Christopher Plummer gives a black hole of a performance in Man in the Chair, which opened in New York last week and in Los Angeles this weekend. Every time he appears, he inexorably sucks attention away from anyone else on screen. Eventually, everything revolves in orbit around him, even when he's not present. Somehow, though, even as Plummer merges his soul with his character at the molecular level, he does so in a modest manner. The seams between actor and role are not readily apparent. It's a pity that the film as a whole doesn't rise to level of his magnificent performance, but he elevates the material by his grizzled presence.
Plummer plays Flash Madden, a retired gaffer with a permanent scowl etched on his face. We meet him in a darkened cinema, muttering to himself, talking back to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, and flashing back to his moment of glory when he was fired, then instantly rehired, on the set of Citizen Kane. He's a moviegoer's worst nightmare, the annoying old guy who keeps up a running commentary while you're trying to enjoy a classic, so our sympathies run toward the man who asks him to shut up. Flash tells the man off, which amuses Cameron Kincaid (a wisely subdued Michael Angarano, who also served as associate producer), a high school senior who wants to win a film school scholarship contest.
Flash puts on a great show of being irascible and irritable, but doesn't seem to mind very much when Cameron begins stalking him. Having overhead that Flash used to work in the movies, Cameron seizes on the thought that the old guy might be able to help him make his student film. From the movie posters hanging in his room and snatches of conversation with his only friend, we get the message that Cameron loves movies. (When he decides to steal a car for a joyride, he insists that it be the same make and model as the titular automotive character in John Carpenter's Christine.) Apparently in common with many young filmmakers today, Cameron wants to make his own movies but doesn't really have anything to say.