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Taking popcorn path

The thriller 'Out of Time' is far from director Carl Franklin's indie past. And that's fine with him.

September 28, 2003|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Director Carl Franklin does not want to be here. In fact, his wife -- who also happens to be the producer of his films -- is the only reason he is here.

Jesse B'Franklin persuaded her reluctant husband to do this interview to promote his latest film, "Out of Time."

"I certainly was the one who convinced him to do it," she sighs. And, she adds, "I rue the day."

In the courtyard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it becomes clear he'd rather be anywhere else but answering questions about himself and his movies. He doesn't want a drink or an appetizer, he wants to get this over with.

He would especially like to avoid questions such as what it was like to re-team with Denzel Washington.

It turns out that Washington and Franklin's reunion on "Out of Time" was not all that smooth. Seven years ago they worked together on the acclaimed drama "Devil in a Blue Dress," lauded as an accomplished, sexy film noir tinged with social realism. Since then, much has changed for both men.

Franklin is now an established mainstream director -- far from his roots as a struggling American Film Institute student. Washington has won two Academy Awards, directed his first feature and is one of the few actors to receive a $20-million paycheck per movie -- a figure that represented nearly half the budget for "Out of Time."

And it appears there were many clashes on the set between the two. According to Franklin, the tension stemmed from the constraints he put on the actors to achieve the stylized look he wanted for the movie.

The movie, to be released Friday, is a commercial thriller set in the balmy, palm-laden coast near Miami. Washington stars as a small-town police chief who, in the midst of a divorce from his ambitious detective wife (Eva Mendez), embarks on an affair with his married high school sweetheart (Sanaa Lathan). Washington's character eventually becomes the focus of a murder investigation led by his ex-wife.

"In order for this to work, the pace had to be a really quick pace," Franklin elaborates in a subsequent telephone interview. "That took precedence over the opportunity to 'find your way as an actor.'

Although Franklin says Washington never told him how to shoot his movie, the actor had very strong opinions about how his own image was handled.

"We didn't have hard feelings when we left the set, but there were flare-ups," Franklin acknowledges.

Washington concedes by telephone that he may have been hard on Franklin, whom he describes as "a caring person and a sensitive man and ... not afraid to show that. I can be tough, and then I'd see that look in his eye and I'd say 'I'm sorry.' ... I am interested in making the best picture. People come together to make a film and there are all sides to a relationship. You do what you need to do to make the best film."

But the way Franklin sees it, "Out of Time" is nothing more than "popcorn" fare -- the kind of picture that he is becoming best known for.

Since "Devil," he has made a series of conventional Hollywood pictures that are neither critical favorites nor box office home runs. Many admirers wonder what has happened to the man who at one time directed sharp, character-driven dramas like "One False Move," Franklin's first real critical hit.

But Franklin likes to keep his movie career in perspective -- they are, after all, only movies. And he maintains a good facade in disappointment.

"Devil in a Blue Dress" never reached the heights of a comparable noir thriller, "L.A. Confidential." That film, released two years after "Devil," was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two.

Franklin picks his words carefully when reflecting on this. The releasing studio, Sony, did not campaign hard for "Devil," mainly because the people who had green-lighted that picture were long gone as part of a regime change, he says, although in the end, "it all plays out the way it's supposed to."

But Don Cheadle, the star of Franklin's 1988 AFI student film "Punk" as well as the trigger-happy gangster Mouse in "Devil," says Franklin felt let down.

"I don't think it was a surprise, but I do think he was disappointed," Cheadle says. "He didn't wear it on his sleeve. He would say it one on one, but he didn't walk around with the chip."

Franklin is an intensely sensitive and private man who, as his wife puts it, "doesn't want to do a dog and pony show about his life and family." He has been stung by past stories and, more important, they have hurt his family, Franklin says.

Franklin says he is proudest of his 1998 drama, "One True Thing" -- by far the most sentimental picture he has made. The film, which starred Meryl Streep as a cancer-stricken stay-at-home mom and Renee Zellweger as her dismissive, career-driven daughter, was a deeply personal project for the 54-year-old director, whose mother died of cancer in 1986. He said Anna Quindlen's book, on which the film is based, prompted him to reevaluate his own mother.

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