Hackman, Gene 2

Retirement is hard choice for many actors

From the Oct. 10, 2008, Deseret News

Cary Grant was a class act right up to the end of his Hollywood career, which he concluded by doing that rarest of things — retiring. And he did so when he could have gone on making movies for another two decades.

He wasn't ill, he wasn't tired. In fact, when his last picture, "Walk, Don't Run," was released in 1966, Grant was, at 62, still vital, vibrant and had big-screen charisma to spare.

He didn't walk away from movies because he wasn't getting offers. He just walked away.

By contrast, one of Grant's contemporaries, Laurence Olivier — one of the most celebrated actors of all time — continued to make movies until his death at 82, and most were terrible ("Inchon," "The Jazz Singer"). He also did TV commercials, giving comics a field day and leaving younger moviegoers unaware of his earlier heyday.

When to take that final bow is a crapshoot, of course. Will a beloved star's last film provide a graceful curtain call or an embarrassment? Will he/she be remembered for a legacy of great work or will a bad final choice be all that is recalled?

For the most part, in the long run, I think people tend to remember the good. Today, Olivier's memory is largely connected to his best work.

Which brings us to Gene Hackman.

Now 78, the great American actor (and two-time Oscar-winner for "The French Connection" and "Unforgiven") has chosen to retire. Why? He says he's just not being offered good roles. As a result, he's taken to writing novels.

On a selfish level I find this quite sad. I'm a big fan and I always looked forward to seeing Hackman, whatever the movie (including his last film, "Welcome to Mooseport").

But who can blame him? Older actors are not particularly respected by the youth-oriented movie business.

On the other hand, take another couple of veteran Oscar-winners, Robert Duvall and Michael Caine — two guys who just keep on keepin' on.

Caine, 75, has always been a workaholic, churning out several movies each year. Many are less than memorable — but many are also unforgettable classics. Actually, churning out just a couple of films a year now is, for him, quite a slow-down.

One could also argue that it's not a bad gig to offer memorable support in 2008's biggest movie, "The Dark Knight." And over the past five years, Caine has been in some other pretty good pictures: "Children of Men," "The Prestige," "Flawless." And the one he did with Duvall, "Secondhand Lions."

Duvall, 77, also works a lot, shifting between starring and supporting roles, and also has a number of inarguable classics under his belt.

And like Caine, he's had some fine work come his way during the past five years, chiefly Kevin Costner's "Open Range" and the cable-TV miniseries "Broken Trail." And he gave a boost to "Thank You for Smoking," "Lucky You" and "We Own the Night."

Duvall also has the dubious distinction of playing Dad to both Will Ferrell in "Kicking and Screaming" and Vince Vaughn in the upcoming "Four Christmases."

When actors of this caliber show up in a movie ... even a lesser movie ... they bring something to the table that lifts the work to another level. They make the movie better. So it's great to have Duvall and Caine still working.

And I hope Hackman keeps himself open to the possibility of that great script that may yet come along.