Monday, 7 January 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1973: Gene Hackman in Scarecrow

Gene Hackman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Max Millan in Scarecrow.

Scarecrow is a film I quite liked. It is about two drifters who form a friendship and decide to make their way to Pittsburgh to open a car wash. I must say it is strange the way this film is as forgotten as it is, considering its two stars.

Scarecrow is a film very much a film made by the two performances as the two men who decide to go across country with each other. The two men are very different with one being very listless but easy going named Lionel played by Al Pacino, and the other being a man with seemingly more of a plan with a hard edged named Max played by Hackman. Hackman's Max is really a different performance by Hackman who commonly plays a man with some official authority. Here Max is a man without any authority other than that he feels he holds over himself, even if that only recently came back to him having been recently released from jail.

Hackman is an actor who knows how to create fascinating characterizations and this is most certainly true here in his creation of Max. He makes Max a rather unusual but very watchable type. Hackman is brilliant the way he makes Max a man with very specific quirks in his sometimes unusual manners, yet he never does make him at all quirky. Hackman knows how to do this so well in that he just infuses right into his character in a completely naturalistic fashion. There is never acting here by Hackman he just is Max from his first scene as he watches Pacino's Lionel with slight bemusement and he instantly establishes Max as a very particular sort as well as through just his slight smile the start of their relationship.

Max is a man who claims to have a plan and wants to take Lionel along on his venture to open a car wash, and tells him about his propensity for violence. One thing I love about Hackman how brash and blunt he is in portraying this aspect of Max. He claims he is cold blooded and Hackman gets that across marvelously through the quick incisive way he brings it across. It is not that Hackman shows that Max is some evil vicious killer in the least, but rather he portrays it really as his way just. The fashion in which he comes out in a violent manner, such as the first time when he yells at someone he thinks is eavesdropping. Hackman makes it quick to the point but something so natural coming from Max.

Max's sometimes brutal nature certainly could be taken as making the character unlikable and Hackman is never afraid to make him so if need be. Importantly though the anger within Max does not overwhelm he only makes it just part of the whole of Max. It is a part of him with a very strong history within him as Hackman makes it just his first reaction to adversity. Hackman though so easily eases in a certain likability in Max's no nonsense manner. Yes Max says things as he sees them, but he also says things as he sees them. There such a power in this approach that Hackman takes in the character. He is able to make such a commanding character who is equally unwieldy in the same breath. It is just astonishing to watch him maneuver this role that I never had a second thought about following him.

The crux of the film is the relationship between the two men as Max as the hard edged fellow who is almost kept under control by Lionel who softens him up with his comedy. I should quickly say Al Pacino is also really good here as Lionel. He is in a very different form, because of  extreme likability. He is very energetic here and really gets across how he could cheer up Max the way he does. Pacino never stops with his performance, and really gives a winning turn that balances some of the harsher moments from Hackman's performance perfectly. The two are just spectacular together in their interactions that play brilliantly throughout the film.

The way Hackman plays Lionel affect on Max is terrific. Hackman in moments sort of shows Lionel as a calming factor at first simply by making jokes constantly. Hackman makes it as almost just a distraction that takes Max's mind off of his current violence. At the same time though Hackman though does put in some genuine warmth that he downplays properly but he shows it as something that does keep Max going along with Lionel with ease. Importantly though the hard edge does not go away Hackman still shows Max as still having his harsh nature pushing forward against embracing him completely. Hackman is very realistic in portraying this very negative qualities in Max that just seems almost like reflex in Max.

Their relationship grows through the film but it does not take just a simple approach. Even as they seem to grow closer they break apart when they both end up briefly in jail which leads Max to give Lionel the silent treatment to Lionel. Hackman is excellent because, this does not feel something sudden or out of place. In fact it would seem odd for him not to do this because it is Max's way to do this. Hackman built this character so well it simply he makes it so it is obviously the only way Max would react. After Lionel though is savagely beaten by another inmate he befriended though Max snaps back into action for his friend. This is a very moving moment though because Hackman realizes it so beautifully as the best of Max comes out for his friend.

Their friendship only continues after leaving jail, and one of the best scenes for both actors is when Lionel finally is fed up with Max's anger, and shows his discontent with him first hand instead of just trying to make him laugh. Hackman is absolutely amazing in this scene as we see the old habits come out once again before Lionel presses him, than a whole new Max appears to try to make good on their friendship. The scene that has Max finally for once play for laughs, and it works wonderfully. The scene could have easily fell flat, but Hackman makes it extremely effective because he built to this point so well in his portrayal of the change Lionel created in him. As we see him avoid violence instead we see a break in the man, but Hackman makes this new Max just as real as the first.

The only scene stronger than this one though is after Lionel suffers a breakdown (an amazing scene by Pacino that easily shows this to be the far greater of his two performances of the year), and goes in to comatose. Their final scene together as Max tries to get Lionel to come back to him is stunning in the fashion in which it is played by Hackman. In this moment Hackman shows just how desperate Max really is, as well just how much Lionel really did mean to him. It is a heart wrenching scene as Max pleads Lionel to help him once again. Hackman gives this scene such an emotional weight, and the true poignancy their friendship deserves. What is amazing though is he still stays with the forceful character of Max as he seems almost partially angry over this breaking his plans so badly, but that only makes the impact even greater as Hackman allows us to see that is only there to shield how torn up inside Max is over what has happened. It is a flawless finish to the performance that perfectly realizes Max's journey as a character as well as the importance of the friendship as whole. All I can say to finish this review is I absolutely love this performance by Gene Hackman.


Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about this film

RatedRStar said...

A great performance by Hackman and Pacino, in the 70s =D I must see. Speaking of a different Scarecrow, I am also happy but surprised you rated Cillian Murphy so high for Batman Begins, what did you like about it.

Louis Morgan said...

I thought he was an effectively creepy villain and more memorable than the main villain of the film.

Michael Patison said...

On a completely unrelated note, what TV shows does everybody enjoy, both past and present? Personally, I'm a fan of Downton Abbey, Community, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock and a few guilty pleasures such as NCIS and Psych currently. I also am a huge fan of shows no longer on the air like The West Wing, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Firefly, and Twin Peaks.

Louis Morgan said...

The only current show I really watch is Breaking Bad.

RatedRStar said...

If im honest im not really a tv guy lol tv aint great over here in England =D.

Michael Patison said...

I know British TV isn't the greatest, but it isn't terrible. I mean, Downton Abbey is great and I usually hate those kind of soap opera things. Plus, Doctor Who is iconic and the series reboot is even better than the original episodes I've seen. Top Gear is also great. There's also a few great older shows like Upstairs, Downstairs

RatedRStar said...

Top Gear is great =D although its not really a car show its an entertainment show, most of the time im either on this blog, or with a friend, sleeping, or watching Top Gear lol (if I had to compare myself to an actor, im afraid Clifton Webb would probably be me lol very bitchy =D).

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@Michael: I love Psych. So gloriously stupid, and it's fully aware of that.