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Williams brings gravitas to his role — he has a kind of Norman Mailer–like machismo. Come to think of it, this is the kind of film that Mailer, who died in 2007, at the age of 84, might have enjoyed directing himself. He could have turned it into a camp masterpiece along the lines of his Tough Guys Can’t Dance.

In his documentary NORMAN MAILER: THE AMERICAN (September 22 at 4 pm, with the director), Joseph Mantegna includes one of that film’s more histrionic sequences — Ryan O’Neal repeatedly bellowing, “Oh God! Oh Man!” But this invented scene pales before all the crazy shit that happened for real in Mailer’s own life, from the stabbing of his second wife to his arrest at the Pentagon during an anti–Vietnam War demonstration, as recorded in one of his best books, The Armies of the Night. Indeed, some of these scenes were real and fictitious — like the one in the nutty 1970 film Maidstone where Rip Torn, still in character, beats Mailer’s head in with a hammer and Mailer bites Torn’s ear off.

In other words, it’s impossible to make a dull movie about this cultural icon. Mantegna stays out of his subject’s way so as to avoid getting knocked on his ass. Always on the verge of annihilation, Mailer could take a punch and deliver one. That’s something from which the down-but-never-quite-out Boston Film Festival should take heart.

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Related: Bristol’s crusading lawyer goes Hollywood, Innocence lost, but not forgotten, Six Boston accents worthy of Oscar, More more >
  Topics: Features , Sam Rockwell, Norman Mailer, Eliza Dushku,  More more >
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