Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Chiwetel Ejiofor in Redbelt

Chiwetel Ejiofor did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Mike Terry in Redbelt.

Redbelt follows a mixed martial arts instructor into a tournament. That seems a simple enough premise however David Mamet's screenplay takes this idea into a strangely convoluted direction made all the weirder through his excessively stylized dialogue where the majority of the characters speak in seemingly portions of dramatic monologues even in casual conversations.

Chiwetel Ejiofor's lead performance thankfully seems to be one of aspect of the film that insists on preventing the film from collapsing in on its owe indulgences. Now just from first glance Ejiofor's performance here is yet another example of why it is mind boggling that he isn't a bigger star. Ejiofor is incredibly charismatic here. He just projects off the screen beautifully here to the point that he is simply just a traditionally great leading man here in a very general sense. His work though needs to go beyond this given Mamet's fairly bland direction that does nothing to grant any sense of verisimilitude to the flamboyancy of his writing. The funny thing is that Ejiofor has an easy way out, however he doesn't take it. In that one could almost forgive Mike as the one character who speaks in the way that Mamet's writes this film. That is because he's suppose to be a man with a very personal philosophy who has almost an otherworldly perspective towards the world. It would not be out of the ordinary for such a man to speak a little oddly. The interesting thing is though Ejiofor doesn't accept this loop hole, as he also gives the most naturalistic performance even if discounting that Mike is not the most ordinary man.

One should be thankful though for Ejiofor's approach though because as much as one could get away with Mike being bit off-beat his Zen attitude could be grating in the wrong hands. Ejiofor is anything but grating here offering the substance within the words that go far beyond potential fortune cookie sayings. I quite frankly could listen to Ejiofor just teach one of Mike's classes for a whole film because of how well he delivers every single one of his lines. Ejiofor captures this inherent passion into each word that the man speaks, and only allows the utmost conviction in the ideas he's presenting. What I love about Ejiofor's approach in this is frankly how welcoming he is in the presentation of his ideals. When he speaks about the nature of a fighter, where one should not fight without proper cause, he does not come off as a pretentious fool, but rather endears you towards these sentiments. There is such a earnestness within the presentation that Ejiofor brings that encourages you to see the meaning of his explanations. They never feel like platitudes through the empathy of this that Ejiofor offers in them. He does not just speak to those around him, but interacts. The words themselves contain a real power however there is also such a sense of concern, and encouragement within his eyes as he seems to wish to bring out the same passion to the one he speaks that he himself holds.

Ejiofor anchors the film even beyond being the center of the film through his portrayal of Mike that creates an investment into the story no matter how overly complex if not ridiculous it becomes. He realizes Mike as this center point of just this honest man engaging in what slowly reveals itself to be a dishonest world, an excessively dishonest world in the case of this film. Ejiofor is great here though because he manages to make the spirit of the character as such that it never feels intangible even though it is ethereal in some ways. He grounds it in his work that essentially is a man telling everyone around him that they can behave as he does, he even encourages it. One of my favorite moments in Ejiofor's performance is when he gives a basic lesson to the somewhat unstable lawyer Laura (Emily Mortimer) who stumbles across his dojo. In the scene he essentially is telling her how to kill someone wielding a knife, however Ejiofor in the moment doesn't emphasize the idea of violence. He rather projects this wish to inspire strength within the woman, and he is absolutely convincing in this idea. Ejiofor ensures throughout the film that Mike wins you over with his attitude towards life, as he shows you its value at every turn.

That becomes a particularly essential facet towards this film as Mike just has one tragedy after another befall him and those around him due to the amorality of all others. Ejiofor manages to maintain the inherently good nature of the man in a way that never feels bland nor naïve. He again brings such an earnest passion and considerable charm within that passion to which he not only makes you believe Mike as man he also makes you care about his plight. He also acts a proper surrogate for the audience in expressing the right low key confusion, and exasperation towards every plot development, caused by the immorality of others. I love the way Ejiofor portrays this effectively as below Mike's philosophy to the point he conveys the idea that Mike just believes such people should be disregarded and ignored much of the time. An over abundance of revelations though forces Mike to eventually face them. Ejiofor is great in bringing a real power to Mike's expressions of his personal dismay at the men's actions. The biggest affront being when he finds out the champion in the mixed martial arts tournament intends to take dive despite the presence of a master of the form known as the professor.  There is only with such a sincerity in every word that he finds in just again echoing how strongly the man's beliefs stand go deep within his very core, and realizes how these violation shake him. There is not a false word only this most remarkable quiet discontent Ejiofor finds in his blunt delivery and earnest eyes. The final fight sequence is a great moment for Ejiofor as he conducts that same passion within his physical performance portraying so well that in every physical interaction it is towards this attempt to strive to reveal the truth than to try to beat the man. Although the setup itself is excessively contrived, and rather rushed I will say I found Mike's final embrace of the professor rather moving. This is almost entirely to do with Ejiofor's work which maintains such a conviction within the character's personal philosophy that he has created the meaning of the moment within mostly his work. This is a terrific performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as he brings to life a character worthy of your empathy and investment even if he is stuck in an often questionable film.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Song Kang-ho in The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Song Kang-ho did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Yoon Tae-goo aka the Weird in The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a rather enjoyable eastern(?) about several people and different factions all after a single map that supposedly leads to some great treasure.

The three central figures in this search though line up with the film that it is an homage to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Here we have a similar set up where we have Park Do-won(Jung Woo-sung) aka "The Good", a slightly more benevolent bounty hunter, Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun) aka the man with the most amazing hair aka "The Bad", an amoral assassin, and then the grey this time given the moniker the weird played by Song Kang-ho. As with Eli Wallach as "The Ugly" in this film's predecessor, "The Weird" despite being neither the "black hat" or the "white hat" is granted the strongest perspective. This thankfully grants a rather off-beat protagonist of sorts for us to follow whose weirdness goes beyond his strange choice in outfit which stands in stark contrast to the more sort of western chic of his main opponents. His weirdness though is within the very nature of the character something the always reliable Song Kang-ho is more than willing to pull out with his performance. A performance that suits his titular name however this is within the very idea of the character which is well...weird. This is something that Song embraces in portraying this more than anything as the idiosyncrasies of the character that define Yoon in both in terms of his particular successes within the film but also even his particular stance within its story.

Song sets up well Yoon's nature from his first scene where he robs a train, just before Chang-yi's own planned robbery, and Do-won's plan to stop that robbery. From this setup it is obvious that Yoon is not necessarily a good person as he goes about robbing the train, using violence whenever needed. The sheer energy that Song brings to the role though seems to negate his technically selfish behavior in some way since Song is just so very endearing in the role. He completely throws himself into every moment in his wild charisma that he finds in the role as the bandit who doesn't care who he's ticking off as he just does things his way. Song captures just the right bit of madness in his work, that matches the character, and realizes a strange man just going about things his very peculiar and particular way. Song is a whole lot of fun to watch just perform here in every bit as he does make Yoon likable, perhaps beyond your own best judgement as viewer, through just how much he brings to every moment. Song delivers particularly well against his co-stars who are so intense which he plays off of so well as this mad man performing a bit of free jazz among a more refined orchestra. It's just a joy to watch Yoon become the most wanted man, through quite simply his desire for gold just like any proper bandit.

Although we only know a very basic outline of the man Song strings you along because of just how entertaining he is in the role, and it is very easy to go along with Yoon as he dodges bullets as well as all sorts of bandits, and armies in order to pursue the treasure himself. Every action scene in particular Song is such an essential part of through the sheer delightful flamboyance of his performance. I have particular affection for his downright hilarious way of performing a zig zag run as most misguided jig during one of the gunfight sequences. Song delivers the slapstick so well here in making it all part of just that crazed energy that is Yoon as a character. Song though is game for all sequences and makes them work even beyond just being such a humorous force throughout. The embodiment of the man's style somehow slowly leads to him becoming a hero of sorts, though "of sorts" being an essential note, as Song carefully plays these moments as rather unassuming if almost accidental. One such sequence being when he captures a group of children from potential exploiters. Song is great the scene though by making Yoon so very hapless in every moment, particular in his rather strange way of dispatching the evil doers in the sequence, but again it all feels natural to the way of the character which is basically just to go with his own very personal flow which can result in heroism at times, even if his central desire remains selfish as always.

Now a lot of Song's work here is fun and games, which is true to the character, however there is a bit more to the weird than meets the eye and this is mostly filtered through his relationships with his fellow title sharers. His scenes with Do-won are quite enjoyable often just for how wacky he is against the straight forward "hero" type. I particularly love the way Song plays with the way though at times there is almost sinister glint in his eyes when sizing up the man though as perhaps he's hiding something. He balances this though in the moments where he tries to endear himself to to Do-won, though one wonders if this is indeed a game of sorts, where Song delivers that off-beat insanity that works so well against Jung Woo-sung's stoicism in his role. There is also his relationship with the villainous Park Chang-yi who seems to have a vendetta against Yoon though the details of this are not revealed into the film's Mexican standoff. The truth eventually being that back in Korea Yoon was a vicious violent criminal specializing in finger cutting with Chang-yi being one of his victims. This revelation makes sense actually through Song's work which naturally segues in moments to a stronger menace, perhaps revealing a man with a darker past even if it isn't something his performance dwells on. This is fitting to his whole work where it is just part of the wayward flow of the character which Song portrays so naturally. I actually rather like that Song leaves it rather ambiguous to how villainous Yoon might have been at one time, with perhaps his more endearing act being just that, after all he isn't exactly heroic the rest of the time. Song doesn't give you an exact answer either way. He instead properly just stays, well, weird in the role, and what a great weirdo he is. This is just a terrific performance from Song Kang-ho that brings just the right spice that offers just the right entertainment and balance to the film.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Josh Brolin in W.

Josh Brolin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying George W. Bush in W.

W., though semi entertaining, stumbles in its attempt to make any statement or just any real insight into George W. Bush's presidency probably because Oliver Stone made the film before his final term was even over.

W. is Oliver Stone's third film to directly reference a U.S. president by name however it is only his second direct biography of one along with his Nixon. The two films are rather extreme in their differing tones with Nixon being a rather stark portrait of the man as well as American in general whereas W. is more of a comedic satire. Both though feature what is really Stone's way as a director, which I've mentioned before, which is there is a particular challenge it seems when an actor performs in a Stone film. In that he seems to allow, if not encourage, heavily caricatured performances, which was seen in the usually reliable Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Nixon as this sweaty beetle humanoid. That seemed a potential idea here with Josh Brolin in the title role that could have easily been an SNL impression, the material certainly pushes towards that way at times, and a few of his fellow performers fall into this particularly Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice. Now Josh Brolin does do an impression however he carefully maneuvers it to grant some honesty to his portrayal rather than to simply make a cartoon. Brolin does go to embody the man and effectively so. He captures that right Texan twang, without overdoing it, he also captures even the same sort of rhythm in his speech patterns and even portrays very specific physical mannerisms of the man from the way he walks to even certain mouth gestures featured in his press conferences. Brolin effectively interweaves these within his performance in a natural way though so they just seem part of who the character is rather than creating this hollow front as a representation of the man.

The film jumps back and forth between Bush's early life and rise to power along with the development of the plan for the Iraq war. The actual history of Bush is not made particularly interesting by the film particularly due to the repetitive portrayal of his relationship with his father which is scene after scene of a longing Bush waiting for approval only to be denied it again and again. Brolin though to his credit makes the most of what is there. He manages to actually find the right sort of tone within his own work to grant some honesty to the character while still hitting the more comedic elements needed for the tone of the film. Brolin is terrific in the way he takes the right approach to portray the Bush of the film in as earnest of way as a possible. Brolin's take is to make him comical in an indirect fashion towards his realization of him as this man with very specific values, and a very specific head space. This is a particularly wise approach as it is another factor in his work that keeps him from falling into caricature, but also he is able to move the idea of the character to an endearing fool rather than a malevolent figure. Brolin does that by keeping a fundamental truth within his portrayal which is the man is trying to do what he thinks is the right thing, even if it is far from it. He presents this both in terms of that longing to find approval with his father, but also in his very attitude we see as the president who believes he has some personal mission to save America.

Brolin's work keeps Bush a far more compelling figure than he likely would have been with more of say a Stone caricature had been centered instead. Brolin thankfully tries to explore the idea of the character beyond the main path of the story whenever there is possible. Now some of this is just in some entertaining moments in which he delivers such a hapless attitude so well in every moment we see in his early days filled with drinking and failure. Brolin's especially good in these scenes though is because he always brings this little twinkle in his eye of a man who is just very sloppily making it through life but creates the sense in the early scenes that he's just more confused than anything by the very prospect of success. Brolin manages to make this stumbling around properly entertaining again by creating the right sort of simplicity in his every moment of this as even in the way he delivers his few moments of direct outrage against his father Brolin infuses it with the simple need for approval. The need not being conveyed as this egotistical desire, but rather just a son seeking affection through Brolin's quietly somber approach to the idea. In the same period we also see perhaps Bush's best moment, within the film, where he briefly courts his eventual wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks). Brolin and Banks are great together, even though there is not a great deal of time spent on it. Brolin though brings such an infectious charm in these moments, and along with Banks create a real chemistry that creates the love between the two as a given.

Brolin is very good in the rise to power of Bush scenes as he once again finds an honesty within the simplicity of the character. In that he makes the simplicity almost a virtue in a sense as every action Brolin in a way effectively sugar coats by showing it coming from a place of such a genuine, if at times misplaced, concern. Brolin keeps the earnest nature of the character as a constant and in turn is able to find a certain charisma even the appeal of Bush as a politician. Brolin's very good in creating the "growth" of the character's success very much intertwined with in terms of his balance of the comedic and technically straight forward moments of his performance. Brolin is able to naturally find both within the same work and without unneeded tonal shifts within his own performance. Brolin captures the right balance by keeping the state of Bush so consistent no matter the situation making it so when he's just trying to bring across a down home, have a beer with the guy, type style he is charming, however when he tries to speak about policy in this context it becomes rather funny by how ill-fitting it all is. Brolin never tries to reinforce the comedy but rather makes it work in a far better fashion by leaving it as this effortless quality interwoven into his portrayal. This comes as particularly needed in the presidential scenes which are more Dr. Strangelove than say Lincoln. Brolin's performance is the best in terms of deriving the humor from the situation by acting as this standing ground, of almost a comical man that the other strong personalities bounce off of.

Brolin is very interesting in that he acts as the straight man in a way but only in that his straight is curved into comedy the whole time. The straightness being the consistency of character which is found in Brolin's passionate delivery of every single one of Bush's platitudes regarding America or his own duties. Brolin makes this a constant fierce belief that ends up being funny though by how blind Brolin portrays this conviction to be against everyone else who is either conning in some way, or more down to earth. Brolin reveals almost a danger in the purity of the state which is effective in showing how the man could blindly into the act of war because Brolin shows only the utmost support of the man's own mind behind every step. When things start to go poorly associated with it, especially when the intelligence comes short surrounding it, Brolin again does so well by remaining consistent to his choice of the character. In that he depicts frustrations not of a shrewd politician whose mechanizations are falling apart, but the sadness of crusader for justice whose crusade has turned out to be faulty. One of Brolin's best scenes comes near the end of the film where he stumbles around a press conference attempting to describe mistakes of his administration. Brolin is great in the scene in his delivery that is this messy tapestry of a man trying to remain with this certain confidence while at the same not exuding a single bit of it. Brolin in the moment is terrific in finding this hollowness and confusion of the statements of a man broken by his conception of himself leaving him only this generalized husk of the passionate fighter of before. Now this exact journey in this film is in no way a truly compelling one, as this is not a great film. Brolin though amplifies or rises above the material through his portrait of Bush which is entertaining while finding enough substance within the little bit of complexity offered to the role. It's a strong performance as it stands and likely would have been a truly great one with material that wholly matched the quality of his own work.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Sam Rockwell in Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Glenn Marchand in Snow Angels.

Snow Angels is a quietly affecting film focusing on the life of a teenager, his old babysitter and her estranged husband.

Sam Rockwell is an actor sometimes incorrectly boxed in by some. This is usually in the view that he is only capable of his more eccentric turns, those that earn the moniker of Rockwellian. Although crafting an idiosyncratic style as a performer is usually a notable achievement it certainly could be problematic if the performer uses that as a crutch. That never has been the case for Rockwell, and his performance here is a testament to this. There is barely a hint of his usual style in his performance here as Glenn Marchand a former alcoholic turned born again Christian. Rockwell completely rids himself of any of his usual energetic style to give a completely subdued turn fitting to a man in this life and in his current situation. Rockwell's work rather conveys the history of Glenn from this outset which he wears through this internalized somberness that is remarkable. This is striking in the way Rockwell so subtly portrays this as a constant that is less of what Glenn wishes his current state of mind to be, and is more of an indication of the life he has lead before this point. A life of much heartbreak through his relationship with his wife Annie (Kate Beckinsale) however as the film opens we see man trying to make a better life for himself. In his first scene Rockwell exudes this remarkable frustration, as Glenn prepares for the day that includes seeing his kid and perhaps getting a job, that naturally reflects a man still very much burdened by his problems yet striving to correct them.

Rockwell delivers this curious yet wholly convincing type of optimism in his performance in these early scenes. In that he projects very much this eagerness to be optimistic more than there lies a true optimism that defines the man. Rockwell realizes so well this difficult juxtaposition of emotion as he plays it as Glenn very much trying to keep himself in the right frame of mind. He wears in his eyes that sorrow of a problematic past, but with the uneasy smile of a man trying very hard to not let that define his life. We see his early interactions with Annie where he and Beckinsale effectively strike up this troubling chemistry as Rockwell exudes very old difficulties in connecting with her without immediately falling into frustrations. Rockwell shows Glenn very much a man trying to force himself to keep from this though, and is incredible the way in a given scene he shows how Glenn begins with an immediate, slightly artificial, charge of joy that slowly is lost when he and Annie start to fight. An important facet also in this sense is Glenn as a born again Christian, which is an element that Rockwell brilliantly portrays in his performance. When Glenn speaks about his religion there is this intensity that Rockwell delivers in every line. An intensity not of zealot or anything like that, there is instead an intensity of a certain desperation. This desperation that underlines his words that Rockwell effectively shows doesn't allude to doubts in his faith, but rather this painful need to use it as this life preserver for his existence.

The one bit of light in his life is through Glenn and Annie's daughter Tara, though she is more than a bit of a handful. Rockwell though is great in his scenes between Glenn and Tara as he carefully shows that in these most direct interactions with his daughter his troubles seem most at ease. Rockwell never portrays a man completely comfortable with himself, but in these moments presents the man finally at any comfort in his life. He exudes an overabundance of warmth that he uses so well to portray that Glenn has an unquestioned love for his daughter. We briefly see Glenn starting to have any consistency in his life and Rockwell is terrific in realizing Glenn's troubles slowly easing away from his mind, though he carefully shows that they are never completely gone. He has a great moment in perhaps Glenn furthest from his personal traumas when he asks Annie out for a date. Rockwell is outstanding in this scene in that he brings a genuine charm. Not so much the usual charm that Rockwell has, which would be ill-fitting for Glenn, he finds instead something a bit low key yet still notable in reflecting perhaps Glenn's past self that originally won Annie over a long time ago. Rockwell still presents this with a bit of compromised delivery through every little attempted romantic overture having such a real hesitation in every word of a man trying to tip toe around speaking directly with his wife as his wife.

Things quickly fall apart from that better state though when it becomes public knowledge that Annie is having an affair with a married man. This would be an easy enough time to slip up however Rockwell is great as he realizes Glenn essentially falling into the other man he was within the rot of their old marriage. Rockwell portrays Glenn's drunken state as particularly wretched by playing it in a especially naturalistic way. In that he shows Glenn as man who in the past has spent much of his time as drowning in liquor and his jealousy. Rockwell makes him a proper mess of just broken emotions as every word he says towards Annie is angry slurred nonsense fitting to a man who has fallen into those frustrations that had lied dormant before then. Things sadly get worse before they improve as Annie's neglect leads to the accidental death of their daughter. Rockwell's performance is particularly remarkable as he successfully portrays this leading to a different state than that of just the envious drunk. The initial transition is as Glenn is blamed, before the death is discovered, where Rockwell depicts this greater clarity in his outrage over the accusations. The outrage though Rockwell finds in this rather meek way that sadly still alludes to the state of the man as there is a exasperation of someone who has spent his whole life being told he's screwed up.

After the death is discovered Rockwell has a few scenes all that are exceptionally performed by him in portraying Glenn's reaction to the loss. Now part of this is in the expected in one heartbreaking scene where Glenn confronts Annie's lover who prevents him from seeing her. Rockwell in the scene reveals such a harrowing grief in the man as he portrays a man just falling into his this deep pit of despair. He shows a man not only grieving for the loss of his daughter but also wallowing in the terrible sadness of his life up until this point. When Glenn describes his previous suicide attempt Rockwell evokes this horrible sense of a resignation as though Glenn has simply expected himself to meet such a sorrow again. Rockwell realizes every moment of the pain that writhes within him, and is extremely moving as he delivers such raw emotion in every single moment of Glenn's breakdown. After this scene though Glenn's reaction changes. First in almost an attempt to compromise back to the man attempting to inspire hope in himself which we see when tries to give photos of Tara. Rockwell though now shows that this attempt at comfort is even more precarious than it was before with his grief and anger barely being hidden in his failure of a gesture to basically attempt to negotiate his feelings towards Annie. The final sequence of the film Rockwell is downright amazing in his depiction of Glenn's final decision. Rockwell portrays throughout suddenly a certain solace that is absolutely chilling. He does not deliver this as some sudden vicious psychopath rather presents it as this alarming religious conviction in him. Rockwell speaks with this overwhelming calm most of the time showing really that same comfort in his religion, but now to a most tragic end. There is still the occasionally lapse into the raw sorrow that brought him to this point, however Rockwell reveals Glenn now finally at ease through his final decision. This is a great performance Sam Rockwell. It would be easy enough to demonize Glenn or for this to fall apart into some caricature at any point. Rockwell never does this as he humanizes every moment of the man's descent therefore granting a far more potent tragedy at the center of the film.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Vincent Cassel in Mesrine

Vincent Cassel did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jacques Mesrine in Mesrine.

Mesrine breaks its story into two parts. The first part of the film depict the early life and the beginnings of the real gangster Jacques Mesrine's "career". The first part of this story is particularly uneven, for a reason I'll get to in a moment, leaving much of it up to Vincent Cassel in the titular role. Cassel is an actor I will say has not made the greatest impact in terms of his English language work, partially due to being pigeonholed into roles as creeps, so it is interesting to see him take on a part in his native tongue, which usually helps. This role though is a strange challenge in this first part of the film in particular as it depicts the rise of the gangster so to speak. Now why this is strange is through the film's bizarre pacing which jumps in time more often than a Christopher Nolan film, except this is almost always linear. Now it makes sense to cut out the boring parts of a man's life however this is a strange instance where it seems like it is just skipping right over potentially engrossing material in order to hit the next point in the man's biography. It is bizarrely rapid fire in this approach leaving Cassel as the man to try to keep everything together through his portrayal of Mesrine which needs to give understanding to these extreme jumps.

This starts right from the outset of the film where we briefly get the man's time in Algiers in the French military where he brutally kills a few Algerian rebels. The moment seems important enough as he is pushed into doing it and Cassel successfully carries the scene in conveying the hesitation through a sense of fear in his eyes before going through with the killing itself. The killing though which Cassel brings a certain sense of thrill in the action, even if it is still raw with the pain of the uncertainty of it. It is the first killing though as Cassel makes it appropriately unpleasant though creating the sense of the potential comfort the man will eventually have with such behavior. The film quickly jumps away from this story which seems like it should have a had a bit more time to, and brings him right into his life back in France. This too is rushed as his friend offers him life in the French underworld rather quickly. One cannot fault Cassel in these scenes particularly not in an early moment where Mesrine covers being caught in burglary by pretending to be an investigating detective. Cassel brings this real energy to the moment with a notable charisma that comes from this sense of daring he exudes so well as he puts on the performance as the detective. Cassel is convincing in that he not only convinces within the film that Mesrine would pull off this act, but also is convincing in creating the idea of a man who try to pull off such a trick.

His sort of more daring attitude though is soon tempered by veteran gangster Guido (Gerard Depardieu). Although this is only slightly again as the film continues to move without stopping. Again Cassel is certainly good in his moment of losing sort of that bluster as Guido attempts to teach him a few lessons, while also naturally having him committing more crimes. This is interlaced with Mesrine also avenging his prostitute/pseudo gangster who is mutilated by another gangster. Cassel himself portrays effectively this whole action being one more of pride in himself than wholly genuine sympathy to the woman. In the killing itself though Cassel delivers the proper brutality in portraying the intensity of the man's sadism in the moment though this whole facet of the story was in a bit too much of a hurry. Of course this quickly supplanted by his relationship with his first wife a relative innocent in the world. Cassel is terrific in his initial scenes by delivering such a genuine charm as he wins her over, and bringing an earnestness as he offers the words of a better man. Cassel portrays well that these words while true in the moment are reactionary in the moment than a genuine change. Mesrine is imprisoned though for his life and released just as quickly in the film's timeline to the point he temporarily goes straight. Again nothing against Cassel who in the two brief scenes of going straight we get, he depicts well a man now filled with modesty after being rid of any confidence due to his incarceration.

Of course even that is only given a moment, a moment Cassel sells, until it's back to being a hard bitten criminal again. Although the film doesn't make this at all a well paced transition Cassel makes it natural by portraying Mesrine as an ordinary worker more as a wounded dog, rather than an honest man, a wounded dog ready to strike out again when given the chance. A chance he is given as he rushes head first into crime again and now his relationship with his wife has completely deteriorated. It would have been nice if we got to see this with a bit more nuance, but the film just sends itself right to this point. Cassel's work is remarkable in that it doesn't seem disjointed at all by just showing the scene of Mesrine abusing his wife as the man's worst nature, which we saw in pieces including in those opening executions, come out again. She leaves him just as quickly leading him to strike up a new relationship with a woman, Jeanne (Cecile de France) with whom he goes on a crime spree with. This relationship is comical, both intentional and unintentionally, through how quickly it escalates from the two first speaking, to the two robbing together, to the two running to Canada to avoid the wrath of fellow gangsters, to the two kidnapping a millionaire in Canada, to the two getting caught in Canada. Now it might seem like I'm rushing through these plot points but the film spends about a brief scene each on them itself. Now the idea of this Bonnie and Clyde idea would seem potent enough for a whole film but the film devotes almost no time to it.

Once again I won't fault Cassel as he actually effectively strikes up his chemistry with de France as the two together effectively portray this mutual affection intertwined with their thrill while committing crimes. The two capture this lustful quality both towards each other and towards larceny. It seems like the film could have explored this in far greater detail but it seems ever in a hurry. The film finally seems to reach where it always wanted to be once Mesrine and Jeanne are arrested for their kidnapping. It is here that the first part finally settles down enough to have a truly cohesive sequence, but this also marks the transition to the second part of the story as well as the major transition for the character. The transition being fitting to the title of the second part of the film Public Enemy No. 1. This is where Mesrine essentially embraces his role as a gangster to the fullest with no delusions in terms of believing he'll ever settle down to a normal life. This change in the man really is best shown in the moment where Mesrine and Jeanne are brought back to Canada to be tried with the press waiting for them. Cassel owns the scene as he should in bringing out the flamboyance in Mesrine as he embraces the spotlight. Cassel brings such a proper unbridled as he shows Mesrine playing to the camera. Cassel brings in the moment the real needed swagger and magnetism even as he purposefully entertains the crowd. In this moment he properly gives us the first step of Mesrine taking upon a different role for himself, and portraying the man as though he were some sort of legend in the making.

This is briefly put down when he undergoes brutal treatment by the maximum security prison in Canada. Cassel delivers properly in terms of creating the sense of the physical brutality of the scene by being in the moment within everyone of the various "treatments" they deliver Mesrine. Cassel realizes the natural exhaustion of both the mind and body, of even a strong willed man, from constant punishment. This is only really though acts as an encouragement to escape and become all the more of criminal for doing so. The escape, as well as the subsequent attempted mass breakout of the prison, mark the full change in Mesrine from any old criminal to more of a Scarface type. Cassel's performance in both the escape and the attack portrays this far more overtly stylized turn. Now this is very well handled by him because he does make it natural that Mesrine reaches that point. It also is not ill-fitting to the film, as he shows a man who purposefully is being a showman while he is being a a criminal. In that sense he is particularly effective as in the moments of "presentation" through Cassel showing such exuberance on the surface, though while also creating the right undercurrent of intensity fitting to a killer. This is where the second part takes him, which is the superior part as its pacing is far more refined. Cassel in part two in a way gets to relax a bit in comparison in that while Mesrine does have an arc of sorts it is far less extreme than the rushed one featured in the first part.

What Cassel portrays in the second part is this constant escalation of what is already a man at such an extreme. Cassel is interesting in that he finds places to go even when it would seem there is no where to go. In that he essentially finds the way the longer Mesrine keeps the act up the more grotesque it becomes. In the initial scenes of the second part Cassel creates the public's anti-hero through the zeal he finds in the role, and that sheer euphoria he exudes whenever the man commits his ill-deeds. The longer this goes on the more and more Cassel makes it less and less appealing. This is not in his own performance but rather in the realization of the man trying to keep this image going no matter how ugly it is becoming. Cassel is remarkable in becoming tired in the act within the act by expressing how uncomfortable it is for Mesrine as he tries to be more than he is. Cassel goes further in this once Mesrine attempts to find some halfhearted causes he acts as though he is fighting for them and tries to pretend to have some sort of philosophy in his criminal activities. Cassel is properly not convincing in these scenes of lending the philosophy. In that he shows well the false bluster of a man who is less absolutely convinced of his views, but rather is absolutely convinced he must convince himself to attempt to give his life any meaning. It is a fascinating idea that I wish the film delved more into although Cassel does explore it as well as he can in his portrayal. Now in terms of Cassel finding the hidden man within the act of Mesrine I will say is perhaps the most powerful moments throughout both films, though they are only brief scenes are those were he interacts with his immediate family. I will say these don't feel rushed actually but are rather effectively interspersed as the few times we can see the man out of the criminal life. One of these moments comes when he visits his dying father in the hospital and Cassel is moving by completely dropping the Mesrine act in this scene just to show a son trying to connect with his father one more time. He's great at revealing the man behind all the bluster in his kind delivery of his last words to his father. The other most important scene in this vein is when his grown daughter comes to visit him in prison. Cassel again leaves all the delusions of grandeur out the door instead just offering this most tender instance of a father attempting to express his love for his daughter. It is genuinely affecting as Cassel convincingly finds perhaps the bit goodness in the man deep within his act of being the world's most infamous criminal. Cassel's work here is consistently compelling even when the film falters. I will say more probably could have come from it if the arc of the man had been better established through the writing of the film in the first part, though Cassel's work is admirable by finding cohesion within that frantic pace. The performance is the best part of both films, and he delivers as the titular criminal even when the films sometimes fall short.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Mads Mikkelsen in Flame & Citron

Mads Mikkelsen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jørgen Haagen Schmith aka "Citron" in Flame & Citron.

Flame & Citron is a fairly effective historical thriller about two resistance fighters in Nazi occupied Denmark.

The film follows the titular men the first being the red haired "flame" Bent Faurschou Hviid (Thure Lindhardt) who specializes in assassinations meanwhile we also have Mikkelsen as Jørgen Haagen Schmith aka "Citron"who originally acts as his driver. The film focuses just a bit more on Hviid than it does Schmith though both men lead the story. This leaves though Schmith to make his impact in the story in somewhat brief scenes and often times in the margins of them. Thankfully this is helped by having Mads Mikkelsen in the role who is effortlessly captivating as always. Mikkelsen's strengths as an actor though are pivotal to the realization of Schmith in this film and his whole journey which while secondary in screentime is as important in the scheme of the film. That is in the opening of the film Schmith hasn't actually killed rather he has been an accomplice to Hviid's assassinations of Danish collaborators, and we only see his reactions during the act or afterwards. Mikkelsen is terrific in absorbing the emotion essentially by portraying this quiet distress in the man that realizes his internalized struggle even as the film does not focus upon it. Mikkelsen is able to convey the man who attempts to hide this state, as he also hides his acts as a resistance member, by creating this innate intensity into his work that effectively shows not only the man's own moral strife, but also the state found through his life in the shadows essentially.

Eventually Schmith is called upon to kill someone himself an act that he initially fails in the first time, and Mikkelsen conveys that devastation of the moment in his pained eyes. Mikkelsen though doesn't portray this as a rejection of the idea itself rather there is a combined fear of in part indecisiveness in himself, but also fear of taking that step that cannot be backtracked. After Schmith does kill Mikkelsen again is great in portraying this change in Schmith, largely again through reactions however he never seems vague. What again Mikkelsen does so well is change the expression of emotion, which is just as intense as ever as to be expected from Mikkelsen, however it is no longer of the very same nature. Mikkelsen instead chances his depiction to show the embracing of this emotion in an interesting way. Mikkelsen makes it as raw as it was before yet now he no longer portrays this cowering fear within these moments, but instead conveys a much stronger determination just through his physical presence that was initially retiring. Mikkelsen creates this sort of strength within the growing darkness the man is capable of as he goes about the killing. The killing which Mikkelsen does not grant a hint of sadism but rather as this expression of hatred. A very notable type of hatred though as Mikkelsen always portrays this with a certain anguish, not for the men he's going to kill, but rather in terms of the existence they have enforced upon him.

Again Mikkelsen is not always focused upon in any given scene however he is always captivating even when he is just a part of a scene. That is through how effectively he portrays the seething emotion that is a constant in Schmith. Unlike some of the other resistance members Schmith is in no way compromised in his motivations for the killings, in turn Mikkelsen makes this state of the man distinct in every scene. As in every interaction with those with a different tone in regards to their activities Mikkelsen presents so well the blunt attitude of the man set now into his life in the darkness and in that conveys the real wear of this idea. Mikkelsen shows essentially a man always ready to break down as he is able to embody this man who has allowed so much sadness within himself to the point it is the only thing that keeps him moving forward. There are a few scenes that are directly from Schmith's viewpoint which usually have to do with the man and his wife. Mikkelsen is great in these scenes by showing the man not at all at peace even when in the embrace of the family. He does express a definite warmth yet he funnels through that despondency that makes up the man's state of mind. In these scenes Mikkelsen is incredible in the way he offers this conditioned tenderness that unfortunately is almost this disturbing act that he depicts as a man reaching out for comfort yet doing it with such desperation it is hard to see the love within it. Mikkelsen carefully in these scenes shows that Schmith never escapes the demons in his mind but is rather all the more plagued by them as he has no way to exorcise them, ever briefly, through the killing.

A central conflict within the film though comes within the men going about their killing but only with so much information to determine those who are guilty and those who are not. In a moment where Hviid mentions they might have killed innocent people Mikkelsen is heartbreaking in his delivery of the most vulnerable Schmith who tries to silence the discussion. As he says essentially they have killed no one innocent, Mikkelsen is remarkable in creating that distress in every word and in his face of a man who needs to hide the truth lest it destroy his already nearly unbearable existence. Mikkelsen powerfully finds this conflict within his portrayal of Schmith particularly in the later scenes of the film such as one where they accidentally shoot a German child. There are few words left to the scene yet Mikkelsen honestly does not need them as his reaction of such subtle yet palatable horror of a man whose already seen so much sadly reveals the harrowing state of the man. A state that even while such an act clearly does effect him Mikkelsen shows that it is more subdued than it would be for most since it is within this life of the man filled with death. Mikkelsen is especially affecting then in his one scene where he does seem to go one step further in revealing the man finding just a hint of solace in a very strange way. Schmith does this as he recovers from a wound in a close call remarking that he feels he must go to prison even after the war. In this moment Mikkelsen finds the only bit of comfort in the warmth he finally does more calmly express yet brilliantly twists it as it is in the moment where the man state his wish to be punished for his killings. Unsurprisingly this is a striking turn by Mikkelsen in creating such moving portrait of a man fighting for a good cause, yet still wrecked by the evil he must do to pursue it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Kim Yoon-seok in The Chaser

Kim Yoon-seok did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Eom Joong-ho in The Chaser.

The Chaser has some interesting ideas yet doesn't quite come together in its examination of a rather atypical investigation into a serial killer.

The beginnings of the strange investigation stem from one former detective Kim Yoon-seok's Eom Joong-ho now turned a pimp. His story begins with him working on the strange disappearances of his women stemming unfortunately from them being murdered by the killer. Kim portrays the part as a man with little care for the world, or anything around him. He brings just kind of a general discontentment in hearing about the loss of the girl that Kim depicts as much due to his own state as a man than any real concern for the women. Of course Eom believes they have simply been stolen from him by a rival pimp rather than anything too problematic. Kim's work just carries this general ambivalence fitting to such a man who is working in the profession that only seems to carry this underlying shame, but yet he just keeps at it. Unfortunately the women he is sending in are actually being murdered by the serial killer Je Yeong-min (Ha Jung-woo), who Eom literally accidentally crashes into. This leads towards Eom's sort of resuming his older profession when he sees blood on the man's shirt and naturally takes physical effort to apprehend the man. Kim handles this scene in particular by just capturing the real gut reaction of the man emphasizing the moment of confusion before realizing this sort of random anger as he beats the man down before both of them are arrested.

Both are arrested initially where the mentally ill Je confesses his crimes, meanwhile Eom is initially just kept to be used as a scapegoat for the police to explain the killer's injuries to avoid any accusations of police brutality. Kim's performance properly embodies this strange state of the man just stewing in frustration as he is mocked for being a pimp while trying to explain the far worse criminal who was brought in with him. One thing leads to another though and Eom becomes an independent investigator as he tries to uncover what happened to the women. These are Kim's most effective scenes as he depicts Eom's discovery of the horrors of the killer, and gradually portrays this awakening in Eom. This is not only in terms of a loss of that ambivalence but also a more striking sorrow as he begins to find clues that allude to a real darkness. Kim's rather moving even in finding essentially the stronger morality of the man reveals itself, and the growing empathy for the women he had so carelessly put into harms way originally. Although the film is a bit messy in its plot developments Kim remains a driving force of the film by capturing this emotional state of the man that he intensifies the more he understands of the murderer's horrors. This is along with taking in the daughter of the last prostitute he accidentally sent to the man. This relationship really is not developed all that much beyond really Kim's performance. Kim though does well in bringing that terrible sadness in his eyes when he watches over the girl showing it as the sense of loss attached to the mother he originally spent little time thinking about originally. Kim becomes the emotional anchor effectively and keeps this state as he shows the man slowly fall apart the more horrifying the situation becomes. Kim does this well though by showing it coming from empathy through his eyes that accentuate care which stands in stark contrast to the hollow selfish man we saw in the opening. Now this idea isn't as powerful as it could be through the film's muddled storytelling and the fact that Eom's original downfall probably should have been better established. Kim makes the best out of the material he does have to give a moderately compelling turn. The ideas behind the role and character though are not fully developed though by the film's script leaving Kim to have to carry more weight than he should have had to. It stands as a good performance but one limited by the underwhelming material behind it.