30 May 2006 | hall895
An ordinary film with one extraordinary performance
Watching Oliver Stone's The Doors can be at times a frustrating experience. Considering the central figure in the film is pretty much always drunk or stoned or both the entire plot seems to unfold in a bit of a haze. Those watching the film may come away feeling a little stoned themselves. Yet through the drug and alcohol-fueled haze this film does have a lot to recommend it. Most notably it has one of the most stunningly brilliant acting performances you could ever hope to see. Val Kilmer, playing Jim Morrison, is simply perfect in the role. It sounds clichéd but Kilmer really seems to become Morrison. The physical resemblance is eerie and their voices are so similar it is fairly impossible when listening to the film's soundtrack to figure out when exactly you're hearing Morrison and when you're hearing Kilmer. Tracing Morrison's journey from shy, reserved youth to manic, drugged-out rock god the performance by Kilmer is mesmerizing throughout.
As good as Kilmer is you can't help but feel that his performance deserved to be surrounded by a better film. The film might as well have been titled "Morrison" because it is much more the story of one man than it is the story of his band. And therein lies much of the problem because while Kilmer is undeniably terrific, Morrison, at least as he is portrayed in this film, is not a very sympathetic character. That shy, quiet guy we see on the beach at the film's beginning becomes a bit of a monster, at times almost completely unlikable. And since the film revolves entirely around Morrison it makes the film often hard to embrace. Many would argue that Morrison was unfairly portrayed here, not nearly as mean-spirited and hot-tempered as we are led to believe. The truth probably lies somewhere in between but the fact remains that in this film it is very hard to embrace Jim Morrison and as such it is very hard to completely embrace the film.
With the focus almost completely on Kilmer's Morrison the rest of the cast comes off as little more than bit players. Kyle MacLachlan as keyboardist Ray Manzarek has the most to do amongst the remaining band members and his performance is fine but it really gets swallowed up by the ever-present and always center stage Morrison. Meg Ryan, playing Morrison's longtime companion Pamela Courson, is allowed only to react to Morrison's antics and never establishes a character and identity of her own. Even when stoned out of her mind, as everybody in this film always seems to be, Pamela comes across as the wholesome girl next door who is, well, rather dull. Kathleen Quinlan has a more memorable turn as another woman in Morrison's life, Patricia Kennealy, who is anything but dull. But again her character is there only to serve Jim. It's always about Jim. Nobody could deny that Jim Morrison was the most captivating figure in The Doors. But as the film unfolds and you watch Morrison stumble from one stupor to the next you'll probably wish we could have spent a little more time with some of the other characters. This film version of Jim Morrison is a hard guy to love.
So in the end what are we left with? You get one awe-inspiring, magnificent performance but that performance overshadows everything else going on in the film. You get a fascinating life story but one that unfortunately proceeds mostly in a frustrating drug-induced haze. You certainly get a tremendous soundtrack with all of The Doors' most notable songs. Well, most of them anyway. There seems to be a real yin and yang with this movie. There is plenty that is very good about it, but all that is good seems to be balanced out by something which frustrates. Jim Morrison led an extraordinary life but this film which tells his tale ends up being rather ordinary.