co-directors Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson have roped together an impressive cavalcade of talking heads, they don’t spur on their interview subjects beyond stock anecdotes and superficial impressions. So John Milius, the screenwriter of Apocalypse Now and script doctor of Dirty Harry, is presented as a mysterious, volatile genius.
At first, testimonials suggest that Milius’s grandiose eccentricities — his Hemingway-esque love of guns, cigars, and burly philosopher-warriors — made him unique. But eventually, everyone from George Lucas to Paul Schrader reinforce Milius’s self-image as a misunderstood poet of meathead cinema.
Thankfully, Milius is not just a hagiographic portrait of the artist as a crotchety, marginalized dynamo. Star Arnold Schwarzenegger and critic Elvis Mitchell coolly speculate that, while Milius’s right-leaning politics alienated many Hollywood liberals, he’s wrong if he thinks he was blacklisted. But discussion of Red Dawn, Milius’s shit-stirring Cold War action-adventure, breaks off before interviewees can explain why contemporary viewers should not dismiss the film’s outre premise.
Worse, Milius’s biggest successes are hyped up to the point where Conan the Barbarian is both a predecessor to Game of Thrones and a sign of “the political zeitgeist of [its] time,” according to filmmaker Bryan Singer.
Milius praises Milius’s films as products of his great and tortured personality. But seeing Milius, who is recovering from a stroke, chortle “Make my day” is only so gratifying.