Friday, 8 February 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, and Tom Waits in Seven Psychopaths

Sam did not receive an Oscar nomination, although he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, for portraying Billy Bickle in Seven Psychopaths.

Seven Psychopaths is another great film from Martin McDonagh, its not quite as good as In Bruges, but what films are? Anyway this time its about a screen writer Marty (Colin Farrell) who struggles to write a film all while insanity transpires around him due to his dog napper friend who steals the prized dog of a mobster.

Sam Rockwell plays Marty's friend Billy with the same last name as Robert De Niro troubled character Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Rockwell here probably gives his Rockwelliest performance as an actor, who just might be living a few too many lives all at once. He has dog napping business, has an affair with a mobster's girlfriend, and he seems to know maybe a little too much about a secretive killer who kills mobster known as the Jack of Diamonds. Rockwell plays the role in his sort of man child type style although to its most extreme here as Billy. The best word to describe him in this really is wacky.

Rockwell pretty much takes on the role of Billy as just about a looney toon character with his incredibly exaggerated faces he makes throughout the film when expressing himself. As I said in my review of the Django Unchained supporting actors it is risk for an actor to give a very exaggerated performance. Sam Rockwell is definitely an actor who can do this because Rockwell does it all so naturally. Yes he plays Billy as a wacky sort of guy, but hey Rockwell definitely makes him a believable wacky sort of guy. He never seems like he is acting in any way, and it unlikely that many actors could play Billy quite like Rockwell is able to do.

Most of the film Rockwell plays Billy as the crazy friend, and does it quite well actually getting the most out of Billy's impulsive behavior as well as making this just an enjoyable character to watch. Rockwell has a lot of good lines to say throughout the film, and he delivers them quite fantastically. My personal favorite is when he reacts to Marty's idea that his film about psychopaths should not have any shoot outs, Rockwell's annoyed disbelief he brings out in Billy due to this idea is absolutely hilarious. Rockwell has multiple times in the film with similar expert timing, and this is a very funny performance.

This is basically a fairly lighter work by Sam Rockwell for the most part, and a lot of him is just doing his Rockwell thing. This is something that is absolutely fine after all no one can do what Rockwell does here. Martin McDonaghs' script serves him particularly well here, and it really lets him basically let loose with all of his various tricks which are quite enjoyable to see him do. In fact there are multiple points where there are scenes that are there to really just let Rockwell do what he does like when he describes how the film should conclude. Rockwell simply is great at doing this wild youthful enthusiasm, and absolutely makes all of these scenes work.

Now there are semi weightier scenes but mostly they are just there to show the friendship between Billy and Marty. It is very much underplayed but Farrell and Rockwell still bring about the friendship just as they should making the ending to the film appropriately moving. One could argue the reveal in the film that he is the psychopathic murderer of mobster is a big reveal, but once the reveal occurs it seems more like just a proper conclusion more than any else. Rockwell does well to not change his performance at all from this conclusion since it is more of just showing how far his impulsive behavior goes, and really Rockwell does well in showing that his murdering is just another thing he does.

Sam Rockwell is extremely likable here, and I really loved his performance here just like any other time Rockwell gets to do his thing. He is one of those actors that has an uncanny ability to be a full on comedic performance which is very  funny as he is here, yet still at the very same time bring a weight to the proceedings that is rather surprising. In his last scene he really makes the epitome of this as he moves through the scene in his sly fashion that is very funny, but at the same time his final exchanges to Farrell's characters at the end of the film has the power he should. Rockwell is able to be as lighthearted as possible in this role making a very violent shoot out just a fun time, but at the same exact time brings a great deal of heart when it is called for. Rockwell achieves this dynamic so easily that it is a true testament to his talent.
Christopher Walken did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Hans Kieslowski in Seven Psychopaths.

Christopher Walken plays another one of the psychopaths who is a bit of strange one considering he is a religious pacifist. Walken is probably one of the greatest actors ever when he chooses to be, and there are plenty of films where he just relies on his unique way of speaking for his performance luckily this is not one of those films. Interestingly like in the Deer Hunter and Catch Me If You Can he seems to actually tone down his speech pattern, its there, but his character he is clearly always his primary concern. 

Where Sam Rockwell is the life of the picture Christopher Walken is the heart as Billy's dog napper partner. Walken really gives the most dramatic performance in the film, although being a Martin McDonagh film there still is plenty of room for Walken to get in on the humor as well. Although where Rockwell was mostly a comedic performance with some moments of weight, Walken's gives mostly a weightier performance with some moments of comedy. Frankly the two of them fill this dynamic of the characters quite brilliantly, and the two add to the picture so well through playing their roles so they fit together in a fulfilling fashion.

Walken plays Hans as a fairly quiet old man making money from his very petty crimes, and making sure to visit his cancer stricken wife Myra (Linda Bright Clay) just about every day. In his brief early scenes Walken does well to establish Hans a likable and quirky but naturally quirky old man who is very devoted to his beliefs as well as his wife. There are two short scenes with Hans and his wife which are excellently acted by both Walken and Clay. They have a natural chemistry in their scenes with a great deal of warmth, and the two establish the long romantic history between the two quite well, this particularly important since Hans's wife soon exits the picture.

Hans quickly suffers worse grief than his wife dying from cancer as she is murdered by the mobster whose dog he and Billy stole. Walken is quite effective in this as he is very much brings about the philosophy of Hans's which is being very much in the right without much reflection to this fact. Walken is terrific in the scene where he confronts the mobster after he has murdered his wife. Walken is excellent in just that stare he gives to the man that reflects clearly that he is going through pain, but as well portrays Hans very much righteous anger that he intensely yet almost silently pressures the mobster. 

Walken is very good in his scenes with Farrell and Rockwell and the three make for some great scenes. With Rockwell as Billy being very much for violence, Farrell's Marty being very unsure of everything, and Walken showing Hans as being a man firm in his pacifism that make the three really a wonderful group. Walken gives a strong performance here and he brings to life the philosophy of his character to life quite powerfully. He is particularly good because the way he is not at all forceful about it. Instead Walken to be both quiet yet still very passionate in his beliefs, and adds a great deal of poignancy to the proceedings.

Hans easily could have been forgotten in face of Billy's antics, but Walken knows how to keep himself in a scene and he and Rockwell are great together. Their best moment in particularly is when Hans believes that he saw a vision of his wife that makes him think the afterlife is grey, but Billy claims he merely imitated his wife. He and Rockwell are magnificent in the bringing a strange power to the moment, and Walken could not be better as he so beautifully shows Hans regain his faith in just the slightest smile. This is a very effective performance by Christopher Walken because he is just so genuine in his realization of Hans.

Walken as well does have his nice moments of humor that are short most in his reactions to Billy, which are always played brilliantly. He even derives the proper humor just from how assured Hans is in his pacifistic position, and his delivery of "Too Bad" to a man wondering how Hans can ignore the man's gun is properly hilarious. This performance here shows what a shame it is that Christopher Walken does not try more often because when he gives it his all Walken has an emotional resonance that few other actors are able to create.
Woody Harrelson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Charlie Costello in Seven Psychopaths.

Woody Harrelson is decidedly not one of my favorite actors because he tends to show a great deal of talent with his performances but tends to waste it by pointlessly overacting in his roles. He is in a Martin McDonagh film though and with In Bruges and this as indicators he seems to bring the best out of his actors. Harrelson tones down his problematic tendencies here, and gives a more restrained performance that usual which is rather funny considering he plays a psychotic gangster who is the main villain of the film.

Harrelson here does two things in the role and he does those two things quite well. The first being a properly threatening presence in the film. The scene where he slowly talks to Hans's wife figuring out who she is than eventually killing her is played extremely well by Harrelson. What makes the scene so good is how casual Harrelson is in his portraying the mobster's moment that he figures out who she is. He brings out the brutality of the scene because he makes Costello's interrogation to the murder such a natural process. 

The other thing that Harrelson does here is be quite an amusing presence to just the right amount. He never compromises the overarching the intensity of Costello as a vicious killer despite having some very funny moments that comes from just how much this mobster loves his dog. These moments could easily been way over played to the point of silliness yet Harrelson gives so much conviction to them. He makes the concern of this killer for his little dog entirely genuine that is actually a little sweet while being absolutely hilarious at the very same time.

Harrelson through the film makes just the perfect oddity that is Charlie Costello. He makes him convincing as just a pure killer, and because of that he gets so much humor from his role. My particular favorite moment of his performance is when comes to get his dog from Billy, and comes unarmed and alone just like Billy said. His expression when Billy just randomly shoots him in the back despite the fact he is fully complying made me burst out laughing. Harrelson is so good here becuase for the most part he could be a gangster in a serious film, and it is much funnier when that sort of gangster does the stupid things Charlie does.

This is a fantastic performance by Harrelson where he uses his considerable talent without ever going over board despite the strange dynamic that exists within his character here. He realizes that dynamic so well through finding just the perfect tone for Charlie. He never forgets to bring the ruthlessness of character in equal measure with the humor of his character. It just incredible the way he, Rockwell, and Walken all are able to share the film together so well. They all have their great individual moments, but they each play off of each other just as well.
Tom Waits did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Zachariah Rigby in Seven Psychopaths.

Tom Waits the musician turned character actor is someone who you expect at least something from one he appears in a film as he has such a unique screen presence which is certainly used to great effect here as Zachariah a psychopath who shows up to be interviewed after answering Billy's call for psychopaths. Waits here is basically a one scene performance as rabbit petting serial killer who spent time of his youth with a young woman going around the country murdering serial killers. Waits doesn't have a lot of time but he makes the most of it.

Waits's part of the story basically acts as a bit of a diversion for the plot, and easily could have seemed like a big waste of time. Waits therefore has quite a challenge to make sure Zachariah's story doesn't seem like a waste of time, and he certainly pulls through. Waits is very much takes a slightly somber dead pan tone as Zachariah that works particularly well in telling a story of such insanity. It is the right approach and again just like his fellow performers in this film he brings a strange combination of weight and humor that feels entirely seamless.

The reason all four of these performances work is that they each take such a differing approaches with each of the actors. None of them try to replicate each other, and Waits's mostly dead pan take is very effective. The way he says he doesn't think he sounded crazy is very amusing, and his telling of the story is certainly quite bizarre something Waits specializes bringing to screen with an absolute ease. He tells the story and makes the story of the two killers surprisingly poignant.

Waits simply adds to the strength of this film with his short little story. Tom Waits is basically a one scene wonder, although his credits sting scene is also a very entertaining moment, and he is as a one scene wonder should be. He holds the film in his command for his brief time, and is properly interesting and intriguing the point that I certainly would not have minded some more of Waits. He takes the time he has, does everything he can with it, and just is another reason why this is a great film.


Robert MacFarlane said...

Oh, you know I agree with this.

Mark said...

Interesting. I feel Martin McDonagh, considering his first two films were this good, is going to win an Oscar for directing sometime within the next 15 years.

Anonymous said...

Mark: He's a better writer than he is a director.

JamDenTel said...

Possibly my favorite film of the year, and Rockwell gets probably my favorite line of the year:

"Gandhi was WRONG. Just no one's got the balls to come out and admit it."

Michael Patison said...

I think part of what makes Harrelson overact is his origins as a pure comedian, especially his Woody Boyd persona on Cheers. He has so much talent, but sometimes I feel like he's trying to overcompensate for that persona, especially in his earlier work like Larry Flynt

Louis Morgan said...

Mark: He very well could win for screenplay. Although the fact that this was not nominated in favor of that Flight script is troublesome. He should have already won for In Bruges. I feel his style, which I absolutely love, will prevent his films from getting enough support for a best picture win though.

Michael: That is probably true.

houndtang said...

Harrelson did give a great comedic lead performance in Kingpin - very different from the somewhat tiresome Woody Boyd.That would be a nomination for an alternate best actor when you do 1996!