2008. Directed by Ben Stiller
Co-written, produced, and directed by Ben Stiller, Tropic Thunder is a Hollywood roast come to life. No one is safe. From the egotistical machinations of producers, to actors picking offensive portrayals of the handicapped in order to obtain awards, Tropic Thunder destroys them all without apology. This is Ben Stiller's ultimate statement on the ridiculous state that Hollywood is currently in and it never abates.
The basic plot is that actors with various film backgrounds and psychological issues are brought together to make a war film that is based on a lie. Things go awry and the main cast is stranded in the jungle, having to contend with actual enemy forces.
First, the cast. Ben Stiller, Jay Baruchel, Jack Black, Brandon T. Jackson, Danny McBride, Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey, and Steve Coogan give great performances in this ridiculous slapstick faux-war of a film. However, it's Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise who are the real stars. Downey plays the absolute epitome of awards season trash, an actor who literally dyes his skin black to portray his character. This performance is so relevant, given Hollywood's treatment of minority roles that it will remain one of the most iconic statements on equality in film ever committed to celluloid.
Opposite Downey is Tom Cruise in the best performance (it edges out Magnolia for me) of his career. Cruise's Les Grossman symbolizes everything wrong with film industry. His hulk like brute completely dominates every scene he is in, delivering every profanity laced line with calculated viciousness and audacity.
Featuring hilarious fake trailers, an absolutely gut busting credits sequence, and some of the most quotable lines in recent history, Tropic Thunder took audiences by complete surprise and garnered much deserved awards recognition.
John Toll's cinematography captures the luscious greens of the jungle while simultaneously harnessing moments of extreme action and high comedy. The interactions between the core cast members is also supported by Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux's script, which delivers line after line of obscene accountability. The very reason you're sitting in the theater is part of the film's contempt and it's on display in virtually every scene.
Tropic Thunder is a film that took some extraordinary risks that mostly paid off. An unfortunate side effect of the attempt was some of the controversy that accompanied it. I defend the film, as I believe the film shares the same objections to American cinema that it's detractors feel. The proof, as always, is in the details. The film could be dismissed as a crass joke, desperately pointing fingers at easy targets in Hollywood, but it's my belief that this was Stiller's wake up call to studios and audiences.
Ultimately, it's the viewer's decision, the final accusation of this wonderful satire.