Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1960: Laurence Olivier in Spartacus

Laurence Olivier did not receive an Oscar nomination although he did receive a globe nomination for portraying Crassus in Spartacus.

Crassus is the main villain of the film a powerful Roman military commander who tries to seize all the power in Rome. He is a powerful man who tries to manipulate all to get the power he desires. Laurence Olivier here takes on the part with a forceful presence. He is very different from Laughton's Gracchus in that Olivier shows that Crasssus is one who directly forces his will on another through his own incredible force of will, something Olivier is simply incredible at doing. In every scene that he is in Olivier leaves not questions to who the commanding presence is, he is always controlling in almost every way as Crassus.

Olivier conveys especially well the pompous superiority in Crassus, that almost never ceases, especially since he is never truly defeated in the film. Even though Crassus repeatedly claims that he is a Roman true and true, and his passion for Rome comes from his own heritage as a patrician, Olivier is keen in showing that really his since of honor is entirely about himself. Olivier is terrific because he tells both a lie and the truth when telling others about his belief in Rome, and his love of his heritage. Olivier appropriately puts the conviction that makes it believable to all others would buy his sentiment, but Olivier brilliantly in his eyes suggests the truth that Crassus only cares of himself. 

As a villain Olivier is excellent in portraying the brutal intelligence of Crassus quietly. He is able to create the brilliant strategist that is Crassus in both quiet and louder moments. In the louder moments he is the dominate personality that makes Crassus a true dictator who has absolute sway. In the quieter moments Olivier never fails to still pull you in with a great intensity. In the final battle scene for example Olivier almost barely moves but nevertheless the intelligence, conviction, and even is brutality is all shown in Olivier's pronounced and unwavering expression.  He make Crassus simply a force that is not to be reckoned, Olivier actually makes Spartacus's eventual defeat an inevitability.

Now importantly Olivier never plays Crassus as just a one dimensional evil tyrant, he certainly portrays him as an evil tyrant but never a one note one. Olivier does this best in the scenes where he interacts with Spartacus's love interest and later wife Varinia (Jean Simmons). Olivier who so perfectly showed the power of the man in the political arena now just as effectively portrays the weakness of the man in the personal arena. Olivier is astounding as he honestly brings to light the pain in Crassus over his inability to understand how she can love Spartacus and not him. It is a entirely genuine struggle and fear in Crassus that Olivier conveys within Crassus over her inability to love him in that same way.

This is just a brilliant performance from the great Olivier. He only succeeds in the role of Crassus creating a fascinating villain that can't help but be a villain. One of my favorite moments of this performance is when Crassus is trying to woo Varinia, and he threatens his child. Olivier plays it so wonderfully because he doesn't pile on the menace like Crassus is just trying to be evil, no instead he does it entirely casually as if Crassus do to his life as a Roman can't help but be evil. This is a terrific work by Olivier as he masterfully creates Crassus into an overpowering villain, and he never once fails to be the worthy adversary needed for the film, but just as well always succeeds in making Crassus a three dimensional character as well as a villain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review and analysis of an acting master class. I often watch Spartacus and the main reason is to marvel at Olivier's performance. Whenever he is on screen his Crassus radiates the power and authority of a Roman statesman at the same time as revealing him as a low trade political opportunist hungry only for personal glory. All the other major characters in the story exist and act against Crassus and what he represents. The fact the viewer is so sympathetic to their plight is largely due to the fact that the villain of the piece is made so real by Olivier.

It was a performance to win an Oscar in any year.