Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2011: Matthias Schoenaerts in Bullhead

Matthias Schoenaerts did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jacky Vanmarsenille in Bullhead.

Bullhead is effective as a character study, though I'd say less so as a crime drama, that details the life of a man involved with the Belgian underworld of illegal growth hormones for cattle.

Matthias Schoenaerts is one of the most intriguing actors of his age group even though he is currently in a state of the in between in terms of his prominence. He at the very least has broken out internationally, aided no doubt by his unmatched ability with accents, the transformative quality of his performances, and his original leading performances in somewhat prominent foreign films. This includes the 2012 film Rust and Bone but started with his performance in this film. Funny enough, like his contemporary Tom Hardy's work in Bronson, Schoenaerts's first major leading turn came with a massive physical change as a musclebound man. As with Bronson, Jacky is not just fit but seems encased in himself. The opening scene of the film seems to suggest that the purpose of this bulk may be similair to that of Bronson's, as we go see Jacky intimidate a man for dealing with someone other than his own family. Obviously Jacky is an imposing figure to begin with his size and height, and Schoenaerts is appropriately menacing as he brings the needed ferocity to Jacky's hectoring of the man. Soon afterwards we see Jacky injecting himself with some sort of substance, it appears we're following a drug addled thug, but that is only a glance.

It soon becomes clear that it's not so simple and this is even before we learn anything from the film itself because of Schoenaerts's portrayal of Jacky. Schoenaerts portrays a constant discomfort in Jacky as though there is something wrong with his very being. Schoenaerts lumbers around as portrays this certain unease of a man who suffers even from such a simple act as walking. Schoenaerts presents a man who is fundamentally flawed in some way, there is damage in his soul. When Jacky is going about injecting himself, which turns out to be testosterone for the most part, there is a desperation in it. There is a pain in the very moment that Schoenaerts suggests though he never attaches this to say the pain of the needle. It is rather a desperation in the act, which is as though he is searching for some sort of reprieve of his current state through the injection which is never found. Schoenaerts creates even a sense that his muscles are some sort of personal armor to protect himself from this underlying trauma that constantly inflicts him, once again though Schoenaerts shows that this is a failed attempt as nothing can change his past.

That past is eventually revealed through a flashback. The flashback reveals that as a child Jacky's testicles where permanently destroyed by a mentally ill older boy, and his constant injections began as a child in order to allow normal male development. The damage of the event went past the injury as seen through Jacky's current state. After witnessing the event we are given a greater understanding of Jacky as a man and Schoenaerts's portrayal of him. Schoenaerts's work is outstanding the way that event seems ever a part of him. This is not only from the physical manner of the man. Schoenaerts is terrific as he represents also the history that followed. The history of being shunned in a way by others not knowing how to deal with what happened, but also from others mocking him for what happened. There is a barrier that Schoenaerts creates between Jacky and almost everyone he interacts.  This is within the general situations where Schoenaerts always separates himself from the rest as Jacky rarely stays within another's presence, and almost never stares at them directly.

Schoenaerts's work is effortlessly compelling in the way he realize such complexity in Jacky, despite having only the rare spoken word. Schoenaerts creates understanding for the surface of the man, which is as the hulking thug. In the scenes where Jacky becomes violent there is never a satisfaction to it, but rather a sad resignation. Schoenaerts presents a man being the only thing that it seems life has allowed him to be in these moments, as he relies on defense mechanism of sorts. In his most vicious attacks Schoenaerts brings a learned quality to it, as though it is the only way he can react given his past. Again it is always blunt and to the point. There is one moment where one of his associates mocks him for what he lacks, and Jacky smashes the man's face. Schoenaerts brings no sadism in this instead rather portraying it as the only way Jacky can communicate. Schoenaerts shows the way he snaps into the role that he's established for himself, the only role he knows from a life experience of a constant isolation.

There are a few instances where Jacky falls out of that role though. In the scenes where we see Jacky work with his cattle, Schoenaerts brings a more outgoing quality within Jacky. There is finally a bit of comfort in Jacky's interactions, though they are only with animals who are being primed for slaughter to begin with. Schoenaerts portrays so wonderfully the man who could have been. Late in the film Jacky is helped by his old childhood friend, and Schoenaerts portrays this relationship a bit differently from the rest though not inconsistently. Schoenaerts's performance depicts a bit less of that inner intensity that goes hand in hand with his personal pain, as he effectively shows the way Jacky interacts with someone he knew well before the incident. He's not closed off in the same way here as well, though Schoenaerts still infuses some distance fitting their time apart yet creates a proper connection to allude to their history together.

The most powerful aspect to Schoenaerts's work comes in the scenes where Jacky attempts to create any sort of relationship with a perfume saleswoman Lucia, who also is the sister of the boy that had attacked Jacky so many years before. Schoenaerts is downright brilliant in the early interactions as he shows the difficulty in Jacky as he attempts to just ever so slightly break out of his shell. Schoenaerts is rather affecting in portraying this unusual shyness in Jacky as he tries to meet her later in a nightclub, and in his eyes you can see the way how he cannot get past the constrictions brought upon others as well as himself. When Jacky brutally beats another man who tried to pick up Lucia, Schoenaerts even makes this basically an act of despair as he just resorts to the only response he feel he has once again. The film ends with Jacky attempting one more time to really speak to Lucia, which is made difficult after she has discovered that he beat the other man to an inch of his life. Schoenaerts is absolutely heartbreaking in the scene. He has only a couple almost meaningless lines, yet all of the meaning of the meeting is in his face. Schoenaerts is devastating as he shows Jacky trying so hard to come out with the right words, yet cannot bring them to his mouth. Every word and every emotion can be seen in Schoenaerts's haggard expression, but unfortunately Jacky still cannot escape himself failing to connect Lucia before falling into a final depressed rage. This is yet another amazing minimalist performance from 2011. I remained invested in Jacky's story even when the film wavered a bit, as Schoenaertes crafted such a consistently fascinating character who in the wrong hands could have been just an unlikable lout. Schoenaerts says so much with so little in his complex and sympathetic portrait of a truly unique character.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2011: Michael Fassbender in Jane Eyre

Michael Fassbender did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Edward Fairfax Rochester in Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre has been adapted a countless number of times (and by that I mean I don't feel like counting) and I've seen one of them. Although I can't compare this to other adaptations I will say it's visually remarkable with appropriately atmospheric direction from Cary Fukunaga.

The film follows through the perspective of a young woman, the title character (Mia Wasikowska) as she goes through a harsh often lonely life during the mid-eighteen hundreds in England. This eventually leads her to become the governess of Thornfield Hall, the home of Fassbender's Mr. Rochester. He's presented as a mystery as much of the story focuses on uncovering that mystery as well as specifically Jane's relationship with the man. 2011 was of course a banner year for Michael Fassbender since he also appeared in Shame, X-Men: First Class, and A Dangerous Method which were released all in the same year. Jane Eyre I suppose is the smallest of these roles, though like Laurence Olivier in Rebecca, his character always seems as important as Jane despite his much more limited screentime. Now I guess Fassbender has a bit of an advantage here in that I have not seen any other actor play the role, which is long list including the likes of Orson Welles, William Hurt, and George C. Scott.

Being unable to compare I'll just have to take Fassbender's version on its own. Well the first time we see Rochester he falls riding his horse as first meets Jane. Rochester begins with his darker hues most prevalent though Fassbender downplays this with his performance. That is Fassbender does not exactly play it all, playing more like Rochester is just having a bit of fun. Fassbender underlies this with a bit of intensity, but in the end he brings more levity than one would expect as Rochester jokes about Jane having bewitched his horse. The story proceeds as Jane acts his governess and she observes Rochester go on about his life as they are separated by class. Although we are never given Rochester's perspective Fassbender makes use of his reactions towards Jane well. Fassbender portrays a greater interest in the slight glances than merely an employer watching his employee. Fassbender effectively conveys the growing affection in Rochester, though still remaining silent for the time being and  keeping a certain distance, for Jane especially after she saves him from a fire.

Fassbender does not convey a simplistic attitude in Rochester though as he accentuates the history of the character in his work. This includes the history of his class as Fassbender brings the stiffness in the scenes where he interacts with others of his class, as he keeps his behavior proper though as a man being someone he is not. When he is with Jane Fassbender brings a stronger degree of honesty in the way he puts forth the man's emotions, though this in itself is still complicated. Fassbender keeps a certain pain in his manner, and still almost a shyness as he shirks from being wholly genuine for a moment. Fassbender brings the needed complexity of a man pulled back by his past, but prodded forward by something true to his heart. Fassbender brings the right awkwardness to the first scene where Rochester sort of declares his love for Jane, by asking her what she would do to ensure his happiness. Fassbender makes Rochester stumble as he should as a man at odds with himself as he says what he means, but never does it seem to be the absolute truth.

Fassbender rightfully expresses a fuller change in Rochester, after Jane leaves for a time, revealing a man who no longer wishes to risk unhappiness. Fassbender chemistry with Wasikowska is curious yet I found to be rather affecting. The connection that the two establish is very particular in that both of them reveal direct emotion, in a time defined by repression, only in their moment of revealing their love for one another. They come together exactly away from the emotional shackles implanted on them through their pasts to reveal better individuals. Fassbender brings a more active charm after the moment of declaration slowly suggesting a man finally content with his existence. Of course being a story set with a large estate though something must threaten to separate the two, this being the revelation of Rochester's pain and past which is his mad wife which prevents Jane and Rochester from being married. Of course this also must lead to further tragedy, though this story does prevent any further suffering as the two are reunited in the end, poor Rochester just needed to be blinded and scarred first. It is a surprisingly short scene yet I found it rather powerful. The scene almost entirely relies on Wasikowska and Fassbender, and they successfully find the poignancy within the reunion. The brevity of it seems right as the two already established the nature of their love, and the two show the scene to be a gentle reminder of this. Now Fassbender might have a slight advantage in that this my first exposure to a portrayal of Edward Fairfax Rochester, however all I can say is the performance worked for me. I'd be surprised if this is the definitive version of the character, but it is a compelling one.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2011: Woody Harrelson in Rampart

Woody Harrelson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Officer Dave Brown in Rampart.

Rampart, which is the character study of a dirty cop in the L.A. police department, suffers as a film from disjointed storytelling and some downright obnoxious aesthetic choices by Oren Moverman.

Woody Harrelson is given the chance to take on the often juicy role of the corrupt police officer. Harrelson is an actor who I haven't always loved but I have never denied his evident talent. It is interesting to see him take on this challenging role, which seems like perhaps an even greater challenge given that the film surrounding him is not particularly good. Now Dave Brown does not have a pressing issue in the opening of the film like say Alonzo Harris in Training Day or Henry Oak in Narc. Dave is his own issue. In the early scenes we see Harrelson as Dave handles his job. Harrelson plays it as less as the master of the streets and more of a thug in a uniform. There is a moment very early on where Dave orders another one of his fellow officers to finish their french fries since he hates people wasting food despite rarely eating himself. Harrelson does not portray this as Dave offering any sort of sage thought, but rather depicts Dave's reaction as annoyance which he corrects bluntly like a proper bully.

This behavior continues as Dave gets into his first bit of PR and legal trouble after a man accidentally crashes into his cruiser. Dave proceeds to repeatedly beat the man with his billy club. Harrelson offers a surprisingly effective approach by downplaying it in a way. He does not suddenly become some deranged lunatic rather he makes the action instead feel like standard procedure for Dave. Again it's less a direct outrage, more of an annoyance, which again does not feel like Harrelson is taking it lightly. Harrelson instead suggests so well the mindset of Dave when on the job which carries a considerable sense of entitlement. Once again Harrelson makes his bully feel very real by the ease in which he shows the beat down. Harrelson keeps in mind the real motivation of Dave, which seems foolish in its simplicity. Harrelson though presents a man with an inherent disdain for people in general who is given an outlet to inflict this against others through his job as an officer. Dave's trials begin though because cameras caught this indulgence.

Dave has to deal with the legal action against him, and Harrelson continues to excel in the role as portrays this sort of switch in Dave. It's not a real switch, and it is in the same exact frame of mind Dave's usually in. That being Harrelson continues to convey this indulgence that so often defines Dave, and the fascinating thing is Harrelson manages to exude this most curious type of power. The power essentially in the lack of shame not only in terms of the crime, but also his ability to skirt any ramifications around the crime. Harrelson is simply great as he does depict Dave in his element as he takes on the assistant district attorney by breaking down exactly what he will do to deal with any charges filed against him. It is in this that Harrelson shows a control, and an understanding in man who is quite sure of his grip on the system knowing exactly how to exploit it to his will. Harrelson reveals a definite comfort in Dave when it comes to this naturally revealing the intelligence that enables his brutish actions.

I love what Harrelson does with the role because he fulfills what you'd expect from a dirty cop, but never quite in the way you might expect it. He manages to do this in a wholly authentic fashion in which he never allows for a thin characterization. There is not a scene where his Dave is one note, even at his very worst. Even in the early beating, or a later scene where he kills some thieves to rob them. Again the base motivation is clear, but that's never all there is to Harrelson's work in these scenes. As he commits the "crimes" Harrelson reveals a certain desperation all within it. Although the man is committing these acts, Harrelson does not show them as evil per se rather as reflections of man doing things the only way he still really knows how. The downfall of Dave is never Dave becoming progressively worse, or more of a bad man so to speak. Harrelson again makes it far more complex in the vivid detail he finds through the nuance he brings to every scene. In the robbery scene Dave lets one of the thieves go as he's not quite so cold blooded as to execute a man in that way. A short moment yet remarkable as Harrelson portrays an earnest humanity, even within one of his most terrible scenes, and makes it true to the character.

As Dave's professional life falls apart so does his personal, though again it's not the descent you might expect. Dave's life is already a mess living with two sisters, having a daughter with each, with all except his youngest daughter treating him with a certain disdain to begin with. Harrelson is outstanding by once more taking an atypical approach in these interactions. In the early scenes Harrelson never plays it as the mean father or husband in the traditional way. Harrelson brings a lived in quality in his cruelty which is never overt, but gentle. It is in the occasional statement which is never yelled, but there is very relaxed barbarism. This extends to the nature of his relationships, which we see the beginnings of when he picks up a lawyer at a bar. Harrelson frankly makes Dave's peculiar life believable as he is extremely charming in the moment, but even in the margins Harrelson places in the faults of the man. In this case a lapses of paranoia that she's out to get him in some way. Harrelson subtly infects the negative against the positive in the man's behavior always reinforcing that the seeds of alienation are already there as Dave cannot help himself.

Harrelson work here is exceptional as he never goes about just making you want to hate Dave, but rather goes about making you understand him which is rather something. He's never just a personification of police cruelty but always a person. Harrelson by doing this makes this into a far more affecting performance than one would expect. As Dave's mistakes only mount up he is abandoned by everyone around him including his family. Harrelson is incredibly moving in the scenes where Dave is forced to be separated from his daughters. Harrelson reveals a genuine heartbreak in Dave that feels wholly earned. This leads to a moment where he meets his daughters one last time and he admits that everything people say about him is true. Harrelson does not use this moment to show just how nasty Dave is, but rather brings such a vulnerability in the admission. He's heartbreaking as he presents a man who is aware of all that he's lost because of his hate, but still accepts who he is. Now if Rampart was a great film this would still be a great performance. What's so amazing is that despite the film's weaknesses Harrelson never falters. His work is consistent, and makes Dave consistently compelling even when the film is very messy. He rises well above the film he's in crafting a singular and complex portrait of a troubled man.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2011: Jake Gyllenhaal in Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Capt. Colter Stevens often as Sean Fentress in Source Code.

Source Code is entertaining mind bending thriller despite a lame villain and wasting a great ending by unnecessarily going on for a few more minutes.

We first meet Jake Gyllenhaal in the film as a man on a commuter train. Gyllenhaal's performance begins as a proxy for the audience as the man attempts to figure out why he's on a train, and what exactly is going on. Gyllenhaal is effective jumble of thoughts as the man attempts to gain his bearings which are difficult to obtain when he sees someone else's reflection in the mirror, and the train he's riding on explodes only a few minutes later. The man wakes up to find himself in an odd chamber where he is told by a military operative (Vera Farmiga) that he is being used to essentially quantum leap into another man's body in the past in order to discover the source of a terrorist attack. Gyllenhaal's performance works well here as he manages to give reality to the concept immediately by portraying such paranoia in the task, and such confusion as he wonders how exactly he ended up with the task in the first place. Gyllenhaal's own task in the role is to keep up with the film as it continues at a fairly rapid pace as the soldier Colter Stevens keeps getting sent back into the man Sean Fentress in order to find who set the bomb that blew up the train.

Stevens's "handlers" constantly push him to stay on task despite his myriad of questions especially after he learns from a news report in the past that Stevens also has been declared dead. Gyllenhaal basically must constantly be switching intents as Stevens still goes about trying to solve the mystery while trying to attempt some sort of personal closure as well. Gyllenhaal maneuvers this firm pace rather flawlessly as he goes from either in Fentress as he narrows down suspects to Stevens who is kind of broken due to learning about his state. When Stevens "plays" Fentress there is not even a single set manner that Gyllenhaal establishes. Gyllenhaal instead succeeds in matching whatever he needs to be given Fentress's situation in the past. Gyllenhaal importantly never loses the sense of severity as he searches for answers, though he does well to convey a proper variation of it depending on the moment. Whenever he's reminded of the loss of life when he knows that the explosion is about to happen Gyllenhaal gives it the necessary gravity.

Gyllenhaal is never one note as just a hysterical man finding a bomb or a terrorist, even though he does that quite well when it is asked of him as well. Gyllenhaal again plays the part of Fentress in a way and does so brilliantly. This even includes a rapid fire romance with the woman Christina (Michelle Monaghan). Gyllenhaal whips out a bit of required charm for this and makes it convincing, though one should also note Monaghan certainly helps a lot by portraying Christina as being infatuated with Fentress from the beginning. Gyllenhaal is equally efficient in transitioning to the man who will do what it takes to get the job done. Gyllenhaal manages to bring the proper intensity and even menace as he goes about interrogating a few of the passengers to find the culprit. There's even a bit of humor that Gyllenhaal effortlessly find from time to time just within the awkwardness of this man attempting to be so many things at once, I particularly enjoy his false bravado when he pretends to be a train marshal by using a regular wallet.

The final element of Gyllenhaal's performance is when Stevens is in the "chamber" and when he is directly attempting to cope with his bizarre physical state. Gyllenhaal is rather moving by depicting the strange agony. This again is all in rapid succession of one another yet Gyllenhall's portrayal of any of these sides never feels vague or underwhelming. This all culminates to a final trip to the past as Stevens attempts to live a perfect final eight minutes, basically pulling off the last day of Groundhog's day. Gyllenhaal just exudes such a earned confidence as he owns scene while Stevens own the situation. Gyllenhaal presents a man in absolute control of everything in the moment and it is wonderful to watch him basically make the absolute best of his final minutes. This includes one powerful moment when he calls his father. Gyllenhaal infuses such poignancy to the conversation as honestly portrays finally gaining a certain sense of closure as Stevens says his goodbye. Gyllenhaal is outstanding as he builds to the final bittersweet ending of triumph by achieving all he could with his remaining time. The film for some reason goes on, but hey that's hardly Gyllenhaal's fault. This is a very strong performance by Jake Gyllenhaal which is pivotal to the film's success. He not only is an endearing leading man, but keeps its core concept grounded in a very human reality.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2011: Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus

Ralph Fiennes did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Caius Martius Coriolanus in Coriolanus. 

Coriolanus is an interesting adaptation of a lesser known Shakespeare about a successful but unpopular Roman General.  

Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut and stars in the titular role of the man eventually dubbed Coriolanus. It is always interesting to see exactly how an actor performs when he is directing himself especially in a leading role. Anyway the story begins with the common people launching a protest at their government with the focus being against Caius himself. Fiennes makes his entrance to confront the mob, and he establishes the character incredibly well. He bares the facial scars of a soldier who has seen many battles, but also the mental scars. In Fiennes's eyes there is the wear of many conflicts as he presents Caius as man truly hardened by his life. Fiennes is one of the masters of intensity and one of the best used examples of this is in his first scene of this film. All the rage and the hate needed for such a life is within his strict yet volcanic manner. Fiennes reveals a man ready to burst due to his past, especially when he sees a seemingly ungrateful mob dismissing his personal sacrifices. 

Caius and the people avoid a direct conflict as he commands the situation. Fiennes proves himself to be an extremely strong Shakespearean actor as the language flows so naturally, and so effectively from him. Fiennes brings the overpowering presence needed for a great general as he dominates with every word and gesture towards the crowd. It is not a clear victory though as the people's disdain is still known to him, and Fiennes importantly portrays the way this outrages the man, however he avoids acting out after the crowd has been calmed. Caius is soon called upon to save Rome again by confronting the commander of the opposing Volscian army Tullus Aufidius(a surprisingly good Gerard Butler). Fiennes is excellent in the war scenes we do see as he essentially portrays his certain devotion to the state of Rome through the devotion to the battle. Fiennes brings the conviction of a true soldier in these scenes. He also reflects the severity of the situation, and active wear caused by the stress of the situation in every halted breath.

After yet another success in battle he is only held in higher regard by the elite of Rome as he is not only given the title of Coriolanus but he begins a political career as well. Caius is triumphant but Fiennes effectively realizes a palatable discontent in Caius. Fiennes suggests an unease due to no longer being a war. Fiennes is excellent by finding the complexity of this state as the war, which paints his body with wounds, is also what he has been so acclimated to that he can understand little else. As Caius becomes senator Fiennes portrays only a growing disdain which exacerbates severely when the commoners once again use him as a specific target for attack. Now this I imagine leads to the more divisive moments in Fiennes's performance as Caius lashes out against the people. Although it is Fiennes unbound, not even held back by a director after all, but I actually find it is absolutely fitting to the character. The sheer hatred that Fiennes unleashes is equal to man having pent it up for far too long as well as makes Caius seem a monster to the masses .This makes the result of the outburst convincing as public outcry causes Caius to be banished from Rome.

There's brief scene where we see Caius wandering alone which is a pivotal moment in Fienne's performance. Fiennes is rather moving and uses well as he shows the actual vulnerability in the man after this defeat that establishes what Caius has lost. Eventually Caius finds Aufidius and his men who end up embracing their former enemy. There are few words that explain this yet it is made believable by both Butler and Fiennes as they convey the earnest respect between the two in every glance. Fiennes goes further to also show a certain comfort in Caius as he interacts with men who lived the same life he has. There is no longer the same type of repressed anger, though that is not to say the man no longer hates. Caius though now directly hates by swearing vengeance against Rome, and joins with Aufidius and his men to destroy his former home. Fiennes in these scenes essentially becomes the villain, or at least the dictator that his critics had claimed to be. Fiennes internalizes the intensity though now of a man with a specific purpose. With that purpose Fiennes loses any of that unease presenting a man made hard by war, now finding comfort in that life. The Romans attempt to assuage his rage first by various envoys, but they come to a final resort by using his family, including his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) and his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), to make a final plea for him to stop. This is perhaps Fiennes strongest scene in the film. He's largely reactionary yet incredibly affecting as he portrays the way his family's words slowly wear away on him. Fiennes is terrific by just barely revealing the weakness in the armor as that vulnerability quietly returns, and we do see his love for his family. Fiennes here not only proves himself capable of directing his own performance, but also a truly capable Shakespearean actor. Fiennes finds the power in the tragedy through his portrait of soldier unable to cope with peace, but also forever damaged by war.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2011: Daniel Henshall in Snowtown

Daniel Henshall did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying John Bunting in Snowtown.

Snowtown tells the true story of a teenager who falls into a small of group of men who go on a murder spree.

The film's perspective is from the teenager Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) who, along with his brothers, suffers from sexual harassment, from one of his mother's boyfriends, and Jamie is even raped by his older brother. His mother, as well as Jamie, find a form of justice in their minds through his mother's new boyfriend John played by Henshall. Daniel Henshall work is interesting in that he does not set an alarm initially as he played John as basically an Australian good old boy. Henshall is not excessively charming though he does have a distinctive charisma with his coy smile and gentle banter. He's convincing in his portrayal of the way John worms his way into the family, since all he does is give a nice smile while stating exactly what Jamie and his mother want to hear. Of course what they want to hear which involves a plan to harass the former boyfriend until he leaves the neighborhood. The funny thing though is from the outset John states some more severe plans to handle the situation, though he does it in a most peculiar sort of fashion.

There are a few pseudo town hall scenes where John handles a meeting between the locals as they discuss what should be done with the people they perceive as undesirable. Henshall is brilliant in these scenes as he so warmly encourages the towns' people to speak their minds. Henshall very cleverly inserts the manipulations in John as he constantly pivots off some of the remarks by the other neighbors in order to encourage them to even more extreme measures. What's most chilling about this though is that John gets the people to come up with their own violent ideas. Henshall's realization of John's method is especially off-putting as he presents it in such a friendly way. Henshall does not have John bark at the other neighbors, at least the one who agrees with him, bur rather is just so encouraging with such a gentle touch. He keeps his delivery calm as he adds a few violent ideas to those already presented, or prods someone else to make their idea for an "undesirable" all the more vicious.

John's early endeavors amount to acts of vandalism until the neighbor leaves. These acts though include cutting up Kangeroos to adorn the man's house. John has Jamie help him, and Henshall again is very effective by the strange way he's magnetic. Again it's not something overt, yet his character's sway is never questioned as Henshall projects this amiable dominance over Jamie. As John gets Jamie to go along with it, it's though he's just having the boy work with him on a special project between the two of them. As the film continues so does John's crusade, despite getting the neighbor to leave rather quickly. John's crusade quickly takes an even darker turn as he initiates Jamie further by having him kill a dog, which happens to be John's own dog. The scene is incredibly disturbing as Henshall's work, and Pittaway's makes the scene all too believable. Henshall is especially unnerving as he reveals the true sadism in John.

The film after this point proceeds forward following John with a few accomplices and Jamie as they go about murdering one person after another. The motivation for each becomes thinner, as the details eventually boil down to one torture then killing after another. Now Henshall reveals the true extent of vile nature of John but not in the way you might expect. Henshall does not portray this as John dropping a facade. Instead he is perhaps even more troubling as he instead shows this to only be the man we've always known just a little more unencumbered. Henshall still projects some of that good old boy sentiment, even as he's violently assaulting people. Henshall instead only portrays that intensity, which was always there in his words of encouragement, grows as he essentially gets to do the thing he loves. Henshall depicts in the moments of murder nothing more than an eerie contentment in a man who absolutely enjoys his work. After a certain point the film does become repetitive, though with purpose, as the killings continue. Jamie ends up being the one who changes in this process, while John is a constant though the film begins to focus on him less frequently. Henshall's work still is notable as a dominating presence that constantly reinforces the overwhelming sense of despair. This is fitting given the film ends technically with John still at large, their capture is handled only by a final text. Honestly I feel the closing text undercuts the film slightly in that it does give some form of closure which seems opposed to the intention of the film's final images beforehand. Those images portrays Jamie now lost with the others as John only continues his "work" with no end in sight. Henshall's performance succeeds not as a portrait of a serial killer exactly, but rather as the crux in the progression of a malicious hate.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Alternate Best Actor 2011: Michael Smiley in Kill List

Michael Smiley did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gal in Kill List.

Kill list begins as a moderately interesting and disturbing character study about two former soldiers who work as hitmen. The problem is in the last twenty minutes it goes off the deep end by becoming a straight horror film.

Michael Smiley is an actor who I must admit I knew best, before watching this film, as the manic bike messenger from Spaced. Well he's quite a bit more understated here in his scruffier, David Wilmotesque appearance. I must admit I forgot his Spaced connection rather quickly while watching this film which begins by depicting a man and his damaged relationship with his wife. This man is Jay played by Neil Maskell, and Smiley is really the secondary lead, bordering very closely on supporting, as Gal, Jay's old army buddy. Now Maskell's performance is one of constant, though understandably so, intensity. It does not make Jay a particularly likable or relatable sort, luckily there is Smiley to pick up the slack. Smiley is not just a breath of fresh but really any air in the film, considering how suffocating Jay's viciousness can be to witness. Smiley brings a needed low key charm about Gal who we first see trying to be a true friend to Jay just in a dinner party between friends.

Smiley and Maskell strike up the needed chemistry between the two men. Their interactions always have the comfort between two men that have been friends for a long time. There is that natural ease between the two as they make the friendship feel genuine. There is something perhaps even more important there between the two of them in is a level of understanding that shows that they all have been through a lot together as well. Smiley is particularly good in his portrayal of Gal's reactions towards Jay as in his eyes. There is always the present understanding that he knows what afflicts the man, having gone through it himself, even though he is not controlled by it in the same way. Smiley's work though still has Gal carry a similar pain. Smiley presents Gal as someone far more able to cope with the past as it is part of his being, there is a certain dread in him that reveals that pain. Smiley though shows the distinct control Gal has over it which is never the case for Jay.

Smiley allows for the one endearing character in the film, even though Gal is also a hitman, due to the way he establishes the fairly laid back and earnest attitude of the character. There is a very good moment early on in the film, while Jay and his wife are fighting, where Gal takes their son away from yelling to his room. Smiley's wonderful in bringing such a warmth as he comforts the boy while portraying a so well a very genuine concern for Jay and his family. After the dinner scene the film then depicts the two going off on the titular kill list. The two go about eliminating the various targets on the list, but with each target Jay uses increasingly brutal methods to murder the men. Smiley's performance grounds these scenes and keeps them from merely being indulgent moments of graphic violence. Smiley portrays Gal also going through with the murders, though as a straight professional, which is technically chilling its own right. Smiley however manages to bring a degree of poignancy by depicting Gal's unease at Jay's behavior and his own frustration as Jay only becomes worse with each new kill. Of course any build up in terms of Smiley's work or Maskell's work ends up being for nought by the film's hard shift into the world of a human sacrificing cult. Smiley I suppose still aids the film best he can by attempting to ground the final act in real terror, though the whole thing is a bit too ridiculous for him to succeed entirely. It is also unfortunate that the final twist overwhelms all else, and that's all the film ends up being about. Smiley's portrayal of the sympathetic hitman remains a highlight of the film despite the film sort of wasting what he brought to the role through its last act.