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Review: His Way (2011)

His Way (2011)

Directed by: Douglas McGrath

Premise: A documentary about Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub. The film covers the breadth of his long career in show business.

What Works: Moviemaking is very much a producer-driven medium. Directors, screenwriters, technicians, and actors make the movie but quite often it’s the producers who get the movie made. That’s a subtle distinction but an important one. The role of a producer may vary depending on their rank in the production company and the demeanor of the individual; some producers do nothing but oversee the project and assure that it comes in on time and on budget while others are deeply involved in creative decisions. Despite how important producers are within the motion picture industry, producers rarely become recognizable to the general public the way that actors and some directors do. Jerry Weintraub wasn’t exactly a household name but within the movie industry he was a significant figure and his biography is a compelling Hollywood success story. The documentary His Way tells Weintraub’s story in a light and fast paced way that’s reminiscent of the movies that he made. Part of what is so impressive about Jerry Weintraub’s career is its breadth and the number of significant figures and shows he managed or produced. Coming from humble beginnings, Weintraub’s career began in music and His Way spends a lot of time covering Weintraub’s relationships with Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. After managing many successful musical acts, Weintraub began producing movies; the backstory of getting Barry Levinson’s Diner distributed by MGM is effectively indicative of Weintraub’s skill at promotion. After about a decade of producing mostly successful movies Weintraub tried his hand at being a Hollywood mogul by founding the Weintraub Entertainment Group, which was a disaster that ended in bankruptcy. But Weintraub got a shot at redemption by producing the Ocean’s Eleven remake and its sequels. With this rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches structure, His Way tells its story in a way that follows the pattern of many of Weintraub’s most popular movies and it’s likable because of its breezy storytelling and the cast of movie star commentators like George Clooney and Julia Roberts. The film also makes effective use of anecdotes. Many of the people interviewed share funny or prescient stories and the filmmakers position them within the narrative so that a vivid portrait of Weintraub as a man and a producer emerges over the course of the film.

What Doesn’t: His Way plays mostly as a tribute piece to Jerry Weintraub. Some of the commentators claim that Weintraub burned bridges and made enemies, as most people do working at that level of show business, but the filmmakers don’t interview anybody with anything disparaging to say. In fact, the person who is most critical is Weintraub himself, and he is often forthcoming about his personal and professional failures. This compensates for the otherwise reverential tone of the movie and injects it with some humanity. Much of His Way is narrated by Jerry Weintraub himself. For the most part this is to the documentary’s advantage since Weintraub knew how to spin a yarn but the film lacks any kind of critical distance from its subject and it leans toward superficiality. Weintraub worked on many great and important movies and he managed many significant musical talents so it’s a shame the film didn’t delve deeper into the mechanics of show business. The filmmakers are careful to maintain the mystery that pervades the public image of a Hollywood producer, making success look effortless. That is satisfying and entertaining if not very challenging.

DVD extras: Deleted scene.

Bottom Line: His Way is a fun tribute to Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub. It is mostly a puff piece and audiences aren’t going to learn much about how movies get made from watching it but His Way is a very entertaining story of a man who was at the epicenter of the entertainment industry for four decades.

Episode: #550 (July 12, 2015)