Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1984: James Woods in Once Upon a Time in America

James Woods did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Maximilian 'Max' Bercovicz in Once Upon a Time in America.

James Woods portrays one of the four friends who slowly become important crime figures during prohibition in New York City. He is the leader of the group along with Noodles (Robert De Niro) who come up with the strategies of the group to give them greater power in the underworld. One of the main focuses of the film is the friendship between Noodles and Max as they commit crimes through the years. What also is important is how their friendship slowly changes through the years, and particularly the type of man that Max becomes as well and how that differs from the type of man that Noodles becomes.

Woods is a very strong presence in the film and he creates an important dynamic with De Niro in the film. Woods casting here is necessary as Max really needs to stands on the same ground as Noodles, and Woods has the right command of the screen to easily stand toe to toe with De Niro. Max is the supporting character of course, and he really is not given the personal scenes that Noodles is given, but that does not matter in Woods's portrayal. Woods in all of scenes takes a strong grasp of the part never letting go in creating an especially compelling portrait of man seeking power no matter the cost.

Noodles in his crimes mostly just seems to want to commit the crimes for wealth, and only really power to the point that it gives him more freedom to do whatever he feels like. Woods portrays Max differently in that there is always a tremendous amount of ambition that seems to bubble below the surface within Max. Woods infuses it into his performance marvelously throughout the film. At first when he first welcomes Noodles back into the fold, Woods shows Max mostly as a gangster enjoy what he does, but in subtle moments portrays the incisive looks of a growing want for more than his current lot.

As the film progresses Woods does a wonderful job of slowly growing in this quality of Max that propels him further into a seeming insanity at times possibly. Woods is terrific in portraying the growing intensity in Max he seems less and less likely to give up on his attempts to gain more power, even as Noodles becomes far more content with his position. Woods is excellent because he not only shows the ambitious growing in Max from his outwardly intensity, but as well is how more internally his warmth towards Noodles as friend slowly seems to start to seize. 

Woods and De Niro are both very effective creating the friendship almost entirely through silent looks they give one another to indicate their common bond. Woods though succeeds in portraying the coldness of Max growing as he simply stops showing the same familiarity Max usually displays towards Noodles. This is a strong performance during most of the film, but what makes this performance is a great one is his last scene. It appears from the beginning of the film that Max is dead from the start do to Noodles warning the police of a heist planned by Max, and Max apparently was killed in a battle with the police.

In the end of the film (spoilers) it is revealed that Max is very much alive now called Secretary Bailey a very powerful rich man, married to Noodles's old girlfriend. He seems to be doing quite well other than the fact that he is wanted for a criminal investigation, and his fellow criminal wants him dead to keep him silent. Woods is outstanding in his depiction of Max at the end, not showing Max to be a man happy with all the power he has, but instead a haunted shell of a man.

His final conversation with Noodles as he tries to convince Noodles to kill him for money is possibly the best scene in the film. Woods is terrific as he creates the history of Max, even though we do not see it, simply through his performance in this one scene. Woods shows that his ambitious has brought him to a basic nothingness of himself, other than just a hatred for himself due to his actions. Again De Niro and Woods are just about perfect together in the unspoken relationship the two share, as they stare at one another after so many years after appearing to betray one another. Woods creates a compelling depiction of Max, and brilliantly creates the dark path of his ambition.

12 comments:

RatedRStar said...

Woods is up there for me with Huston and Rains as legendary character actors, everything I see whether good or bad movies, Woods just owns the screen. There are quite a few Woods performances that could be considered in future years.

Videodrome (Best Actor 83)
The Onion Field (Best Supporting Actor 79)
True Believer (Best Actor 89)
The Boost (Best Actor 88)
Hercules (Best Supporting Actor 97)

Michael Patison said...

I agree with Videodrome, but as I haven't seen the following three, I don't know. Looking at reviews, I'd probably say that The Onion Field and True Believer could be considered "deserving."
I don't see any point in doing him for a voice acting role, though. Don't get me wrong, I love Hercules and Woods is probably the best part (I know Hades is great I just can't remember much about the film apart from the fabulous songs). I can't really think of more than one or two that deserve that sort of recognition. The omnipresent Robin Williams in Aladdin and perhaps Richard White as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast (Jerry Orbach is a personal favorite of mine there). The issue with animated performances is that if you just start considering nominating one right after the other then you pick every one you like a lot and say it was deserving when it may not have been. For instance, I absolutely love John Lithgow as Lord Farquaad in Shrek, but I don't think he was deserving of a supporting actor nomination, or even consideration. I mean, are you going nominate Pat Carroll as Ursula or Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian in The Little Mermaid? I don't think so.

RatedRStar said...

@MichaelPatison: well im only saying Hercules because its his most iconic, most of the general public know him for either that or Family Guy (sounds sad but its true).

RatedRStar said...

plus Supporting Actor 97 is a weak category, I can only think of Robert Blake in Lost Highway as a deserving performance from 97.

mrripley said...

What did you think of tuesday weld,worthy of a suppporting nomination in 1984.

Michael Patison said...

For me, both James Cromwell and Kevin Spacey are wholly deserving in 1997 for L.A. Confidential. Also, I'd have to rewatch The Ice Storm, but I'd probably say there's a deserving performance somewhere in there as well. Then you also have either Jon Voight or Danny DeVito from The Rainmaker (probably Jon Voight) and you have any of the men from The Full Monty, I'd have to rewatch that too in order to pick out the specific actors.

RatedRStar said...

we disagree lol ah well =D.

Louis Morgan said...

RatedRStar/Michael: I have to side with Michael on this one.

mrripley: Yes she would have been deserving of a nomination.

RatedRStar said...

=( fair enough lol.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

If ANYONE deserves a voice acting review, it should be (of all people) Robby Benson in Beauty and the Beast. Ignoring his mediocre live action career, Benson managed to do a lot more than just bellow and growl. There are some subtleties with the way he uses the tone of his voice. In all, it's the most emotional voice acting roles I've ever heard.

Also, for 1997, I'm a HUGE fan of Cromwell and Spacey. I'd throw Bruce Greenwood in The Sweet Hereafter and Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights in thaere as well.

Michael Patison said...

Glad somebody else likes Cromwell too. He's actually my overall winner for the year. I love Spacey and he's my #2. I don't understand why far more people like Spacey so much more tha Cromwell. Spacey plays just a different version of the sort of character he normally plays, the charismatic and/or sarcastic guy. Cromwell plays pretty much completely against, at least from the roles I've seen him play, and her does it masterfully.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Cromwell is my choice for Supporting Actor that year too. It's nice seing someone else agree with me on that one. I would give Spacey more credit, though. He plays the character a HELL of a lot less smug or sel-regarding than his later performances. God I miss pre-American Beauty Spacey.