This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.
Armie Hammer, who stars in the title role of Disney’s The Lone Ranger, has not been in many films. His first leading role was playing televangelist Billy Graham in the religious, indie biopic Billy: The Early Years, but it’s only since his memorable turn as both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (aka “the Winklevii”) in 2010’s The Social Network that he’s become a major Hollywood player. It might have been earlier had the George Miller Justice League movie happened, but the casting of Hammer as Batman was not meant to be. Instead, in addition to the double duty as Mark Zuckerberg’s legal adversaries, he’s played prominent supporting characters in J. Edgar and Mirror Mirror and a deleted minor part in Hall Pass.
Hammer’s “short start” came not at the very start of his career, but following the Graham film and a number of television gigs, the first of which was as a featured extra on Arrested Development (see him utter his one line here). His appearance in Chandler Tuttle’s sci-fi film 2081 was still a year before he broke out, and yet even for a short it’s a pretty plum role for a relative unknown. He plays the main character in this 25-minute adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s 1961 story “Harrison Bergeron.” Set in the titular year, it’s a tale of a dystopian future in which everyone is equal by way of handicapping beauty, intelligence, strength, etc.
Bergeron’s parents, who because of their impediments don’t really remember their son, let alone the night he was taken from them, are excellently played by Julie Hagerty (Airplane!) and James Cosmo (Game of Thrones), while narration comes courtesy of Patricia Clarkson, whose eloquent twang sounds absolutely wonderful reading the words of my favorite author. Interestingly the political leader known as the Handicapper General is played by a non-actor, conservative radio personality Tammy Bruce. As for Hammer, he doesn’t have to do a whole lot besides look handsome (albeit with ill-fitting long hair) and over-enunciate and shout his protest of the absurd Constitutional restrictions on live television.
While a superficially faithful and literal version of the short story, there are some missing small details, and it’s interesting that Tuttle has swapped the parents’ roles a bit. I think it’s a tad too serious, too, even for that less playful period of Vonnegut’s writings. But hey, it’s not like his work is easy to get right on the screen, as we’ve seen with many failed and very flawed attempts. Oddly, in spite of how few of Vonnegut’s stories and novels have made their way in front of the camera, “Harrison Bergeron” had already been adapted three times prior to Tuttle’s go at the material, including a so-so feature version for Showtime starring Sean Astin. The author is said to have approved of another short film of the story released in 2006, but we’ll never know if he would have been similarly okay with Tuttle’s, which was made a couple years after Vonnegut’s death.
This one is fine. I like the dramatic tone at least, and even though Hammer proves himself not that great an actor here (we shall see if he can better hold half the leading responsibilities in The Lone Ranger) and the point of the story is a little muddled without some of the exposition carried through from the text, I found it worth the time spent with the brief running time. I’m rather surprised that Tuttle hasn’t done anything of note since, especially as the film received decent reviews following its debut at the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival.
Below is a copy of 2081, which you can rent for $2.99 through YouTube. I will say that it’s also easily found on the same site for free, but I’d rather comply with the copyright and share the official version here. It’s up to you which one you prefer.