Directed by Dominique Milano, American Badass: A Michael Madsen Retrospective is exactly what the title promises. Through interviews with several colleagues and family members and many stories told directly from the man himself, the documentary is an examination of Madsen’s life and career. Structurally, it is more associative than linear, going back and forth between a troubled youth and his breaking into the acting world.
Of course, the interviews with the likes of Quentin Tarantino, John Travolta, Daryl Hannah, Madsen, Ron Perlman, Robert Forster, and Chuck Zito, among many others, are interspersed with clips from various movies, both starring Madsen and those that inspired him. In addition, old family photos and reenactments are woven throughout the tales of him growing up, be it from his sisters Virginia and Cheryl, or from the writer/actor himself.
“…an examination of Madsen’s life and career.”
These reenactments at first seemed cheesy due to the way they are filmed, but they serve a purpose in helping to establish emotional growth and highlight Madsen’s arc to becoming the person he is now. But, while American Badass lacks a truly distinctive style, it more than makes up for it with the number of interviewees, the quality of stories or insight being given, the amazing behind-the-scenes moments glimpsed, and the emotional honesty of Madsen.
Tarantino and Madsen tell a great story about Bud, Madsen’s characters in Kill Bill, wearing a hat. It is very funny and hearing how it altered the character’s arc gives one a great understanding of happy little accidents turning to gold. About an hour in, maybe slightly more, there is a turn to focus on Madsen giving a benefit concert for children with cancer. It only lasts a few minutes, but the largely wordless section, playing out with music and video footage, wonderfully shows how caring he is without trying to oversell the moment.
American Badass: A Michael Madsen Retrospective might not be the slickest, most stylized film out there. But quite frankly, any such attempt to heighten the reality would just cheapen the raw emotions and engaging perspectives of everyone participating in the production. Madsen is candid about wishing there are things he can go back and redo or erase, but he’s happy with where he is. If you are a fan of Madsen’s, this is essential viewing. If you aren’t (and why aren’t you?) but are interested in moviemaking, then Milano’s film is still an essential viewing as you’ll get an excellent sense of what it takes to make it. Either way, there’s no reason not to watch the documentary as soon as possible.