Saturday, 9 February 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2012: James Spader and David Strathairn in Lincoln

James Spader did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying William N. Bilbo in Lincoln.

One thing that is a common occurrence these days is films even with large ensembles, even ones with multiple great performances in them, only one performance from the supporting cast will be recognized consistently. This certainly true of Lincoln which despite having a large cast it was apparently determined by both the film industry and critics groups that Tommy Lee Jones was the only supporting player worth mentioning in the film. Although this very well may be that Jones has the flashiest role in the entire film as every scene he has seems to be an Oscar scene of course just because he flashiest role in the film does not mean he is the best supporting player in the film.

James Spader plays one of Secretary of State Seward's political operative whose whole point is to try to sway votes through offering political appointments. Spader in the first scene we see him very much tries to make a very unique character out of Bilbo as a very particular sort of man. Everything from the way he sits, to the way he speak, to the way he smokes, to the way he sweats is something that very much makes him a man who sticks out. All of these things Spader does only succeeds in amplifying Bilbo as a character, making him far more memorable as well as giving some indication to where exactly this man came from.

Spader honestly has quite a challenge to stick out because he comes in and out of the film for only short periods of time, even seconds in some cases. Spader though does make the impact he should with his role as Bilbo and he is always a delight whenever he does appear. His comedic chops here are impeccable as they are very much in character and much of the humor derives from his gruff and spent demeanor. His timing is marvelous making a humorous moment whenever he does have the chance, that are always very amusing but still what he does always fits entirely with the rest of the film.

Importantly Spader does as well shows the cunning of this odd man and in his expressions he suggests a very real intelligence within Bilbo's haggard carcass. A particularly strong moment is just a quick little look which is toward one of the congressmen he has been pressuring. The point and look is perfect and it only helps in making it believable that the congressman would decide to vote the right way. This is a short but very sweet performance by James Spader taking the spotlight in just the right way that adds to the film so nicely without seeming like a forced character in the least. He uses what he has wonderfully well giving an entertaining supporting performance, that only left me wanting to see more of his unique character. 
David Strathairn did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Secretary of State William Seward in Lincoln.

David Strathairn portrays William Seward one of the Lincoln closest confidants, and one of the men who works tirelessly to try to get the amendment passed. In his first scene Strathairn is very good in setting up Seward's very specific role which is being the friend to Lincoln who asks the difficult questions. In his opening scene he describes the pressures and troubles involved with passing the amendment to Lincoln in a direct fashion. Strathairn is very good because he establishes, along with Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, the working relationship between the two men.

Strathairn does two very important things in every moment in which he pressures Lincoln about his choices and tactics. The first is that he shows Seward to be a forceful man, and one who really does put a great deal of force in his questions that he asks Valjean. Strathairn makes Seward an incisive man who very much does get right to the point with Lincoln. At the same time though he also does show that the two are very much friends, and even when he is asking Lincoln the hard questions. There is always a certain warmth too in his demeanor towards Lincoln that shows that it is due to his concern for his friend that he asks these questions.

In scenes with his political operatives Seward is very good portraying Seward as man with a great deal of experience, who certainly knows what must be done. He expresses quite well not only the knowledge of Seward, but as well in a subtle fashions his frustrations to have to fall into a lower level to do what must be done to get the amendment moving forward. Unlike Tommy Lee Jones he does not get a lot of time to portray this personal struggle in Seward, yet the great thing about this performance is that he still manages to bring this life within his performance even with the little time offered to him.

This is for the most part a very subtle performance by David Strathairn after all he does not get a single scene devoted entirely to himself, unlike a certain co-star. This leaves a lot of what he must do is in his reactions in the scenes where Lincoln is in meeting. Now Strathairn does his very best to reflect Seward's feelings through the struggle for the amendment. Strathairn extra effort is quite impressive considering the limitations. Strathairn is always very spot on in every moment reflecting Seward's concerns skillfully particularly in displaying the difference between him as Lincoln as there is hint a pessimism in his face something missing from Lincoln. 

Strathairn definitely gets the short end of the stick here as Seward seems like he might have been far more in an earlier draft. Its a real shame how Seward is treated considering what Strathairn is able to accomplish with little he is given. I really find it odd the way there is not even a mention of him at the end considering Seward was severely injured, and was almost killed at the same time as Lincoln. I mean come on, the film could have at least had one line from Lincoln in regards to Seward before he goes off to Ford's theater, and even though we would not see him it could at least shown us one last indications of their relationship. Nevertheless this is a good performance since Strathairn left me only wanting more of Seward's story, something that I could not say about Tommy Lee Jones.


Anonymous said...

Yea both are much better than Jones. I think the book they based the script on had more depth on Seward, which unfortunately didnt translate on film because they chose to emphasise Jones's bland performance.

timetraveler said...

Bravo, I totally agree with both of your in-depth appraisals of Spader's and Strathairn's performances; plus I agree with your less than enthusiastic support of Jones's Oscar nomination. Jones spat out his lines well, but in no way really tried to become Stevens. He didn't even attempt to rid himself of his Texas accent to play a man born in New England who had spent most of his life in South Central Pennsylvania. I really wanted to see more of Bilbo and Seward...the actors did a tremendous job with these roles. Boo to Disney for not pushing these performances during the run-up to the nominations. They put all their money on one artist, and ignored the brilliance of the other more worthy performances.