Why Does Ezra Miller Get a ‘Flash’ Pass, but Not Woody Allen or Roman Polanski?

Kohn’s Corner is a weekly column about the challenges and opportunities of sustaining American film culture.

This week provided a confluence of contentious developments for the film industry, and I’m not talking about the ongoing writers strike. First reviews of “The Flash” dropped ahead of the movie’s release and while they’re definitely mixed, the movie doesn’t seem destined for the dustbin despite its ostracized lead. Ezra Miller’s assault charges haven’t gone away, but that hasn’t deterred Warner Bros. from hurtling toward the theatrical release plan and mitigating Miller’s scandal however it can. 

Miller, of course, stayed out of the spotlight while the studio ramped up buzz. Tracking for the June 16 release in the unremarkable $70 million-$75 million range, which means it may not be the summer’s most profitable blockbuster. However, the hype machine ensured that audiences won’t cancel “The Flash” alongside its troubled star. 

No matter how it dances around the subject, the studio couldn’t care less about the allegations against Miller. It’s another story for two octogenarian filmmakers revered decades before Miller was born. You can run, but you can’t hide, from the discourse around Woody Allen and Roman Polanski: Both have new movies this fall.

On Monday, a day before “The Flash” reviews dropped, the first trailer for Allen’s French-language “Coup de Chance” made the rounds. Shot, like Allen’s last several projects, with European financing, the director’s 50th movie promises an atmospheric love triangle with a dark Chabrolian twist not unlike his first-rate thriller “Match Point” 18 years ago. If you have any relationship to Allen’s work beyond his problematic reputation, there are reasons to be intrigued.

My French is nonexistent, but with a little help from Google Translate’s live audio feature I could discern the outline of a thorny marriage drama in which one woman’s bond with her husband gets troubled by the reappearance of an old high school friend. Allen’s dialogue can sometimes sound a bit stale or antiquated, but other languages can inject it with renewed urgency, as Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem proved with their delightful Spanish bickering throughout “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” 

I have long felt that the discourse around Allen’s movies vs. what he did or didn’t do to be unworthy of endless scrutiny because the quality of his movies weren’t worth the battle either way. “Coup de Chance” presents a different kind of conundrum, because it looks… well, kind of good. Is that enough for U.S. buyers to take a chance on it? Even asking that question states the problem at hand.

“I bet no one will want the headache,” one American buyer wrote me this week. “I don’t think they’d give the rights away,” another said. 

Allen’s movies, after all, don’t come cheap. “Coup de Chance” boasts cinematographer Vitorio Storaro’s lush imagery and a big cast that includes adored French star Melvin Poupaud; it has French distribution set with Metropolitan Filmexport, which releases the movie there on September 27 (leading to speculation of a Venice Film Festival launch). Ultimately, various output deals mean that Allen’s work can quietly make its way to American audiences on streaming without the hassle of a marketing plan.

“Rainy Day in New York” and “Rifkin’s Festival,” the two movies he’s made since the American industry abandoned him in the wake of the #MeToo movement, eventually became available (and found audiences) on Amazon — the same company that dumped his multi-film contract after 2017’s “Wonder Wheel.” In all likelihood, “Coup de Chance” will follow a similar path. 

Also in September (exactly one day after “Coup de Chance”) is the Italian release of Roman Polanski’s “The Palace,” a dark comedy set on New Year’s Eve 1999 at a hotel in the Swiss Alps. The movie was co-written by Polanski’s fellow Polish director Jerzy Skowlimowski in their first team-up since “Knife in the Water” over 50 years ago. Skowlimowski managed to go an entire Oscar season promoting “EO” last year without having to answer for Polanski’s own problematic reputation, but any business that attempts to release the movie stateside won’t have that luxury. Distributing a Polanski movie is a death wish in America. 

At least, that would appear to be the logic given that his last undertaking, the Cesare-winning “An Officer and a Spy,” never came out here. Yet Polanski’s earlier works continue to enjoy a healthy life at retrospectives around the country. If audiences want to see his latest, why wouldn’t a buyer take the risk? 

First off, of course, no one wants the tsuris — but there’s a far more practical reason beyond that. In the currently challenged specialized market, the odds of losing money on a theatrical release for these films is high — and that would be true even if the filmmakers had spotless records in their personal lives. The fact that they don’t only erodes what is already a small possibility of profit into a nub.

However, I question the cancellation narrative in a world where Miller gets a “Flash” pass and movies that — to be frank — look a whole lot better remain in exile. I’m not here to relitigate anyone’s guilt, only to call attention to a double standard. Distributing a new movie from Allen or Polanski wouldn’t imply an endorsement of the men behind the camera so much as an acknowledgement that audiences want to see these movies.

I’m sure some readers will find even the implication of support for Allen and Polanski to be worthy of some cancellation in its own right. To be clear, based on all available evidence, I find both repellent. But again, the conundrum here has less to do with questions of culpability than quality. If “Coup de Chance” and “The Palace” have enough aesthetic substance to warrant the release of their work, getting them out there may be a headache worth having — for the business and the state of an art form. If indeed nobody takes that gamble, it’s only a matter of time before they arrive here on VOD. As with “The Flash,” one way or another, audiences will have the last word. 

As usual, I welcome feedback on this column: eric@indiewire.com

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