Saturday, 12 January 2013

Best Supporting Actor 2012: Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln

Tommy Lee Jones received his fourth Oscar nomination for portraying congressman Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln.

Thaddeus Stevens is bit of a controversial figure when it comes to historical representation. Some wish to see him as a villain for his want to harshly punish the south for succession and slavery. Others though take him as a hero for his fervent hatred of slavery, and his intense efforts to end it. The film Lincoln most certainly takes the latter approach. It briefly gives a little indication of the other view in his scene with Lincoln, but for the most part it treats him as very positive character. Tommy Lee Jones in turn in his portrayal of the man portrays him as a crusty old man, who has a lot of one liners, just like another nominee this year.

There is something strange I noticed well watching this performance though was how it was set up in the film to be a best supporting actor winner. In his first scene the camera takes his point of view, until a dramatic ease in on him, almost just to add to the importance of his character in the film. Similarly the film always gives him his little reactions constantly much more than any other character in the film, just to always remind you of his existence. Then he gets all his scenes where he gets to talk down to the various pro-slavery congressmen, or spineless ones that seem to be there for his Oscar scenes.

To top it all off he gets a final scene that seems to forced in its sentimentality just for this performance again, which is unfortunate because that is the only scene where Spielberg indulged in his problems as a filmmaker.  Well this whole character seemed to be created to give Tommy Lee Jones an Oscar, as Thaddeus Stevens should have had important scenes but the film really overdid it to a certain extent. Putting that aside though for a moment, how really is his performance? Well if I would have to say it is a tad one note for the most part. Tommy Lee Jones note is the note of an impassioned crusty, of course, crusader.

Jones is good in being his note of angry passion, and he delivers all of his lines with a certain intensity that works for the character. He is passionate as Stevens and that works particularly in his yelling scenes in the middle of congress. In his quieter scenes with Lincoln Jones still plays Jones in the same fashion just quieter. He is still impassioned still crusty, still saying little one liners, just at a lower volume. Jones is certainly entertaining in all of these scenes to a certain degree becuase Jones does throw himself full force into every line, but still there is nothing incredible about what he does.

There are of course his scenes where he has his little reactions which are either little smiles, or looks of understanding toward Mary Todd Lincoln. There is not anything special about the moments, but he handles them well enough. He hits a slightly different note when Stevens is basically being interrogated about his views which are considered radical, and he is forced to hold himself back. Jones is good in this scene by being quiet and loud at the same time in his usual passionate crusty method. He does this scene properly, but still it does not amount to anything absolutely incredible.

Eventually though there is the scene where he takes the written amendment home to show to his biracial housekeeper Lydia Smith (S. Epatha Merkenson) who clearly is more than that as they share a bed, and he addresses her as "my love". This scene is terrible frankly, and I liked the film, there are two reasons why. One is Jones seems lost in this scene which is the only time he takes away the anger from Stevens, but he does not make it work because he has no chemistry with Merkenson, the two do not suggest any history between the two. They seem forced together, and the scene fails. It fails even more because than Smith reads the amendment which just hammers in the point to an unnecessary degree. 

That scene which is his worst scene is not a great way to end his performance, even though the scene seemed tailored made to be all poignant and moving. The problem is the scene was too tailored to be all poignant and moving and came off as ham-fisted due to that. This is the showiest performance in the film but it is not the best. David Strathairn is more interesting by creating William Seward as a caring friend for Lincoln, but also very forceful in questioning some of his friends methods. James Spader is a lot of fun and very entertaining in his creation of a sweaty but intelligent political operative. Both create more compelling characters than Tommy Lee Jones and his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens which is entertaining but never as substantial as it should be.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Louis! Really dont get the praise for this performance.

RatedRStar said...

I think everyones predictions have failed haha lol =D I think Arkin will finish better than Lee Jones now.

dinasztie said...

He's indeed a bit overrated, but I think he gives a moving and unsentimental performance that is essential to the tone of the film. I like him more than you do. And I liked his last scene. :DDD

Anonymous said...

this race should really be between Hoffman and Waltz, either of them would be deserving. Im going to be so annoyed if Jones wins for another undeserved performance. Its bad enough he robbed Ralph fiennes and Leo DiCaprio in 1994.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Go figure, I actually think this one is great.

moviefilm said...

I didn't like the film, but I think Jones gave the best performance of it and therefore he's the best thing about it. But it still doesn't mean he was somehow special. And I couldn't agree more with you, about his scene with Smith...

joe burns said...

I think he's fine, but nothing special, but I liked his last scene personally!!!!

joe burns said...

What did you think of Field?

mrripley said...

I must admit that when i watched Lincoln i kept waiting for the oscar scene or scenes and theN scene in bed arrived and i thought that would be it but it's so badly constructed it just confirmed that Jones was totally wrong for this role esp when nearly everyone in the cast esp Field and Day Lewis are at the top of their game,what a waste of a nomination,i usually like him but not here.

Michael Patison said...

I disagree with you here. I see your points on some of them, but most of those issues seem to be with screenwriting and direction. I'd give him either a 3.5 or a 4.

Louis Morgan said...

Joe: I thought she was fine.

Michael Patison: Well I would say I had problems regarding the directing, and screenwriting of the character, but I would say Jones did not overcome these problems with his performance.

Lezlie said...

I agree with your rating, I wouldn't want him to go home with the statue.
Louis, what do you think of Spielberg as a director, in general? Do you like him?

Louis Morgan said...

I would say he is a great filmmaker. I love many of his films like the Duel, Jaws, the first and third Indiana Jones films, Schindler's List, and many others. I would say though he has problems as sometimes he gets strangely workmanlike like in the Lost World, or he gets overly sentimental like many scenes particularly the bookends in Saving Private Ryan, and the whole of War Horse.

Anonymous said...

I didn't expect this rating! I think he was very good but not as brilliant as most people said, I would have given him a higher score because I feel he at least did something and had something to work with, Arkin had nothing to do and did absolutely nothing at all. I'm really expecting your review of Waltz brilliant performance, and De Niro's which left me incredibly unimpressed.

mrripley said...

No one has ever won an Oscar for a Speilberg movie so maybe Cooper wins actor and Hoffman supporting.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you! In Jones's performance all I see is Tommy Lee Jones in costume. I really thought David Straithairn, and particularly James Spader were much more deserving of an Oscar nod; both of these actors created something more than themselves in a tailor made role.

RatedRStar said...

the only person who probably has a chance of beating Day Lewis is Hugh Jackman, whereas Hoffman could beat Lee Jones.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Good Lord, if Jackman beats the other four I'm calling it quits.

Michael Patison said...

To each his own. I thought he was fantastic and deserving of a win, though he's my #3 for the year behind Day-Lewis and Cooper

RatedRStar said...

I thought Jackman was great 2, I liked Cooper 2 but lets face it, Jackman has a much much harder role to pull off than Cooper.

Michael Patison said...

I don't know. I thought Cooper's part was quite hard considering everything that could go wrong in a performance of that type that he successfully avoids. His outbursts are all convincing. The most telling scene of this is where he's at the psychiatrist's office and the song comes on and he gradually loses it and you don't find out why until right after that why he blows up but he still makes it so real an true

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