During its tour of the festival circuit earlier this year, the reaction to Anthony Hopkins' experimental feature Slipstream generally ranged from "What the hell?" to "No, seriously, what the hell?" In addition to writing and directing and composing the score, Hopkins casts himself in Slipstream as an actor/writer who finds characters from his latest screenplay encroaching on his actual life—which itself is little but a string of meaningless incidents. Hopkins represents his character's disjunctive state by setting loose his inner Orson Welles, filling the screen with jump cuts, expressionistic angles, superimpositions, and audio collages. The result is either one of the most self-indulgent vanity projects in the history of the Hollywood star system, or a rare revealing look at a distinguished actor who usually keeps his real self out of the spotlight.
What do we know about Anthony Hopkins, really? For an award-winning actor who's worked steadily for decades—without much of a quality control filter—Hopkins has remained kind of a blank as a public figure. Even on-screen, he shows little, aside from an affinity for playing well-to-do gents lost in their own thoughts. If nothing else, Slipstream is astonishing just for the way it lets us in on what Hopkins has been thinking about all these years. Turns out, he's been pondering the slipperiness of identity among people who make their living pretending. And he's also been thinking a lot about Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. And Richard Nixon.
In the abstract, Slipstream is an admirable endeavor. Hopkins assembles a formidable cast of character actors, puts them in extended, play-like scenes, then has them riff with each other, while he covers the action with what appears to be a dozen cameras. But the constant cutting and angle-shifting is more distracting than aesthetically effective, and Hopkins' dialogue and visuals tend to be more explanatory than evocative. When a character refers to a friend from Russia, Hopkins briefly superimposes some footage of Stalin. When a crazy person stops traffic in Los Angeles by brandishing a gun and yelling, "We've lost the plot," Hopkins shows a driver filming the whole scene with his video camera, because… well, probably because our society can't distinguish between real danger and entertainment, or something like that. Meanwhile, Hopkins' passive screenwriter character looks on, quizzically, mirroring the state of mind of everyone watching in the audience.