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Which director can get great performances out of so-so actors? -- Amy Simons

Why limit the sorcery to its effect on so-so society? As Mystic River persuasively demonstrates, great actors improve their games under the guidance of a strong director too. Quentin Tarantino has inspired his casts to take exciting, offbeat risks well worth the detour -- John Travolta and Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction, Pam Grier and Robert Forster in Jackie Brown, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill -- Vol. I. Steven Soderbergh made then newbie Jennifer Lopez and superstar Julia Roberts better actresses than each knew she could be in Out of Sight and Erin Brockovich, respectively. For overall skill at nurturing superior work in diverse players though, I'd give Curtis Hanson the vote: Anyone who can liberate the best in Rebecca De Mornay (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential), Michael Douglas (Wonder Boys), and -- holy moley -- Eminem (8 Mile) is some kind of conjurer.

Originally posted Jan 09, 2004 Published in issue #745 Jan 09, 2004 Order article reprints
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