‘…a film that’s notably fearless in conception, and huge in meaning…’

I’m not sure about that title, but everything else is Bernard Rose’s rarely seen feature is pretty much uniformly monumental. Shot in a crystal-clear, warts and all HD format that made it hard to screen back in 2002, ivansxtc is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych, updated from 19th century Russia to the Hollywood social scene of 2000. The film is bleak for sure; if you’re going to get triggered by watching the main character get a cancer diagnosis, and respond with a drug-fuelled binge, then self-select and stay away. Otherwise, stay tuned for a film that’s notably fearless in conception, and huge in meaning.

Of course, star Danny Huston knows the Hollywood machine described here; son of John, brother of Angelica, he’s a perfect choice to play Ivan Beckman, a top agent who has just landed a notable scalp via director Don West (Robocop’s Peter Weller, blistering in probably his best role). Although he might seem to be on top of the world, Ivan has a come-uppance coming; he’s suffering from an incurable cancer, even if he doesn’t know it yet. As Ivan’s achievements fade, he’s left with nothing to contemplate but a meaningless life, unless one final grace-note might arrive in time to save his soul…

Ivansxtc is notably frank about the details of cancer; there’s no sentiment, just cold observation of medical procedure. But what’s even more shocking is the clinical observation of Hollywood drug culture. Films often lecture their audiences about the dangers of heroin, crystal meth or other illegal narcotics. But the truth is that most of the cast and crew of any film take the kind of party drugs that Ivan takes, speed, coke, amphetamines, and ecstasy. Rose catalogues these casual excesses with candour; if you’ve taken part of the Elsinore Wimbledon of LA film-making, you’ll recognise exactly the kind of immoral maze navigated here.

The film opens with twenty minutes of mourning, of a kind; we see Ivan’s colleagues trying to figure out what his sudden death will mean to them. Then we flip back to focus on Ivan’s fall, and Huston gives a massive performance, capturing both joy and despair, never lapsing into caricature, always centring the drama. Ivan’s collapse is messy, and the solace he seeks does not come from drugs; the film’s final scenes are undeniably powerful as Ivan’s sense of the world slips away, and he seeks a sense of his own worth amongst the carnage.

Freshly revived by Arrow Video, ixansxtc is worth seeking out as one of the most perceptive films made about the vapidity of a Hollywood system that had blinkers on and was set in its nosebag ways at the time of filming. It’s a transcendent piece of drama that demands to be seen, and one that delivers a firm moral lesson; no one is above the laws of nature.

ivansxtc is released in the UK on blu-ray and streaming from Sept 28th 2020.

Thanks to Arrow Films for early access to this title.



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    • It’s a good film, if you can handle the dark subject! Have to be in the right mood for this kind of intensity…

  1. In regards to Tolstoy:

    The kind of introverted, melancholia bordering on the depressive doesn’t bother me IF I know it’s a Russian author. It’s almost like I expect it. It’s as cultural as say Fat Americans. But my acceptance of such does not translate to other cultures, ie, Hollywood. I’ve only read Anna K and War and Peace, but I do have a complete collection in my tbr, so I’ll be working my way through Tolstoy’s stuff in the upcoming couple of years.

    Depending on how I feel about Ivan, I won’t rule out watching this as an example of bastardizing something great.

    On a side note, I realize this is a movie review site, but do you have some sort of overarching philosophy about reviewing movies or anything? Your “about” page does a great job of explaining your personal mission for the “why” of the matter, but I’m as interested in the “how”.

    • Funnily enough, I agree with these points; there’s a certain note sounded by Russian melancholy which works best without any cultural translation. I’d commend Ivan for updating and resetting Tolstoy and getting it right, but most attempts fall flat; you’re better going back to the source than to imitations.

      With regards to the ‘how’ of movie reviewing; I’m open to questions. There’s no exact science about reviewing movies, but I guess some overarching philosophy comes into play over time…what can I tell you?

  2. I’m a huge fan of ironing…erm I mean I am a huge fan of Peter Weller. (Sorry that whole ironing comment left me thinking of ironing😅) and think he’s a heck of an underrated actor. Arrow video really has some great (and often very cool looking) editions of films. This another movie I have never heard of, but this sounds guess what, that list is becoming bigger again. Might need to do some ironing to make it a bit smaller😂

  3. I see there’s still some confusion in your mind as to the spelling of things, Ixanxtc is the title and mentioned once in the text, and Ivanxtc twice in the text. I fear your copious amounts of film wathing and reviewing are addling your brain. Maybe have a break, do some ironing, that should help.

  4. Any idea what the xtc is supposed to mean? My first thought was “ecstasy” ie, the drug, and that would seem to fit the film it seems. But it seems a bit obvious.

    When I saw this in my feed, Weller was in the foreground. I loved him in Buckaroo Banzai but this is definitely not my cup of tea.

    • If you’re looking for a direct sequel to Banzai, then probably look elsewhere. That title…yes, it refers to drugs, but also to some kind of epiphany, some kind of revelation in terms of understanding the world. Fear and Loathing in Sherman Oaks would be my idea of a title, but the druggy reference doesn’t quite capture the melancholy, yet angry tone of this movie…

      • Yeah, but sometimes my mind is curious about details. If I can’t be better informed than Bertie Wooster, then I can’t truly be a man about town.

        That’s my goal in life…

    • That’s fair enough, this film is trigger-tastic if you’re put-off by that narrative. But it manages to be about more than just issues of life and death, and worth recommending to those who are prepared to brave such chilling details….

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