(Nick Nolte: No Exit is now available On Demand through Sundance Selects. Peruse your local cable provider to track it down.)
In Tom Thurman’s documentary Nick Nolte: No Exit, notoriously troubled actor Nick Nolte interviews himself about his complicated life. No, that’s not a misprint. In one location, there is Nolte, dressed up as a Hunter S. Thompson-esque journalist who asks many probing questions to… Nick Nolte, who, in another location, wears a baggy white sweater that makes you wonder if this Nolte is in rehab, jail, or doing character research in some weird library. Along the way, several Nolte collaborators—Powers Booth, Ben Stiller, Alan Rudolph, Jacqueline Bisset, Paul Mazursky, Rosanna Arquette, etc.—share their own insights as to what makes Nolte such a commanding screen presence. It’s a fittingly bizarre approach to take for such a mystifying man.
But don’t let your imagination get the best of you, for Nick Nolte: No Exit isn’t as brilliant as its premise suggests. While those non-Nolte interviews nudge the proceedings toward Fluffville, they are harmless enough. But they tie into the film’s biggest problem, which is that there are no actual clips employed to show Nolte in full actorly command. Clearly this was a rights issue, but that doesn’t hide the fact that the more these collaborators, and Nolte himself, reflect on his standout performances, the more the desire to see him in action grows from a niggling desire to a nagging burn. It doesn’t break the film necessarily, but it keeps it from reaching its maximum potential.
I write this more to lower your bar of expectation than to criticize the film itself. For there is much goodness to behold in this kooky biography. As in Nick Nolte interviews himself. Highlights include: discussing his work with Terrence Malick on The Thin Red Line, confessing his fondness for illicit substances, and, perhaps most memorably, explaining the circumstances surrounding that infamous mug shot.
Don’t expect your life to be changed when diving into Nick Nolte: No Exit. But having said that, dive into it.
— Michael Tully