When Who an Actor is Helps Tell the Story

19 Nov

Most of you reading this probably wonder what the hell I mean by that title.  I have some ‘splaining to do.

One of the (few) difficult things about being a Hollywood actor is that if you ever find any measure of success, you will be typecast.  If you’re good at playing a particular character and it’s marketable, the corporate overlords at Hollywood will be damned if they’ll let you play anything else.  Whether it’s Bruce Willis playing a cop, Zooey Deschanel playing a quirky girl or Nicholas Cage playing somebody with bad hair, if it sells a ticket, it will get done to death.  And trying to break the typecast doesn’t usually pan out.  I mean, sometimes you’ll get something like when Jim Carrey played the male lead in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and really held his own.  But then it didn’t work out too well for Jim when he played the main character in The Number 23, which was a mind bogglingly atrocious film.

But every so often, you’ll get a movie where who an actor is outside of the film aids in the telling of the story.  It’s extremely rare, but there are a few of them out there.  At least enough for me to put together one measly blog.  Let’s have at it.

Matthew Broderick in Glory

Glory was a phenomenal movie, but Matthew Broderick didn’t have that much to do with how amazing it was.  That’s mostly thanks to the acting of Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.  For those of you who don’t know, Glory is about the first all-black regiment to fight for the Union in the Civil War.  Denzel and Freeman both play their characters brilliantly, and the scene the night before the regiment goes into battle for the first time still moves me every time.

But enough about them, what point am I getting at here?  Matthew Broderick plays the Colonel (I think that was his title) in charge of the regiment.  It was extremely hard to take him seriously in this movie.  Seriously, you have two of the premier black actors in Hollywood delivering Oscar worthy performances, and you put Ferris freaking Bueller in charge of their regiment? Really?  But then I thought about it.  In Glory, Broderick’s character is 25, and some talk is made of how young he was to be in charge of a regiment already.  Combine that with the fact that many of the black men in the regiment didn’t want to be led by some rich white kid who looks like he’s not old enough for the mustache he’s trying to wear.  So most of the characters in the movie would have a difficult time taking him seriously as their commander, just like I was having a difficult time taking him seriously.

That breakthrough helped me create that much more of an emotional connection with an already brilliant film.

Dane Cook in Mr. Brooks

Mr. Brooks is a rather well crafted and hopelessly underrated character study of an upstanding family man who has a dark streak of being a serial killer.  He does it to get a rush, literally just for the “thrill” of it.  But he doesn’t enjoy it.  He just can’t stop.  In my ever so humble but definitely right opinion, this is Kevin Costner’s best movie.  As much as I like several of his other flicks (Untouchables was great and Field of Dreams is a classic), I’ve always had to admit that Costner is not a very good actor.  BUT, against all odds, he nails it with this movie.  He underplays the character brilliantly, and there were several scenes that required him to have a very oddly particular mood or expression, and he handles it deftly.  So who else stars in this flick?  William Hurt, who’s career is in its twilight but is still a phenomenal actor, and Demi Moore, who is one of the more talented leading ladies in the business today (even if her movie selection is always the best).  So we’ve got Costner, Hurt, Moore and who else?

Dane Cook.  As in the screeching comedian.  Que?

Oddly enough, he was PERFECT for this movie.  Why?  Without going into too much detail to avoid spoilers, Dane Cook looked like he was in over his head working with such great actors, which is in many ways a reflects of what happens in the movie.  The circumstances that Cook’s character get into, he is completely out of his depth.  I won’t say much more other than that you should really watch this movie.  It has some pretty aggressive nudity and some very violent deaths, so just be aware of that.

Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in Heat

As Mr. Goodkat said in the beginning of Lucky Number Slevin, “There was a time.”  There was a time when these two men could do no wrong.  Pacino and DeNiro were acting powerhouses, from The Godfather movies to Taxi Driver to Scarface to Raging Bull, these two hit it out of the park with every single movie they did.  But they never shared any screen time.  Even though they were both in Godfather Part II, they never shared any screen time.

Then came Heat.  In my opinion, the best heist movie ever.  It turned the heist movie formula on its head, starting the movie with the heist and then showing the repercussions, what happened after.  What did the characters do with their money, how did the police investigation go, loyalties are tested and we get to see cop Pacino try to track down DeNiro.  Watching the battle of wits play out without the characters interacting just added to the tension of an already amazing film.  And then, at the end, (without giving too much away) there is one scene they share.  It’s executed perfectly for the characters, for the situation and for finally seeing these two masters of the craft share the screen just for a scene.

And then Righteous Kill was made, which was mostly an awkward reminder of how great they used to be and how far they have fallen.

Oh well.

And by the way, go to Family Video and rent these three movies.  Now.

For Attebiz Movie Reviews, I’m the J-Man.

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