There's no way around it: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson owes at least some of his fame to the way his dominating figure fits the blockbuster action stereotype with near-mechanical sleekness. However, he also offers an alternative to that reductive perspective. Looking sharp in a business suit and speaking with the relaxed professional discipline of a CEO, Johnson showed up at a screening of Get Smart on Sunday at the CineVegas Film Festival displaying sheer confidence. The screening took place at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, where Johnson had recently acted in Race to Witch Mountain ("We just added to the chaos," he said), but on this visit, Johnson got a chance to remind people that he's not just a one-note performer, but someone who plays an active role in the international film community (not to mention the health community, since The Rock Foundation pushes obesity prevention).
Outside of his supremely meta performance in Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, Johnson has made his interests in adventurous cinema increasingly clear, and boldly champions independent artists. You can get a small glimpse of this aspect of his personality in Operation Filmmaker, documentarian Nina Davenport's account of an Iraqi filmmaker named Muthana Mohmed whose aspirations tragically fall short of the expectations surrounding him. Landing the opportunity to work for Liev Schreiber on the set of Everything is Illuminated, the 25-year-old Mohmed grows increasingly frustrated with the boring tasks given to him, and continually blows opportunities as a result of his unbalanced work ethic.
Nevertheless, high caliber members of the industry keep giving him more chances to follow his dream -- and while the results form a real downer of a film that ultimately pushes the Iraq war metaphor to its breaking point, Johnson's appearance provides one of the few bright spots. After Mohmed bonds with the actor on the set of Doom, Johnson offers to pay for his film school tuition in London. It's the sort of staggering altruism that celebrities often do in the name of good publicity, but Operation Filmmaker captures a gentle side of Johnson in private conversation with Mohmed that suggests the sincerity of his actions. Too bad they didn't amount to much, especially since Davenport and Mohmed had a falling out during his film school days, causing the story to get cut frustratingly short. Johnson can't help fill in that blank. "I don't really know what happened with Muthana," he said when I asked him about it on his way into the Planet Hollywood theater. "But I really enjoyed the documentary."
Of course, it's interesting to hear a star of Johnson's caliber discuss something like Operation Filmmaker, a small project that rode the festival circuit before coming out in very limited release a few weeks ago. "I thought the movie was provocative," Johnson said. "Nina did a great job directing it. They have a really interesting relationship. I don't know what it has progressed -- or digressed -- to." Either way, he seemed content with his own decision. "What compelled me to help Moktada was that I though he was genuine," he said. "At the end of the day, when we got to our set for Doom, he was an incredibly hard worker."
What do you think? Do the Rock's actions in Operation Filmmaker seem like a legitimate way to help a struggling immigrant, or do they come across as shameless self-promotion?
Top: Dwayne Johnson, the actor, contemplates 'Operation Filmmaker.' Meanwhile, Dwayne Johnson, the hardened spy in 'Get Smart,' peers over his shoulder.