A lot rides on Youth Without Youth, Francis Ford Coppola's twentieth feature film and his first after a ten-year absence from the director's chair. His last film was The Rainmaker (1997), an above average John Grisham thriller iced with good performances, although it was an unremarkable film for a man who once earned comparisons with a wunderkind like Orson Welles. I wish I could report that Youth Without Youth is a "comeback" of immense proportions and that Coppola had restored himself as a kind of genius auteur, but the film is far more difficult than that. In some ways, it's as unremarkable as The Rainmaker, but in other ways, it's far too astonishing and complex to be easily dismissed.
Coppola has always caused trouble for auteur critics. Obviously he made two of the greatest films of all time with The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), and though I'm alone in this, I love The Godfather Part III (1990) equally. Also, we could easily add The Conversation (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) to the list of all-time greats. After that, it appears he took a fall, but continued to make interesting films. With a little coaxing, his canon can be divided up into a few neat categories. The masterworks have a kind of reckless intelligence, an uncanny mix of chaos and control. It could be argued that Rumble Fish (1983) and The Cotton Club (1984) belong in this category as well.