Nick Nolte is a crazy sonuvabitch. No, really. That’s not a joke. It’s not an exaggeration. It’s not a smear on his character because, say, he was a total douche in an interview. The guy is literally crazy. To promote Peaceful Warrior, a filmic adaptation of Dan Millman’s 30-year-old, qausi-factual Way of the Peaceful Warrior, he showed up to the press day as Kenny Rogers. That’s right, the Gambler himself. Well, at least that’s what he looked like. Or rather, what Kenny Rogers would look like after a night of heavy drinking and blow, upon realizing he had nothing to wear, he staggered into his gay neighbor’s house, rummaged through the closet, and assembled a mismatched outfit to wear.
With yellow-white hair, a thick goatee, heavy wrinkles, and a fake-baked red face (he admitted as much, honest), he really does look like Kenny Rogers in designer threads these days. You know, after a few months living on the street. The heavy dandruff is the icing on the cake.
In Warrior, he stars as Socrates, spiritual guide to young Dan Millman (Scott Mechlowicz). When Dan, a gymnast on his way to the Olympics, shatters his leg in 40 places, Socrates — or should we say, Yoda, as played by Kenny Rogers? — helps him make the impossible journey back to the rings. He gets to spout such aphorisms as, “Sometimes you have to lose your mind before you come to your senses” and “A warrior does not give up what he loves. He finds the love in what he does.” Pretty heavy stuff, if you’re into Tony Robbins.
The film itself is a struggle between the inherent truth behind Socrates’s teachings and their even more inherent cheesiness since everyone from George Lucas to Pat Morita has pawned them off on a film-going public for four decades. The glue that holds it all together, the sincerity of Mechlowicz’s performance, wears thin after a while, and even the lovely smile of Amy Smart, as Millman’s love interest and a graduate of Socrates U., fails to radiate through the film’s spoon-fed New-Age philosophies. We walk away with plenty of useful little one-liners, but no real understanding of what they mean.
Interestingly enough, Kenny — er, Nolte — was approached to play Dan 25 years ago, but passed on the opportunity. When asked why, he offers a rambling answer that really has to be read to be believed. Two hundred years ago, rants like this would’ve won him a trip to the local asylum or at least the basement in his children’s house, where he would be locked up (and occasionally brought food). In today’s world, he gets paid a million bucks to speak coherently on film. That’s the most astonishing bit. Nolte is so far gone, he deserves an Oscar just for remembering his lines.
There was the opportunity for you to play the part of Dan 25 years ago. Is that accurate?
“Years ago, when the book first came out, there were a lot of people who wanted to do it. And by a lot, I mean people wanted to do it. They handed me the book and I thought it was very good, but I thought it was too close to the ’60s and we had pretty much already done that. Eastern thought had been introduced to the United States. So there had been a real exchange of Eastern thought with Western. But it didn’t pan out that way.
“Wars were supposed to be brought to the public’s attention, and had to have public support. There was not to be any more draft, and there wasn’t. But `without` that draft, you have a private army and, in a private army, you have secrecy. Didn’t think about that. The relationship between men and women, which was more in the ’60s brother and sister because we were fighting the common cause — and they did throw away the girdles of the ’50s, which I never understood how they wore those all day. They were just straps of steel, you know. They threw those away and the bras away and grew a lot of hair, armpit hair, hairy all over. And we’d sit around the colleges discussing how’re we going to get out of the draft.
“More friends didn’t come back. I lost Jimmy and George Heiss and, uh, his brother died the day before. He was a pilot. They couldn’t get to the other brother fast enough. He died taking off. So it’s just things like that. I just felt Dan’s book touched on things that hadn’t yet had a chance to develop.”
Needless to say, he actually continues rambling on for several more minutes, before another question is posed and another rambling answer is offered up. In other words, Nick Nolte is one crazy sonuvabitch.
But hey, Peaceful Warrior is innocuous enough. You might actually learn something. Not about Vietnam or anything, but, you know, something.