Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Alternate Best Actor 1984: Philip Baker Hall in Secret Honor

Philip Baker Hall did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying President Richard M. Nixon in Secret Honor.

Secret Honor is an effective film that basically is just Nixon in a room rambling about the various troubles of his life while apparently contemplating suicide.

Philip Baker Hall did not get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Nixon even though Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella both eventually received nominations for portraying the former American President. I was not particularly impressed by either of their turns which both relied far too much on mannerisms that were neither accurate to the man nor were they effective in creating a portrait of Nixon. As well their performances were both bizarre in making Nixon seem a little too strange with Hopkins seeming to be some odd constantly sweating creature. Hall takes a far better approach in his portrayal of Nixon.

Hall firstly is not all made up, his hair is like Nixon's and it stops there. On first look it does not seem Hall is trying to obviously portray Nixon as there are not obvious mannerisms like those who followed him. In truth though Hall does have the mannerisms, but he has them in the way the real Nixon had them. Hall is able to portray them so naturally, and really quietly that it never for a moment seems like acting. Hall even finds his way to bringing to life some of Nixon way of moving , and even pointing. it is truly astonishing, because Hall infuses them so well with his performance that they only add to his characterization never distract or over take it.

Philip Baker Hall is in a one man show here there are no other characters but Nixon. He stays in the same room for the entire film that is furnished with portraits of former Presidents as well as Henry Kissinger. There is a camera a microphone as well as monitors watching him throughout. Hall begins talking and does not stop. He slowly sets up the whole rambling on about his life and his troubles that he has faced through his political career while defending himself as well as attacking others. Hall is great as he starts very dignified setting up the whole thing as a statesman would, but quickly showing a lesser side as he snaps curse words in suddenly without warning.

Hall shows a violent personality in his portrayal of Nixon as he quickly but effectively escalates the monologue that he delivers. It is well handled by Hall showing well that everything that Nixon is speaking about he is deeply pained by his life. He can't help but become immediately emotional over thinking of his life. Hall though does not show Nixon to go all out instantly and he effectively is able to further his distress throughout the film. As Nixon brings up more and more of his life the worst and the worst Hall is able to powerfully bring about the degree these thoughts bear down on Nixon.

Nixon never does leave the room but I think Philip Baker Hall tells us more about Nixon's life than the films that show these moments. Hall brings us into the mind of this man brilliantly during every story that he tells. Hall is spectacular in that he never makes the story anything but a natural stream of consciousness. Hall is able to jump from moment to moment in Nixon's mind brilliantly. There is never a single delay in his performance he is absolutely convincing in that he always makes the way the subjects come in his mind, the way they drift from one moment to another they are absolutely natural.

Hall is amazing in this strongly emotional performance. Nixon is always a little upset here telling his life story but Hall is spectacular. Although he is always forceful and frankly loud Hall is never one note during his performance. He has with his moments of hatred, and pain he feels over what he perceives as portrayal. Hall though weaves these well with scenes of bringing about his intelligence of a man when he shows Nixon to be defending himself. Hall is quick and sharp in basically the comebacks Nixon has with his imagined enemies. Hall is able to portray the strengths Nixon would have to had to make his achievements he had, while showing all of the weakness in his character.

Hall delivers with a passion all of his stories he never loses a beat, he is simply incredible throughout. He fleshes out the whole of Nixon in his characterization. He never once takes a simple approach for the man. Even his pain is never one way. Hall shows a great deal of this Nixon simply through the pain. It is pain caused by his hatred of his enemies. Hall though movingly as much shows a pain from a shattered pride that comes from his background. It is a stunning portrayal by Hall here he brings us into through every one of these stories as his degradation to the final moment is truly powerful. He never portrays Nixon in a one note fashion as he so easily could have been. He gives a great performance that gives Nixon the complexity he deserves.


Lezlie said...

Somehow I believe I overrated Eddie Murphy :D Great review.

Rest in peace Michael Clarke Duncan :(

RatedRStar said...

rip Michael Clarke Duncan =(, and I actually cant believe Murphy managed to get nominated over Murray and Englund, Murphy is the only good thing in his film, I havnt seen Hall, I liked him in Magnolia however.

Louis Morgan said...

I chose Murphy as it is one of his best known roles when he was considered in his prime. Murray is great in Ghostbusters, but frankly I would not have much to say that I did not say in my Groundhog's Day review. As for Englund, I considered him, but in the original Nightmare on Elm Street he is used actually in a rather limited (and more effective) fashion. Also in the very first one a great deal of what makes Freddy is in Wes Craven's direction.

And RIP Michael Clarke Duncan.

JamDenTel said...

A really underappreciated actor. I really need to see this film again.