Mike Nichols, the multi-award-winning film and stage director has died from a heart attack aged 83. The German born Nichols started his career in stand-up, where he partnered with Elaine May (write and direct), before making his directing debut with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The film, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as a bickering couple, was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, winning five.
However, it was Nichols’ next film which would change the face of cinema forever. The Graduate starred a then unknown Dustin Hoffman in the lead role of Benjamin Braddock, a university graduate aimlessly wondering his way though life. Nichols film captured the late ‘60s zeitgeist, mobilising a disenfranchised youth to the sound of a Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. The film banked over $100 million at the US box office (in 1967 money) and turned Hoffman into an unlikely star.
Nichols faultered in a creative and financial sense with his next film, an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. While the film failed to capture Heller’s frenetic prose, it holds up as a curiosity and a product of its time. He went on to team Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge, before pairing Nicholson with Warren Beatty in The Fortune. While The Fortune may not be either of the trio’s finest film, it’s an interesting period farce that makes for interesting watching today.
The next 20 years would see Nichols have a monumentally impressive run, helming the assorted likes of Silkwood, Heartburn, Biloxi Blues, Working Girl, Postcards From The Edge, Regarding Henry, Wolf and The Birdcage. 1998 would see him tackle the Bill Clinton sex scandal in the form of a screen adaptation of Primary Colors. He faltered once more in 2000 with Gary Shandling’s What Planet Are You From? before doing some impressive work on television with Wit and Angels In America. Nichols rounded out his cinematic career with 2005’s Closer and the 2007 Tom Hanks starrer Charlie Wilson’s War.
As a director of cinema, Nichols knew how to capture iconic visuals, but it was his career as a stage director which taught him how to get impressive performances from his actors. He also had a keen ear for dialogue, working with scripts that could deliver a strong punch when delivered well. It’s a skill that few directors have in this age of franchise filmmaking.
Mike Nichols was one of Hollywood’s great directors, crafting mainstream films that had power and sophistication. He will be missed.