Curtis Hanson, writer and director of such Academy Award winning films as L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile, has passed away at the age of 71. His low-key, yet intense body of work has been a constant throughout the last couple of decades in Hollywood history, as he jumped between the roles of writer, director, and producer on many a film. With his untimely passing, we look back on a career that was always daring, never timid, and full of reward.
Variety broke the story yesterday, stating that Hanson was found unconscious at his home in the Hollywood Hills. His death has been speculated as cause by a heart attack, though natural causes were also mentioned when the LAPD announced the director's death. In recent years, Curtis Hanson's health was in question, as he not only had to hand off the directing duties on his last film, Chasing Mavericks, to director Michael Apted for completion, but was also said to have retired from film-making altogether due to Alzheimer's. What's never been in question though is the man's ability to deliver entertaining films from a variety of source materials and genres.
Originally a photographer and editor of Cinema magazine, Curtis Hanson broke into the world of film as a co-writer on the script to 1970's adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's story The Dunwich Horror. Though it was in 1992 that his career would start to pick up, with his directorial efforts on the thriller The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, which then lead to the 1994 pot-boiler The River Wild, which starred Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon. Both films would serve as successful entries on Hanson's resume, and set him up for his next, and probably best remembered film, 1997's L.A. Confidential.
The James Ellroy adaptation was a gold mine for Curtis Hanson's career, as well as that of Kim Basinger and Russell Crowe. A tale of an infamous multiple homicide, and the tangled web that surrounded its actual circumstances, the film was hit at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. Curtis Hanson won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, alongside collaborator Brian Helgeland, and Basinger not only won the Golden Globe for Best Actress, but she also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Veronica Lake look-alike / prostitute Lynn Bracken.
The last few years of his cinematic career saw Curtis Hanson try his hand at various projects from all corners of the industry. He would re-team with Kim Basinger for the Eminem vehicle 8 Mile, and try his hand at both history and comedy through films such as Wonder Boys, In Her Shoes, and the HBO movie Too Big To Fail. But in 2011, Chasing Mavericks would be his last film, as the health reasons that caused him to drop out of the film mid-production would also lead to his retirement.
Over several decades of working in Hollywood, the career that Hanson laid out for himself was built on the back of character driven films. His success was found in the ability to tell a big story, but keep the characters in frame at all times. He never swung for the franchises, and he wasn't afraid to challenge his audience. It's a hell of a legacy to leave behind, and only Curtis Hanson could have left it. We send our sincerest condolences to his friends and family during this difficult time.