Trailer Face-Off: Mortdecai vs. Art and Craft

Published August 28, 2014

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Mortdecai vs. Art and Craft: two films that chronicle seedy underbelly of the art world.

Premise Mortdecai is an action-comedy film that centers around the notorious Charles “Charlie” Mortdecai, a mustachioed international man of leisure who also doubles as an art dealer. Searching for a stolen painting that’s supposedly linked to a bank vault chock-full of Nazi loot, the debonair Mortdecai has to juggle angry Russian spies, the British MI5, and an international terrorist as he travels around the world to find the elusive painting. He’s armed with charm, handsome looks, and a goofy—or borderline moronic—demeanor. What could go wrong?

Completely shifting tones, Art and Craft is a documentary film that recounts the life of Mark Landis, considered to be one of the most prolific art forgers in modern history. He has amassed hundreds of forgeries throughout his 30-year career, with styles ranging from 15th-century portraiture to 19th-century Impressionism to 20th-century Modernism. Landis is not, however, considered a “typical” forger by art standards. Why? He’s not in it for the money. He poses mostly as a philanthropic donor, “giving away” hundreds of free artworks to well-known and small museums across the country, finding pleasure in his deception. But all good things must come to an end, and after a museum registrar launched an investigation into the authenticity of one of his “donated” paintings, his decades-long ruse slowly began to crumble. Part cat-and-mouse escapade, part universal story about a need for purpose and appreciation, Art and Craft emerges as an intimate narrative that hits surprisingly close to home. For art aficionados out there, chances are high that you’ve visited an American museum that has been duped by Landis (an estimated 46 museums in 20 states). Advantage: Art and Craft

The Leading ManJohnny Depp dons a British accent to play the roguish Mortdecai. Womanizing, silly, and just plain charming, when he’s not running from the baddies and leaving beautiful women swooning in the process, Mortdecai enjoys hunting for sport and travelling in his Rolls Royce. He also employs a full-time manservant (Paul Bettany!) to use at his leisure. In short, it’s another classically “kooky” role for Depp. We know these types of eccentric roles are his specialty (consult Pirates of the Caribbean or Alice in Wonderland for a recent sampling), so we’re looking forward to seeing him utilize his signature traits in a modern, real-world setting.

Art and Craft’s protagonist is Mark Landis, who has used an array of names and disguises to protect his true identity. Hailing from the small town of Laurel, Mississippi, Landis is a lifelong painter and former gallery owner whose personality borders on soft-spoken, nervous and uneasy—not the expected traits of a prolific con-man. Even his physical looks—nearly bald and scrawny—seem contradictory. He’s a fascinating man—or at least has a fascinating story to tell—but from the trailer, he doesn’t have even a quarter of the charisma and likeability of Depp. And, don’t forget, his story isn’t fiction: his exploits have negatively affected the American art scene, costing museums thousands and thousands of dollars for analysis of his works, as well as extensive research to see where else his forgeries might be hidden in plain sight. Advantage: Mortdecai

The Investigator The lovely Ewan McGregor plays the intelligent and smartly dressed Inspector Martland in Mortdecai, tasked with tracking down Depp’s dapper idiot. Expect dry, Scottish wit and snappy one-liners. Matthew Leininger, the real-life registrar at the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio, granted the filmmakers permission to film his ongoing process of building a case against Landis. “He messed with the wrong registrar,” he proudly declares, while educating his young daughter about the deception. Funny, smart, intuitive, and real—what a package! Advantage: Art and Craft

Director David Koepp is sitting in the director’s chair for Mortdecai. Best known for his writing, Koepp is the fifth-most-successful screenwriter of all time in terms of domestic box office sales (his vast repertoire includes Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Panic Room, and Spider-Man, the Tobey Maguire edition). Although his work as a director hasn’t had as much box-office or critical success (Premium Rush, Ghost Town, and The Trigger Effect) he has already established a solid working relationship with Depp, directing him in the moderately successful 2004 film Secret Window. Three directors are lending their expertise to Art and Craft: Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman. and Mark Becker. Between the three are nominations for Oscars and Emmys for previous documentaries, most notably If A Tree Falls (Cullman) and Pressure Cooker (Grasuman and Becker). Despite receiving no distinguished awards or nominations for his work, Koepp’s experience with big-budget actors and productions gives him the needed edge. Advantage: Mortdecai

Likelihood of Success Mortdecai has a lot of good things going for it: it’s adapted from the successful 1970s book anthology “The Mortdecai Trilogy” written by Kyril Bonfiglioli, has a big-name lead actor, equally well-known supporting actors (including Aubrey Plaza, Olivia Munn, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Goldblum), and effortlessly appeals to all ages with its premise. While Art and Craft will certainly not be unsuccessful (it has a nice schedule of theatrical engagements beginning in September), it’ll mostly appeal to smaller art-house cinemas and special screenings at museums. Less publicity, fewer viewers, less money. Advantage: Mortdecai

The Verdict Both films, despite representing two different facets of films, are very appealing. However, it’s hard to fully vouch for Art and Craft, especially since you can skip the $12 cinema ticket and acquaint yourself with the story with 15 minutes of browsing the Internet (we recommend this piece published in the New Yorker in 2013). And besides, Johnny Depp as a hybrid of James Bond and Johnny English is something not to be missed. Winner: Mortdecai

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