Amid all the behind-the-scenes nuggets contained in the extras for the 25th-anniversary "Back to the Future" trilogy box, what sticks out is how crucial Michael J. Fox was to the films' rollicking success. Fox replaced Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly after director Robert Zemeckis had actually completed five full weeks of shooting. Fox's superb farce instincts and timing infused Zemeckis' intricate comic machinery with a funny kind of buoyancy. As he says in a new interview, he kept his character's focus on girls, skateboarding and rock and roll. He ended up giving the movie its eternal-adolescent feeling. (That's Fox, left, as he looked in the first "Back to the Future" movie, in 1985.)
Three years after his first "Future" movie, Fox proved to be the best thing in James Bridges' film of Jay McInerney's novel "Bright Lights, Big City." He gave a game, unsentimental performance as a lovable loser. But it's amazing to think of the dramatic leap he took from that film to his heartbreaking performance in "Casualties of War" (1989). Brian DePalma's great, unsung Vietnam movie finally got the wide-screen DVD presentation it deserved in 2001 and an unrated extended-cut edition five years later. In any version, Fox's characterization of Private Eriksson, who blows the whistle on his sergeant (Sean Penn) for his platoon's gang rape and murder of a Vietnamese girl, is staggering -- a harrowing portrayal of a good man haunted by his inability to save a life. The DVD featurette "Eriksson's War: A Conversation with Michael J. Fox" testifies to the prodigious talent and intelligence of this actor.
Fox will be appearing on TV's "The Good Wife" next week as a cynical lawyer. I know I'll be watching. Will you?