Penn certainly has talent as an envisioner of shots. His sense of movies is powerfully visual, and that is a necessary if not sufficient skill in making decent pictures. He can let others provide the narrative architecture and the characters in the round.
There's also an unsettling whiff of chumminess in the casting -- Penn and Nicholson, Nicholson and Huston. Apart from the glare of Hollywood insiderdom spoiling the movie's spell of believability, it is a tricky thing to work with friends, lovers, exes. What is good for personal relations is not necessarily good for professional fortunes: It's harder to tell a friend that he's fucked up by, say, writing a bad script. Or that he shouldn't be writing them at all.
The Crossing Guard opens Fri, Dec. 1, at the Bridge in S.F. and the Shattuck in Berkeley.
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