The Rat Pack Reviews
The problem is that the casting is a bit off. Ray Liotta looks nothing like Frank Sinatra, and doesn't come off as convincing. Joe Mantegna looks like Dean Martin, but just doesn't seem right for the role. Angus Macfadyen is OK as Peter Lawford, though the accent is a bit irritating.
Performance of the movie goes to Don Cheadle, as Sammy Davis Jr. He is superb in the role, and captures well the torment suffered by Davis in a still-racially-divided USA.
Good, but could have been better.
"The Rat Pack" is probably more faithful to the facts than Cohen's earlier biography of Bruce Lee: released the same year as Seymour Hersh's hardhitting expose of the Kennedy administration, "The Dark Side of Camelot", it does not try to whitewash Sinatra's role as a mediator between Kennedy and Sam Giancana's maffia, which got the Democrat candidate elected. On the contrary, much of the film seems to be about the difficult position Sinatra found himself in because of his involvement with those two crowds, and how it affected his relationships with the other members of the so-called "Rat Pack" (a group of womanising, chain-smoking and heavy drinking entertainers.)
Perhaps the biggest problem with the movie is that its title fails to identify its main focus (this is not an ensemble piece about the "Rat Pack", although much is said about Sinatra's friendship with Sammy Davis Jr and his often violent conflicts with Peter Lawford) and it is constantly tempted to veer off target, because the period was so full of drama, and Cohen wants to get much of it in, from the death of Marilyn Monroe to the Civil Rights movement or the Bay of Pigs fiasco - all of these being alluded to through newsreels or newspaper headlines flashing across the screen rather than being dramatized.
This HBO TV movie also tries too hard to rival with Hollywood's 100,000,000 biopics, using every trick in the cinematographer's book to look more glossy and sophisticated than it can afford, from filters to smoke machines and soft focus. Just as seriously, I never felt that Ray Liotta "was" Sinatra or that William Petersen "was" JFK, just because the physical differences were too great. Joe Mantegna did look the part as Dean Martin, but unfortunately, his character is virtually non-existent, so that the only main character with any physical believability was Don Cheadle as Sammy Davis Jr, but he was also much too athletic and about five inches too high. Moreover, I did feel that Davis was stereotyped into the black victim of 1950s prejudice and may have been shown a little too much sympathy by the filmmakers. His romance with Swedish blonde May Britt is presented in a very idealised way, when it was in fact ill-fated (according to Wikipedia, "Davis performed almost continuously and spent little time with his wife. They divorced in 1968, after Davis admitted to having had an affair with singer Lola Falana.")
The film also uses a lot of rough language, as much of it is devoted to borderline psychopathic rows between Sinatra and his male and female entourage, and seems to be saying that however much one parties and sleeps around, one remains basically a decent fellow so long as one is not a racist, which has been the cultural drift for decades.