Saturday, 15 December 2012

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2005: Ed Harris in A History of Violence

Ed Harris did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Carl Fogarty in A History of Violence.

Ed Harris portrays the Philadelphia gangster who comes looking for diner owner Tom Stall who recently killed two men trying to rob his diner. Fogarty though believes Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) to actually be Joey Cusack who was involved with the criminal underworld in Philadelphia. He is one of the two major villains, the other being William Hurt who shows up only at the very end of the film. Where William Hurt portrays Richie Cusack Joey Cusack's brother. Forgarty knows Joey from the same period, but where Richie and Joey seem to have a love hate relationship, the only seems to be the latter when it comes to Forgarty relationship with Joey.

Harris is not always my favorite actor as he sometimes can either overact or just not make any sort of distinction with his performance. Harris tears right into the film though as Carl Fogarty as he walks into the diner. Harris as he walks in takes our attention as the man who most certainly seems out of place in this place as he sits to question Mortensen's character. Harris is particularly effective here because he does not show for a moment that Carl Fogarty might think that Tom is Joey, Harris makes it clear that Fogarty entirely knows that this is Joey. Harris portrays Fogarty's questions not as Forgarty trying to find out if he is Joey, but rather waiting to see if Tom will admit it.

Harris is a great villain here in the way he conveys the threatening quality of Forgarty as something always there, but very much below the surface. He is excellent the way he portrays the slight bemusement that Fogarty has over finding Tom's attempts to deny his accusations as pathetic. In a way Harris shows that Fogarty attitude toward Tom is one of a great deal of familiarity. Although it entirely comes from Harris, as Tom of course only keeps denying things, Harris creates Forgarty's troubled relationship with Joey through his performance. He both is able to create the sense of familiarity with Joey showing that they go way back, but that their history is quite a troubled one.

The threat comes in his performance in the subtle way Harris looks at Mortensen in their scenes together that always presents an underlying hatred in Fogarty for what Joey did to him, which was trying to rip out his eye with barb wire leaving his eye dead. Harris always keeps Fogarty very calm and collect in a dangerous fashion but he is especially fierce when his hatred comes out fully. Harris is particularly powerful when he confronts Tom's wife Edie (Maria Bello) as the full amount of hate for Tom he feels comes out as he describes what happened to his eye. Harris is excellent though as he shows Fogarty as well controlled man who returns to his conviction that Tom is Joey as he pressures Edie with questions in regard to Joey's violent abilities.

Harris actually is only in four scenes total in the film, but he makes the most out of each of them. Through his performance he creates the dark world that Joey came from in his ease in which he makes himself a threat to Tom, while never outwardly being so. Harris dominates all of scenes in his portrayal of his character's determination to get what he wants. Fogarty is a character that could have been just a one note forgettable villain considering his screen time, but Harris just does all he can with the role. Harris with ease infuses each scene with both a cryptic intensity as well as even a dark humor. Harris manages to make both the line "There's no need for that kind of Language" in a slightly comic fashion and in the same scene the line “Ask your husband, why he's so good at killing people” work perfectly without any hesitation in his performance. This just outstanding work from Harris that makes Carl Fogarty a truly memorable antagonist.


Michael Patison said...

Excellent review of an remarkable performance. He's uncharacteristically fantastic here. I agree that he's often underwhelming. I think this and A Beautiful Mind are his two best performances.

mrripley said...

Agreed thought he was best in show.

Michael Patison said...

Oh and I also forgot his great performance in The Right Stuff.