Cinema Station

Picture of the Week: Hide in Plain Sight (1980) | June 12, 2012

Hide in Plain Sight (1980)

I was surprised to learn that James Caan had directed a movie. I was even more surprised at how accomplished and wonderful a debut it was.

The story is simple: a hard-working blue collar father (Caan) loses his children when his ex-wife takes them with her into witness protection with her new husband, a mob informant. A good half of the picture establishes this situation and the rest of the film concerns Caan’s attempts to get his children back, fighting to prove that the government has no right to take his kids away, no matter the reason. The film is based on a true story.

What impressed me about this film is the confidence with which it was directed, as if Caan had already made twenty pictures. The way he develops his characters with the help of a good script, the way he plays hard dramatic scenes without letting himself or the others overact, the way in which he stages subtle and wonderful camera moves (like the one that pulls back into the world as he and his ex-wife argue or the shot he uses to show the children’s disappearance): all these things prove an excellent effort as a first-time director. Hide in Plain Sight feels like the kind of film Sidney Lumet might have taken on and I think Caan did a better job than that seasoned filmmaker could ever done.

Along with Thief and Misery, this is also one of Caan’s best moments as an actor. He fits perfectly into the blue collar milieu and captures everything we need to know about this man: his intensity (as he breaks through a window without thinking first and erupts in the courtroom), his rashness (how fast he is to fall for a woman and marry her), and his dedication (how compelled he is to find his children even if it means destroying his happiness).

Hide in Plain Sight was released in 1980 and has faded into obscurity. Whether because he did not enjoy directing or was frustrated by conflict with the studios, Caan has not directed a film since. It’s a long shot, but part of me still hopes that Caan will direct another picture. It would be the perfect swan song in a underrated and understated career.

-TM

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