Thursday, 4 February 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road

Nicholas Hoult did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Nux in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Mad Max: Fury Road is quite possibly the greatest action film ever made which is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and is about the drifter Max (Tom Hardy) who accidentally ends up with a group of women, lead by Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who are attempting to escape from a tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

Fury Road as a cinematic accomplishment has received a great deal of praise though if you ask me, not enough! Often a criticism lobbed at the film is the simplicity of its plot, of course this often comes from the same people who complain about films which plots are too complex. The film in a way is cinema incarnate in that it's visual storytelling is only possible with film. There is an abundance of depth found within its imagery, and the well chosen words that are spoken in the film. It is not only within the way every character and object seems uniquely crafted in terms of appearance to already allude to a history, but the film's ensemble as a whole only furthers this. There is often a bit of a snobbery towards action film's acting, as though if its good it's good for an action movie, but really if its good for any film. Now actually I think almost every performance has a bit of something to offer in this film, the one I'm focusing on here perhaps gambled the most of all. Now nothing should be taken for granted from the excellent internalized performances of Theron and Hardy, there are also several extroverted performances in the film, but none are given more focus than Nicholas Hoult's turn as Nux. He is one of Immortan Joe's warboys, who are basically his cannon fodder for any fight, but they worship him as their god.

Nux is the warboy we follow through this delusion. We are first introduced to him as he lays dying due to his cancer, which all the warboys are suffering from, only finding sustenance through the use of a human blood bank, which happens to be Max. Hoult is an unlit match until he hears that Immortan is going after Furiosa who has driven off with Immortan's wives, and a war party is being made to go after that. Nux's spark returns at hearing the chance to die on the Fury Road and Hoult's performance is burning red hot with life. To describe Hoult's performance as energetic would seem to be undercutting it a bit, this is more than that, this is a super nova of excitement as Hoult presents Nux as a man who is indeed living every second as any second may be his last. Although he is playing a man who is willing to give his life at a moments notice, there is nothing dour about this in Hoult's hands. The intensity is that of someone driven by a desire not for greatness in this world but rather the next. There is no time to think about this world if he's going to make it to the next as shown through Hoult's beautifully rendered mania. As when the sky runs red with blood and destruction there is but great glee in Hoult's expression and voice as he utters those immortal lines "What a day! What a Lovely Day!", as it could be nothing else for Nux.

This performance is almost magical in how perfectly Hoult captures the madness of man enraptured into a warrior cult. Though there is a sort of indirect humor that is a result of this, what's so remarkable is how pure Hoult makes this mentality of Nux. When Immortan Joe just by chance glances his way, Hoult reaction is sheer brilliance as he suggests that Nux was truly just noticed by his Lord and Savior. A whole life being raised in this belief is evidenced in Hoult's unending passion that he carries in any moment especially when a possible glorious death is possible. When a fellow warrior is sure to die, though might just have enough energy for a suicide attack against his enemies, Hoult is downright inspirational in that empathy he projects, wanting to his fellow warboy succeed in his final moments. There is an absolute zealous delight in his eyes when he witnesses the man's demise. Hoult makes Nux a man captured in a complete hysteria in order to earn his place in Valhalla. The climatic moment of this comes when he is addressed directly by Immortan and even given an chance to earn a personal journey with his god. As Immortan blesses Nux with a ceremonial spray of chrome paint. Hoult is outstanding in realizing a man whose achieved his purpose in life through his face which is filled with a true euphoria, so powerful that he even sheds a tear of joy.

Nux fails, quite hilariously actually, yet what's so fascinating is that Nux's dreams of grandeur at this point have been made more than just a joke by Hoult's performance. In fact Nux would have already been one of the all time great henchmen, but there's more to him than that. When he is found as a stowaway, on the war rig commandeered by Max and Furiosa, by one of the wives, Capable (Riley Keough), Hoult is actually rather moving. It is a broken man that Nux has become, and there is such a tremendous despair that Hoult shows, a man who has failed his god, and failed his last attempt to achieve his life long dream of another life through death. Yet there is something wonderful in the tenderness of the moment as Capable listens to Nux, and Hoult presents Nux's eyes slowly being opened to a world that was not created by an old man in an oxygen mask. Hoult's transition is less of reformation of Nux and rather a broadening of his world view. As he helps the runaways, Hoult still brings that enthusiasm, not muted, but changed. No longer narrowed by a single viewpoint, as well as brings rather a calmer happiness, as Nux is finally enjoying what there is in this world rather than merely what might await him in the next.

Hoult tempers his performance brilliantly as he gradually escapes the grip of Immortan's religious sway. What's so special is that this is never said, it does not need to be said, Hoult finds the rediscovery of life all in the margins, some of it which comes from the graceful relationship with Capable which becomes surprisingly poignant despite being quite brief. It is incredible as Hoult does not lose his footing in the last act of Nux's story, despite already having been such an entertaining and engaging enemy, and even manages to bring the character full circle in a most unusual way. In the end Nux once again sees something special in death by the end, but it is all in Hoult's portrayal of this that finds the difference. Hoult's eyes are not that of the fervent fanatic, but instead that of just a man who is trying to make a difference with the life he has for the people he loves. His final somber delivery of "witness me" is heartbreaking as it is no longer looking to see that he is noticed for the afterlife, but rather that he will be remembered by those for doing something meaningful with his life. Now I must admit when I was originally asked for my thoughts on the film and its performances, I was going to give some quick thoughts on Hoult, but as I wrote I knew that was not enough. This was a performance that deserved to be examined on the Fury Road, I mean in a full review, since it needs to witnessed, as Hoult earned his place within the gates of Valhalla.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina

Oscar Isaac did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Nathan Bateman in Ex Machina.

Ex Machina an intriguing film about a programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) who is "randomly" selected to test the new invention by the CEO of his company.

Oscar Isaac plays the role of the CEO Nathan, and really Oscar Isaac is a bit of chameleon as an actor. Not really in say the Gary Oldman fashion, but rather in the Masayuki Mori fashion. That being he really does not reinvent his accent or anything yet still seems so dissimilar from role to role. Take his output in 2015 for example where he was quite successful in being the hot shot action hero type in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as Poe Dameron, Though his accent is indeed the same he could seem more different as Nathan in this film. Isaac is a bit of a master in knowing how to carry himself differently, in again a very subtle way, yet the physical manner he takes with Nathan makes him seem like a wholly different person than the hot shot pilot from Star Wars. The funny thing both characters are even extroverts with Poe though he was directly extroverted, as in he was purposefully trying to make friends with anyone worthwhile, yet with Nathan Isaac does something very clever in that he's extroverted in a way that never quite seems entirely comfortable. Not that he's not really extroverted, he is, but the way Isaac presents does not make Nathan inherently likable.

Now there is something Isaac seems to be doing at the heart of his work, but I'll get to that later. In terms of the machinations of the plot though Nathan appears as though his constant is that of contradiction. In his very first scene Nathan is working out as well as drinking healthy liquids, but then proceeds to explain it as an attempt to recover from a severe hangover he has from drinking the night before. Isaac takes this idea to his creation of Nathan's personality in terms of his interactions with Caleb, and to a lesser extent his creation an android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). When Caleb first meets Nathan, Isaac plays it up giving Nathan a considerable charm, no doubt needed to be the head of a such a large company, as he suggests someone so excited to let someone else see what it is that he's created. The excitement in Nathan in the moment is extremely persuasive by Isaac as anyone probably would sign the ridiculous non-disclosure agreement that Caleb is forced to, since Isaac suggest only something unforgettable could possibly await. This is only made even easier as at this point, Isaac brings a considerable warmth as though Nathan really only simply wants Caleb to see this world changing invention.

However things begin to change when Caleb begins to conduct Turing tests to see whether or not Ava has true consciousness. From this point on Isaac never leaves Nathan as easy to decipher, instead being a bit of an enigma. There are moments where Nathan tells Caleb about how he actually developed Ava and in these moments Isaac exudes the needed smooth intelligence as well as proposes the sort of underlying passion that would be necessary for someone to create such a thing. Then at the same time whenever Caleb becomes too interested in merely the technical side of what makes Ava works, Isaac rejects the notion of the proper brilliant inventor. In these moments there is a dismissive tone that Isaac finds as though Nathan is almost holding his expertise above Caleb, and he does not want his input on the technical side of things since he does not need it. Isaac is terrific as he makes Nathan always slightly insulting in these moments not only because he seems to be stroking his ego to a certain extent, but also because he seems to purposefully try to turn Caleb's question against Caleb in some way. These are not jarring transitions but rather natural as Isaac presents Nathan as a genius, but does not feel like he always has to act like one.

Isaac is great though in the way he also plays with Nathan's relationship with Caleb, as he'll go like in that initial meeting where he seems to be quite encouraging, as well as seems to really believe in Caleb in some way. That's not always the case though as Caleb's own relationship with Ava continues to develop. Isaac though does not always keep this supportive attitude, especially when Nathan is drunk by making him not a particularly pleasant drunk to be around. However Nathan's nature goes even past this whenever he discusses the possible fate of Ava, and his own relationship with her. Isaac is able to be quite menacing here in a rather understated way as he suggests this certain darkness in Nathan whenever he directly deals with Ava, or it seems Caleb is becoming too concerned about her. Whenever Caleb tells Nathan a lie, Isaac creates this certain feeling of unease towards the film by indicating, mostly just through his reactions, that something is not right. As the film proceeds Isaac gradually makes this certain villainous side of Nathan grow as it slowly seems to become clear that he is the evil man that Ava claims that he is to Caleb.

Of course the masterstroke of this performance comes its revealing finale as the truth comes out about Nathan, that being the actual center of Isaac's work is around the fact that Nathan is just a BRO at heart. Isaac coalesces all lingering threads involving his character with this fact. His whole maniacal scientist routine was purposefully played up just to fool Caleb into helping Ava all the more. His ever changing mood, part put on, part standard potential moodiness of a true Bro. The reason this is behind all of behavior in some way is found in the revelation scene where Nathan shows what he had been up to all along. When he reveals that he's been duping Caleb Isaac is fantastic because he does not depict it as though he's an evil mastermind gloating about it, but rather is pretty casual in his explanation. Oscar's delivery is less "you were a pawn all along" to more of "sorry dude, but I had to make sure my A.I. pure". Of course him being a BRO was never hidden, with his constant dunking and the fact that he did not mind making a crude remark quite often. What I love though is Isaac in the end makes Nathan less than he might have been, but in the best way. He's technically more inconsiderate than outright maniacal  My favorite moment in the film already gives this away, when Nathan breaks out into a surprise dance number. Technically Nathan could be doing his evil routine but at this point Isaac shows who Nathan really is as he'd rather just tear up the dance floor at this point. Isaac by embracing the BRO side to the extent that he does not only makes sense of the character's motivations throughout, but also makes this an extremely entertaining performance to watch. It's really a fun approach yet Isaac never compromises the tone or intensity of the film, but instead succeeds in only ever amplifying both.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Emory Cohen in Brooklyn

Emory Cohen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Anthony "Tony" Fiorello in Brooklyn.

 2015 was actually sort of a strange year for films for me personally, in that there were many films I liked a great deal, even though they did not exactly fire on all cylinders so to speak. Brooklyn is one of those films since its writing, other than the dialogue, is not exactly a piece of perfection, though this may largely have to do with the source material. The story is simple of enough, which is fine, but it really does not have a great deal of depth within that. It also is not without an over the top one dimensional villain in an evil Irish shopkeeper, and has technically some severe narrative flaws in the last act. Whether or not its dramatic twist was needed is up for debate, but the whole between two lands choice at the end is severely undermined by the fact that really she's already made her choice.

Any who with all that it might sound like I've turned against the film. Well I have not and those flaws were there the first time I watched the film, and I still said I loved it because I do. This is a film though that technically breaks the often said criticism "style over substance" since if something has enough style it can easily can make up for its thin amount of substance. The film works due to its direction to be sure as it takes us through the story in such wonderfully eloquent fashion, but this is a case where the performances may be the most important. Saoirse Ronan could not be more perfect as Ellis as the somewhat timid young woman making the journey from Ireland to America to start a new life. The other essential player though is played by Emory Cohen, and there are many challenges presented here. The first being in the casting of Emory Cohen, if one only ever saw his performance in A Place Beyond the Pines, they should be very concerned for the success of a film which depends on him. Well thankfully Cohen does his best to wipe away the memory of that terrible gangsta Marlon Brando routine, with his portrayal of Tony here.

The funny thing is that Cohen again might have some Brando influence in there, but this time his whole approach not only seems far more natural it is far more fitting to this film's style. Cohen does not overdo it this time just bringing on the light touches of the Brando style, with a few slight smirks in there, but they only ever feel right for the character of Tony. It all just adds to it, and makes him feel like a vivid representation of young guy from the period. Another challenge though presents itself with character of Tony who is not all that complex when you get down to it. He's a nice Italian plumber who does not like talking about his job, as well as apparently avoids talking about baseball despite that being one of his most favorite things. However none of that really matters because Cohen makes the most of what's there. It must be said that he is ridiculously charming here. That slight smirk never feels like smugness, but rather Cohen only carries an earnest enthusiasm with the character. Cohen runs with the certain simplicity actually by making it frankly just so appealing, and manages to find an honesty within it that seems to override that potential problem.

It needs to be said that he and Ronan are great together. Their chemistry is in fact rather unassuming, there's nothing raw about their romance to be sure. There does not need to be though as the two of them find something very special in their fairly casual conversations with one another. They don't often talk about matters of great importance, nor is this a case of the romantic comedy type of relationship where they have a bit of a love/hate thing going on. It's really just a depiction of a courtship between the two, which Ronan rather interestingly does not show as though she's wholly swept away by him. However the modest relationship they develop becomes quite endearing because of how it is developed. What's special is how they do not rush it, well other than in one plot requiriment which is a mistake but has nothing to do with the performances, yet the two are terrific in showing the connection between the two that only grows over time. There's just a great byplay between the two as each becomes progressively more comfortable with the other in each new scene, and I love that watching them is so wonderful even though there is nothing out of the ordinary about the romance.

Now another challenge does present itself for Cohen in that Tony's insistent behavior towards Ellis could have been overbearing or perhaps even worse creepy in the wrong hands. Cohen though is pitch perfect in his performance, as there is something pivotal he does on his end, which is to show that Tony is absolutely infatuated with Ellis. There's just no question about this with Cohen's work which makes anything Tony does incredibly endearing because he presents it as though it only ever feels like it comes directly from the heart. Cohen is so good though in that he is able to make Tony such a sympathetic guy as he never makes this love in itself simplistic. He finds complication in really this nervousness he brings to Tony's interactions with Ellis, suggesting a man who has difficultly with every next step in the relationship because he's almost gripped with fear at times that he might lose her. When he says he must see her every chance he can get, Cohen only ever allows the words to be that of a man who genuinely means it. There's no irony, no cynicism, it's a true love that Cohen always brings to his eyes, and really any interaction with her. There's a sweetness to at all, as even when he sees her in a bathing suit for the first time, Cohen manages to not make his reaction seem that of a lustful man, but somehow finds a purity in his enthusiastic response as it is from a man who clearly only treasures the time he spends with her. Cohen's work here is not this complex portrait of a man of the period, but it doesn't have to be. He just needs to be a man whose in love with a woman, and that love is never in question. Cohen's work is essential to the success of the film, which would frankly have fallen apart if Tony was anything less than what Cohen makes him. It's a great performance as the character could have failed in so many ways, but Cohen only ever makes this a winning depiction of, well, a nice guy.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk

Richard Jenkins did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying back up deputy Chicory in Bone Tomahawk.

Bone Tomahawk is an effective western horror about four men who go out to rescue captives from a group of cave dwelling cannibals.

Now I must admit the first time I watched Bone Tomahawk, despite being basically told to watch out for Jenkins's performance, for quite awhile I was waiting for Jenkins to show up. Of course his character of Chicory appears early on, but Jenkins wholly disappears into his role. Jenkins is a fine character actor, and often matches the needs of the various roles he's tasked with no matter how small they may be. This one though, he goes above and beyond in his creation of Chicory, as he seems to call upon his inner his Walter Brennan or perhaps Arthur Hunnicutt in his portrayal of an old timer in the old west. Jenkins's takes upon a haggard voice and all of his physical movement are slightly slow suggesting a certain effort that it takes just for him to move at the speed he does. Jenkins realizes many rough years that Chicory has had to endure in just the way he speaks and moves. The most remarkable part of all this is how natural Jenkins makes it all seem, since he just seems to be some other character actor that is older, or at least has not aged as well, as Jenkins. There's no visual effort or even the idea of seeing a performance. Jenkins simply is Chicory here, and even before he does any thing the mere set up Jenkins is already rather outstanding.

Jenkins though does not stop there as he not only becomes the Walter Brennan for the film, but he also must fulfill the potential needs of a Walter Brennan role for this western. Well that being he's just a bit of an old coot, but in the best sort of way. Jenkins is extremely endearing in the role as he portrays such enthusiasm in Chicory as he attempts to go about supporting the local Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell). Jenkins brings such a genuine pride in Chicory whenever he states his position as the town's backup deputy, who frequently tries to offer his opinion the Sheriff, which he always refers to as "the official opinion of the back up deputy". The eagerness that Jenkins brings to the role makes Chicory so likable, since he never seems overbearing either. Whenever Chicory steps up, including attempting to help the Sheriff stop a potentially dangerous drifter, Jenkins reveals an old guy trying his absolute best to help. It's hard not to love the old man in Jenkins's hands since everything about the man just feels completely honest, and there's not a forced element to his depiction, this quite an accomplishment in itself considering how different Jenkins is in this role to begin with. It's splendid work from the start, and it only gets stronger as the film proceeds.

When the Sheriff, the husband of one of the captives Arthur O'Dwyer (Patrick Wilson), a self-proclaimed Indian killer John Brooder (Matthew Fox) set off an a rescue, Chicory demands to come along as well. Just before he goes though there is just a wonderful small moment for Jenkins as he visits his wife's grave, and Jenkins so tenderly reveals the great loss to Chicory in just a few moments before he departs. On the journey itself Jenkins is terrific in realizing so well the eternal optimism of Chicory as they are basically descending into hell. Jenkins importantly keeps a light humorous touch, even in some rather dark sequences, by keeping Chicory's inherent kindness a constant. He's great in the way he finds a certain chemistry with each of the men. He brings just the utmost respect in his interactions with The Sheriff, suggesting Chicory's steadfast devotion to his duty. With O'Dwyer though Jenkins brings the right consistent kindness as he always reflects Chicory clear concern for O'Dwyer's personal plight. The best though may come in his relationship with the philosophically opposed pessimist Brooder (whose name upon reflection may be a bit on the nose). 

Anyways Fox and Jenkins are great together though in portraying the opposite ends of the spectrum. As Brooder mocks everyone on the mission, Jenkins is good in finding this believable resilience as Chicory never lashes out against Brooder. This is all except when Brooder supersedes the Sheriff's authority, and Jenkins is great by bringing some much passion in Chicory very specific disagreement with Brooder because he's disrespecting the law. It's splendid because it's not really anger that Jenkins expresses but rather almost a concern as he wants to makes sure he is fulfilling his duty as backup deputy. Jenkins never loses that bright outlook of Chicory's , and  makes it even convincing that Chicory is even able to win over Brooder by the end. Jenkins makes this whole defining quality about Chicory work so well by being a consistent bit of sunshine in a film that only becomes darker as it goes along. Jenkins plays around with it just enough, and manages to derive some well earned humorous moments simply from Chicory's personal style, yet never makes the character a joke. In fact Jenkins manages to be quite powerful by offering such an empathetic presence with Chicory, as manages to find such poignancy with every loss in the film. 

Jenkins's best scenes, which is saying something, come after part of the group is also captured by the cannibals, and basically put in cages, waiting their turns to be slaughtered. If there was a moment for Chicory to lose his hope this would be it, but he still does not fall into despair. Jenkins importantly does bring nuance to this still showing an underlying anxiety and sadness from the situation, but earns the optimism all the more by depicting the effort as he still looks for the silver lining. There leads to one especially amazing scene for Jenkins as Chicory talks about seeing a flea circus once, and stating his belief that the show was real despite being told otherwise. The conviction of this belief that Jenkins is so heartwarming, particularly when O'Dwyer's wife supports Chicory's belief, as Jenkins so genuinely presents Chicory's complete joy in finding some sort of encouragement for his mindset. My favorite moment of his performance, and I love em all, is when Chicory swears he'll avenge one his friend. Chicory obviously does not appears to be the most formidable man, but even in a scene of violence Jenkins manages to add a sweetness to it by portraying once against such undeniable earnestness as he fulfills his friend's final request of sorts. This is a brilliant performance by Jenkins in every regard. He not only crafts a wholly unique character, he manages to be both a marvelous comic relief and the soul of the film. It's downright beautiful work by Richard Jenkins and essential to the film as he becomes interminable ray of light within the darkness of the film's bleak world.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Idris Elba did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and winning SAG, for portraying the Commandant in Beasts of No Nation.

Beasts of No Nation has about a masterful hour, the second half being a bit problematic, as it brutally depicts the loss innocence through a young boy Agu (Abraham Attah), whose family is massacred, and he is made into a child soldier.

Idris Elba plays the leader of a loose group of soldiers who come across Agu. Elba, from what I have seen, had failed to really find his footing in terms of his cinematic output, delivering often forgettable work, though to be fair in rather thin parts. The commandant finally seems like a substantial role, and Elba seems to relish in the chance in his portrayal of the part. In the earliest scenes of the film Elba plays the part in a fairly grand fashion. Elba plays him less of a military commander and more that of a spiritual leader of sorts who marks his pardon upon Agu, acting it as though he is his savior. Elba is very good in these scenes bringing the needed charisma to the role that the Commandant can control his men without question at this point. He brings the right quality to his performance as he makes the Commandant seem something more than he is to Agu at first, as he makes himself to be the true leader of these men, that goes beyond even an idea of his rank. Elba creates a sense of benevolence in the Commandant as he treats Agu, and the other soldiers, with this essential warmth, as though he only wants what is best for them, despite the fact that he's actually just using young boys for his own ends.

A pivotal moment for Elba's performance comes when he forces Agu to murder a completely innocent man for him. Elba is terrific in the moment as he makes the persuasion believable for Agu, as he suggests to Agu that he is someway avenging his own family by doing this. Elba is chilling though in the moment though because he projects a disarming affection towards Agu, as he makes him do the ultimate act of hate. Elba continues to be very effective in being the father to all of his men in quieter moments, such as where he tells the men of the women in the next village he intends to conquer, as though he's telling them of a treasure they will obtain if they continue to follow them. My favorite moment his performance is a larger one as he primes his troops just before they enter into the fray of battle. Elba makes this moment as though the Commandant is firmly a man in his element, as he truly seems to becomes the men's spiritual guide as he leads them in a dance, as a for them to enter the battle. Elba properly rules the scene as he seems to become more than a man before his troops, as leads the men into the battle as though it is some sort of divine march, and he has become God.

Of course the commandant is not God, or a god, he's just a man, and not even much of a man. Elba does indicate this well even in the early scenes in the moments after the first attack, where the commandant finds some possessions to call his own. Elba makes him frankly a bit childish in the moment as though he's enjoying the power of his position a bit too much, he does not call it his own as a grand decree, but more of saying "Hey cool, that's mine". The cracks in the commandant's facade only grow deeper as the story proceeds, when the commandant indicates that he too must follow orders. Elba reveals just a bitter pathetic man who hates being reminded of his own position. This leads to an underdeveloped element in the film where it is heavily implied that that the commandant sexually molests Agu. The moment just seems to be there to be another horrible thing Agu is forced to do, but the way its done it feels like it's there to be a checklist without really having much purpose other than having the commandant being even worse than he already was. The commandant's fall only continues when he meets with his superior, and is treated with very little respect. Again Elba does well enough in showing just the angry thug beneath it all, as he lashes out for being treated as something unimportant.

The film continues along the path of the commandant's own self-destruction, and any sway he might have had over his men only evaporates as time goes on. This is as the commandant does anything to stay in power, including having his second in command killed, and then proceeding to basically have his men keep fighting even though they're no longer part of any army. The film does not really allow Elba to gradually depict this descent in the commandant as the film moves aimlessly for awhile, though not in a way reflective of the aimless way the commandant is using his men. Elba does not have much screen time after the commandant goes renegade as we just eventually find his final scene where the men finally rebel against him. To his credit Elba is good in the scene as he portrays with such exasperation the commandant's final attempt to keep control, but really has not charisma left as he still tries to command them to do his bidding. This even is handled rather swiftly as the commandant barely gets a final glimpse before the film cuts away, and we never see him again. One could take this to show how far he's fallen, as the man who was the center of all these men's lives is just tossed away with only a few words. The problem is it just does not build to this in a particularly engaging way, and once again Elba seems often underused. This is still a very good performance, a great one in the earliest scenes, but as the commandant loses power so does Elba's performance. Now one could argue that as intentional, but the portrait of a man losing that power isn't made especially compelling by the film or Elba. I don't want to sound too negative though, since like the film, Elba's work is tremendous in the beginning, but like the film loses that strength as it continues.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Matthias Schoenaerts and Michael Sheen in Far From The Madding Crowd

Matthias Schoenaerts did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd.

Far From the Madding Crowd is yet another effective enough adaption of the story about Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a woman who has inherited a very large farm, and has three very different men vying for affections.

I have previously covered the three men with the 1967 version of the story where they were played by Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terence Stamp. Bates played Gabriel Oak as just an honest bloke with a low key charm whose a bit down on his luck. Matthias Schoenaerts, a Belgian actor, which you would not know, well other than his name obviously, as he seems a bit a master of accents as one would never second guessed that he was really a New York thug in The Drop nor is there any reason to question his status here as an English shepherd. Schoenaerts fits right into the role to be sure, giving just the needed physical stature for the role. Though it would be easy enough to copy Bates's take on the character, it was a good performance after all, Schoenaerts takes a different approach. Where Bates was that likable average Joe, Schoenaerts takes a more stoic approach to the character. Schoenaerts plays him in a much colder fashion than Bates, though I don't mean that he plays the character as cold. Schoenaerts internalizes his performance even more than Bates did, and seems to purposefully strip away any direct charm from his Gabriel Oak. Though again that does not mean that this is not a charming performance.

On the contrary Schoenaerts actually has a very appealing presence, but it is never directed in a way as though he's trying to win any one over. There is a likability that Schoenaerts finds just in the way he so genuinely creates the modesty of the man. This is an interesting way to play the part, and it actually helps to further explain Bathsheba's original rejection of him at the beginning of the story when he's still a man with property and wealth. Schoenaerts is very good in this scene by showing his proposition as wholly earnest, though without an excess of passion, as Gabriel is just not the type of man who would try to actively win her over. Schoenaerts suggests even though Gabriel does have a charm of his own, the instinctual nature of the man keeps Bathsheba from accepting him at this point. Gabriel though loses his wealth through an unfortunate incident, which keeps him no longer acceptable even since Bathsheba becomes rich by chance, and with no where else to go really Gabriel starts working for her. With Bathsheba's new found status this does lead her into a situation where she meets her second potential suitor William Boldwood. 

Michael Sheen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying William Boldwood in Far From the Madding Crowd.

The role of Boldwood in the 67 version was played by Peter Finch. Finch's performance was purposefully restrictive as he portrayed the man ruled by his upbringing to hold back his emotions. Michael Sheen, who is perhaps known a bit more for his depictions of more open and about British chaps, takes a bit of a different approach for Boldwood. The character stands as a disciplined sort, but Sheen plays this less as an active conditioning. Sheen's approach is less of man being trained to be this way, but rather a man only simply is this way due to a lack of experience of being showed any real love throughout his life. Where Finch shows his interactions to remain proper, Sheen instead reveals more of timidness as he tries to speak plainly with Bathsheba early on, which could be seen as rude at a cursory view, but at closer inspection Sheen presents a man unsure of how to act exactly. Sheen's approach is a rather intelligent one since he manages to makes Boldwood no longer seem as much of a thankless role, by finding a way out of the restrictions Finch set with his characterization. Sheen still makes Boldwood fit as the same man in terms of his stature and general background, but finds a way not to be nearly as constrained by these elements of the character.

Sheen's alternate starting point allows him to set a different path for the character than what Finch took in that earlier adaptation. Boldwood only becomes a potential suitor when Bathsheba purposefully sends a mocking valentine to him. Sheen realizes the cruelty of the act particularly well as Boldwood makes his own proposal to Bathsheba. Sheen is really quite moving by suggesting such a nervousness in the moment from a lack of experience with such matters, while exuding a very real tenderness in his request at the same time. Sheen is terrific in just how much emotional vulnerability he shows in any of the scenes where Boldwood is interacting with Bathsheba, as there's even a sweetness in the way Sheen suggests his love for Bathsheba is gradually building a certain confidence which allow him to express more emotions. One particularly great scene for Sheen is when Bathsheba sings a song for her workers, with Boldwood in audience as well, and Boldwood joins in. Sheen is very affecting in the scene as he reveals Boldwood coming out of the confines of his original emotional state through his feelings for Bathesheba. The feelings that Sheen finds are only ever wholly genuine, unlike her last suitor one Sergeant Frank Troy played in the original by Terence Stamp, but here unfortunately by Tom Sturridge.

Well there's a reason that I'm not reviewing all three suitors, as I had done for the three in the 67 version, since where Stamp gave the best performance in that film, Sturridge gives the worst performance in this film. So back to the good performances, though they are still attached to Troy somewhat. Technically it should be noted that Schoenaerts's indirect charm would have been a perfect set up for someone with a considerable direct charm, which Stamp had in the role. Now Schoenaerts's approach actually makes him really standout, even after his character is overshadowed in terms of the story as it focuses on Bathsheba's other two suitors. Gabriel never leaves the film but he is often reduced to a few reactionary moments here and there, with them often being silent. Schoenaerts keeps Gabriel from being forgotten though by standing well as the moral conscious of the film. He makes an impact with every single one of his reactions, as he always portrays well Gabriel's certain distaste with many of Bathsheba's actions, while still keeping a certain undercurrent of Gabriel's own true feelings for her beneath it all. Importantly Schoenaerts finds the right unsaid chemistry with Mulligan from the beginning, which he naturally transitions from being a possible suitor, to a true friend who's willing to tell her the harsh truths.

Now Sheen's moments are more specific as Boldwood has scenes still devoted to him. With every scene though Sheen reveals Boldwood coming out of his meek state all the more, even after Bathsheba has rejected him for Sergeant Troy. There is yet another very striking scene for Sheen when he discusses this with Gabriel. Sheen is rather heartbreaking by having Boldwood open up all the more as he presents just how devastated Boldwood is over the rejection, and suggests that allowing himself to become emotional through his interest in her has only caused him to suffer. When Boldwood is given a second chance with Bathsheba, Sheen continues to be very effective as his performance finds a considerable joy within the chance, but still an ever growing unease. As even in his new proposal Sheen lines it with a palatable fear at the possibility of being once again ignored by her. In the end Boldwood's story is a tragic one which Peter Finch portrayed as resulting from almost a time bomb as his emotions finally are let out all at once. Although that worked well, Sheen's approach is all the more powerful though as he manages to build to this point, by only ever depicting a growing emotional distress in Boldwood that leaves him to take his final irrational act of violence. This is even with this version's approach to the ending which is a bit rushed, and gives less focus to Boldwood than the 67 version did. Now the ending's swift pace continues as Bathsheba finally chooses Gabriel. This might have failed completely but Schoenaerts and Mulligan ,for that matter, manage to make up for the film's shortcomings because of that underlying chemistry they shared right from their first scene together. They make the ending convincing because it less of a revelation, and more of an acceptance. Both Schoenaerts and Sheen actually manage to best Bates and Finch, who both gave fine performances, as they manage to find their own unique approaches to the material which enliven their characters.
(For Schoenaerts)
(For Sheen)

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci in Spotlight

Michael Keaton, did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Walter "Robby" Robinson, nor did Liev Schreiber for portraying Marty Baron, nor did Stanley Tucci for portraying Mitchell Garabedian in Spotlight.

It needs to be said that Spotlight is a film with a great acting ensemble, well except of course one of the actors who was Oscar nominated for it. The smaller roles are essential in receiving insight into its Boston setting and honestly feeling the effects caused by the Catholic Church sex scandals that the journalist of the Boston Globe are trying to uncover. Now within those trying to uncover the scandal there is a nice variations of personalities. The head of the team tasked with uncovering it, the titular spotlight, is headed by Robby Robinson played by Michael Keaton. Keaton's performance is actually very low key right down to his sorta Boston accent that one could argue is consistent, but one could also argue is realistic rendering of someone with a light Boston accent. Either way it's not a big deal. Despite being head of the team Keaton does give this large overly commanding performance, but is very believable as a more likable type of boss. Keaton makes it clear when he's demanding something from one the writers, but he does this in a very authentic way, suggesting just how comfortable the Spotlight team is with one another.

Now what's great about the film though is the ease in which the film depicts the various personalities involved with the story while still spreading the focus all around. Despite being the head of Spotlight the man who actually provokes the investigation is the new Editor-in-chief for the Globe Marty Baron, played by Liev Schreiber. Liev Schreiber often seems to be the right actor in the wrong film so it is good to see him in something a little better for once. Schreiber technically gives a very mannered performance, but unlike he who shall not be named, does it well. One would just assume that this is the way Schreiber really is in, in his calm low pitched voice, his slightly shy demeanor, his slow way of speaking and just his particular way of interacting with others. Schreiber's performance is very interesting in the way he plays it. Marty is probably a guy who was shy in the past, but has gotten over that for the most part. The certain trademarks that go along with that behavior is still evident but he is not being controlled by that in any way. In addition to that. Marty is going to a whole new place, as well as being seen as an outsider, this will make him seem all the more out of the loop which Schreiber portrays in such a natural fashion.

What's intriguing about Schreiber's performance is that despite having that certain awkwardness that would go with a shyness, he is not a meek figure in the film, as again he is basically the only one who sees what everyone else failed to. Schreiber's really effective in the way he actually has this dominating presence in a very unique fashion. Though he never even comes close to raising his voice Schreiber actually carries this incisiveness in his delivery, as he goes about it in his own way, and there is always the sense that it would be impossible to deter Baron from his stance. It's remarkable as Schreiber is able to do this effortlessly, as he makes Baron a truly persuasive man, whose in charge without question, yet never has to force his hand. Schreiber presents the whole personality of Marty Baron just so flawlessly, and it's quite something that he's able to still give an engaging performance by giving one that would appear as low energy. Schreiber though makes it so that Marty certainly does not come off as though the actor portraying him is tired, but rather this is merely a man who we are seeing in his normal behavior.

Baron's own interest is set off though by an article about the lawyer taking on the case of the victims against the church, Mitch Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci. Now in a way Garabedian is a pseudo deep throat for the story, though he remains secretive rather than secret for a very specific reason. Garabedian wants the story out in the open, but he cannot divulge very much information on the case lest he be disbarred. Tucci plays a character who  is described as a character, but he resists the urge to overact, something Tucci is capable of. Tucci certainly brings a flamboyancy to the role that feels exactly right for his character, who most definitely has many time needed to yell in order to get his day in court. Tucci does not allow this overwhelm his performance though as there is this certain precision of the way he talks, as though he's always getting to the point, given his amount of clients this would be the only way he could be. He carries himself with the right haggard qualities suggesting the burden of his job so well. Tucci's very good in his first scene though especially in the way he uses his eyes as he watches the reporter (some guy) as though he's trying to decipher him a bit, seeing whether or not talking to this man will be beneficial or not for his clients.

Tucci is incredibly good at portraying the way Garabedian is not just in it for the potential money from the settlements of the victims. Tucci does this so quietly yet so eloquently as he reveals an earnest passion in Garabedian as he speaks about the crimes. He also importantly always portrays a strong undercurrent of empathy in Garabedian as he interacts with the few clients we see him with. Tucci carries the right charity in these interactions showing always Garabedian as well aware of what they've suffered, and is trying to do his best only to help them in any way he can. When he mentions to the reporter the fate of many of the victims, Tucci does well to deliver this just as blunt concern for the victims. Though it must be said that much of the cast does a fine job of providing the human  element in their reactions during the scenes of the victim's testimonies, except for two of the performances that I'm covering here. Schreiber does not since Marty never directly works on the case, only providing oversight to the team to make sure they get the story right, and Michael Keaton,  even though he's the head of the investigative team, though he technically does bear witness to as many of the testimonies as the others.

Keaton plays these scenes very close to the chest, but again finds the right nuance within this. It is not as though Robby is detached from any of the stories, but rather Keaton illustrates well the analytical method of the man. Keaton always shows that he is listening very carefully, but takes it all in through his own way which is to stay very reserved. There is never a question though that Robby does not also care about the victims' plight, but rather he's a man who stays professional above all else. Keaton rather skillfully reveals Robby's personal outrage in the scenes where he goes about questioning people involved with the crimes in some way, and demanding an actual answer. Keaton reveals the right intensity in these moments as Robby's distaste is keenly felt at the right moment. There's even more to it than that, as Keaton carefully alludes to something else whenever it is mentioned that the Globe received information about the cases beforehand. There's an underlying unease Keaton suggests in these moments, as though Robby is unsure of whether or not he is remembering something important correctly. He effectively builds on this unease, to the point that you could even miss it on an initial viewing of the film, but Keaton makes it feel very real as Robby has to accept his own failures of the past.

Keaton actually has the one character with a major arc, though its handled in such a subtle fashion by both the film and his performance it sneaks up on you. Keaton delivers so well though that its surprisingly powerful when Robby must admit that he failed to act just as so many did. All three of these performances work even past the notion of having a character arc. They are part of an ensemble in the best possible way. They just add to the film, giving it all the more character, in just how effortlessly they inhabit their roles. Though you barely learn anything about any of their personal lives, you definitely feel that Robby, Marty and Garabedian live outside of the confines of the story. Though to be fair the same can be said about everyone else in the cast, except somebody I'm still not going to mention. The three of them make the right impact. All three have scenes where they stand out but it's always at the right time. Keaton in his confrontation scenes. Tucci's especially great in a memorable scene where Garabedian explains his plan as lawyer, as he reveals the shrewdness of the man, though also still with that layer of concern as it also acts as a bit of a warning about the powers against everyone trying to make the scandal public as well. Schreiber is understated as usual in a pivotal moment where they talk about not taking action earlier. Schreiber makes Marty's reassuring speech to everyone resonate powerfully, as he presents such genuine warmth in his support in his words, while still Marty stays his usual low key self. These are three very strong supporting performances, that never distract from the story, but rather only help to alleviate it to even greater heights.