"I'm in the Marlon Brando business." -- Marlon Brando
A nearly three-hour retrospective of the mercurial actor's life, Brando proceeds chronologically from his unrequited attachment to his distant drunk of a Nebraska mother to a post-war rise through the ranks of New York theater and fortuitous pairings with Stella Adler and Elia Kazan, to unexpected movie stardom, to has-been movie stardom, to political activism, to a measured critical rebirth and finally to an increasingly sad elderly life marked by erratic jaunts onto shows like Larry King Live and an elaborate prankishness that poorly camouflages an exhausted lothario's boredom with old age. "The first two-thirds of Marlon's life was in his body and the last third was in his mind," someone tells us, the implication being that Brando felt cheated by that trade-off and spent his final years playing with the only toy he had left, his celebrity. We hear about him summoning one well-known actor to his house on the pretense of collaborating on a film, only to tell them when they arrive that he's discovered a way to power his house with electric eels.
Since much of his life is old hat to the target audience, the pleasures of Brando mostly derive from the little moments snuck in here and there -- new memories from a fellow actor or new takes on one of his films, and so on. One the most interesting sequences, for my money, is a somewhat negative reassessment of Brando's role in Apocalypse Now. Robert Duvall, in his interview, feels obliged to point out that the performance is something of a non-starter because Kurtz was obviously supposed to be a military type, whippet-slim and muscled-up, while Brando practically had to be wheelbarrowed onto the set. It's also made clear that Coppola confided to the cast that Brando showed up for the film without having done any kind of mental preparation either. Dennis Hopper gets in a good jab, noting that "Marlon didn't care about your money" and digging up the old story about Brando demanding $75K for a five-minute close-up that was needed immediately after the point that he was no longer contractually bound to be there.