Where Bridges Got His Barney
When Dutch director George Sluizer’s Americanized remake of his acclaimed mystery thriller Spoorloos/The Vanishing (1988) opened this week in February 1993 as the more standardized and more overtly brutal The Vanishing, it was roundly criticized as a coarsening of his tightly wound original. But perhaps there was more of the filmmaker himself in the retelling. Jeff Bridges, who plays the mundanely creepy kidnapper who makes off with the wife (Sandra Bullock) of a shattered young man (Kiefer Sutherland) at a rest stop, told Dutch filmmaker Hans Heijnen in a 2006 interview about one of the first pieces of direction that Sluizer gave him for his portrayal of the mild-mannered family man and college professor Barney Cousins. “Jeff,” Bridges said, recalling Sluizer’s words, “I am the real Barney, Jeff.” Bridges said he based a lot of the character on his handy role model, with whom he acted as a kind of accomplice in his gradual revelation of banal evil. The Washington Post critic Hal Hinson seemed to be on the same wavelength in his review: “Bridges is thrilling playing this immensely unexciting man. Barney is a slouching, plodding nebbish – about the last kind of man we'd expect Bridges to play. But working against type here allows Bridges to test different skills. He's played villains before, and even losers, but here he's playing a deeply introverted, secretive man, a man who lives in a universe all his own. Bridges gives his voice just the hint of an accent (is it Dutch?) and vanishes inside Barney's all-encompassing disguise of an ordinary husband and father. Jack the Ripper in Hush Puppies. When Bridges is on screen, working out his kidnapping lines, timing the effects of the chloroform he uses to subdue his victims, the movie is oddly absorbing, if for no other reason than for the morbid comedy Bridges uses to season his lines.” As one of our most appealing and accomplished screen actors, Bridges always has secrets up his sleeve, and one that comes to light throughout Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of The Vanishing is that this much maligned chiller may be more diabolically entertaining than its reputation suggests. More revelatory Bridges is also on the TT horizon.