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It can’t be easy being Michael Douglas. He’s the son of Kirk Douglas, husband to Catherine Zeta-Jones and two-time Academy Award winner (Best Picture for 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Best Actor for his portrayal of Gordon Gekko in 1987’s Wall Street). His film career has had its share of ups and downs. He conquered box offices and the hearts of movie-goers (and his leading lady) with Romancing the Stone, thrilled us with Fatal Attraction and made us squirm in Basic Instinct, yet lent his big Hollywood name to a number of box office disasters within the last decade. And still he continues to capture our attention as his personal struggles - his son Cameron’s drug-related legal problems and his recent battle with cancer - land more headlines than his movie career probably ever did.
So where does that leave us? I had hoped Marc Eliot’s biography would give more insight to who Michael Douglas really is. What we get instead is an elaborate, but direct, resume of an actor fighting a lifelong struggle out of his father’s immense shadow.
Eliot is an experienced biographer. He’s written about mega celebrities such as Jimmy Stewart, Carey Grant, Walt Disney, Steve McQueen, and still-living stars Clint Eastwood, Paul Simon, and the Eagles. Undoubtedly he’s got more celebrity-based projects in the works and doesn’t want to blacklist himself by churning more water than necessary. Maybe that’s why his study of Douglas is so tame. Sure he picks apart some of Douglas’s past movie roles and film choices, but the actor was also famous for his drug use and off-screen romances that rivaled those his father’s. Eliot brings them up but he doesn’t dawdle on them for very long.
It’s not that I want to rubberneck a man’s mistakes or transgressions but I was looking for a whole picture, not just of an actor and producer who sacrificed family for work until he settled down and changed his priorities.
As with many of his films with ho-hum storylines, Douglas shines. His openness in giving interviews throughout his career probably made studios (and family) cringe but they pay huge dividends here, providing much needed color for what is otherwise an extended Wikipedia entry. While the story lacks a narrative to move it through its paces, the theme of a man becoming someone other than his father is prevalent and at times overbearing. It’s not until late in the story does Michael finally seem to be at ease with himself and his role in Hollywood history: an award-winning actor and humanitarian of his time but nowhere near the greatness of his (Oscar-less) predecessor.