How do you follow winning an Oscar for playing one of the strongest female movie characters of the 1970s?
That was Faye Dunaway’s situation after getting the best actress award for “Network.” In the immediate aftermath, any effort to play another character that powerful might have been seen as an attempt by her to clone her role as ruthless television executive Diana Christensen … so it likely was tricky to find the “right” part.
One of the projects she settled on was the 1978 thriller “Eyes of Laura Mars” — currently streaming on Crackle — which doesn’t make a ton of sense if it’s looked at too closely, yet it’s stylish enough to be entertaining as it unfolds. Laura is a fashion photographer who develops a psychic link to a killer, through whose eyes she witnesses acquaintances of hers as they’re being murdered.
A police detective played by Tommy Lee Jones displays bemused skepticism in the way that only Tommy Lee Jones can, yet what Laura describes about the homicides is close enough to the facts revealed by the investigations for her to be taken mildly seriously. And of course, she and the cop will fall in love in 3 … 2 … 1.
“Eyes of Laura Mars” is just that kind of movie as turned out by Irvin Kershner, the workmanlike director whose credits spanned everything from the very cerebral “A Fine Madness” to the first “Star Wars” sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back.” Kershner had a special gift for being able to make anything work, no matter what script deficiencies there might be (the James Bond “Thunderball” remake “Never Say Never Again” being a classic example).
Of no small help is a supporting cast that includes several of the best character actors in the business: Brad Dourif as a troubled co-worker of Laura’s who looks as guilty as sin (so you naturally know he’s not); Rene Auberjonois as her assistant, who’s purposely shifty-looking (you can pretty much count him out, too); and Raul Julia as her ex-husband, who becomes the embodiment of jealousy anytime she’s even in the same county with another man.
Just in case you miss the significance of the title, the movie opens and closes with ultra-tight close-ups of Dunaway/Mars’ eyes (“sledge,” meet “hammer”) as Barbra Streisand is heard on the soundtrack crooning the picture’s theme song, “Prisoner.” However, it’s interesting to note that the movie is based on a story by John Carpenter, whose original “Halloween” was released about two months later.
A substantial hit in its day, “Eyes of Laura Mars” isn’t one of the most distinguished movies Faye Dunaway has made, but it stands as an interesting example of how one of the top actresses of the time used her star power as best she could then.