Sunday, 31 March 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1991: Viggo Mortensen in The Indian Runner

Viggo Mortensen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Frank Roberts in The Indian Runner.

The Indian Runner is a moving story, although Sean Penn perhaps tries a little to hard to make a stamp with his direction at times, about the relationship between brothers one a rebellious criminal named Frank the other an officer of the law named Joe.

Mortensen doesn't just go for one tone as Frank, there is a furry of different elements to this man and he is amazing the way he is able to reflect them. In his first scene he seems to be a reasonable sort having just gotten out of the army, and at least for the moment seems to be able to get along just fine as man. Mortensen is very effective though because he suggests what makes him a man who never really can be his brother in this early scene. There is a spontaneity in his performance that is perfect in showing that Frank can never be like his more reserved brother Joe (David Morse). In this early scene Mortensen portrays it something harmless enough, but has still has it something so instinctual that he can't help but do it.

We Frank later on now looking far more the rebel than he did before in his army uniform having no qualms about his behavior. Mortensen is excellent in conveying basically Frank in his natural state which is rather odd, but entirely fitting. Mortensen makes Frank seem to be a series of contradictions, he is charming to a certain degree, he seems to be enjoying himself as well, but at the same time he seems to be hating himself in just the same way. When his brother informs him of their mother's death Mortensen's reaction is spot in the way he shows that Frank is in some way hurt by this revelation in an understated sadness portrayed by Mortensen, but still he never loses the rebellion in him that forces him to almost shrug it off as nothing.

As the film progresses Frank goes in and out of seeming like he could get over his steak as a troublesome sometimes quite violent streak with his behavior that he moves from seeming reasonable enough but it never seems to stay that way. Even when he seems to be going about a normal life there are moments where he becomes truly reprehensible and irresponsible. Mortensen gets this dynamic across so well by making it always the same man. It is something almost primal in a way as Mortensen never shows Frank as fully one way or the other way he is able to get across the wildness of this personality. Mortensen has Frank fly in all directions at once it would be wrong for Frank to always be wild or to not be at all when trying to be controlled he can never be just one way.

Viggo Mortensen very importantly has terrific chemistry with David Morse through just how understated they are together. The two mostly suggest their relationship through glances but the two get across both the disconnection between the two thanks to their natures but as well their connection due to their history as children together. It is a testament to the strength of their performances that they are able to make the relationship of the brothers the central theme of the film despite the fact that the two actually have a very little dialogue between each other, and most of it is fairly simple except for the point where Joe finally confronts Frank. Due to their underplaying beforehand when the conflict between the two finally comes out it is particularly powerful by the way they so effectively established their relationship beforehand.

This is a strong performance by Mortensen that succeeds in creating this distinct type of personality. Mortensen is very good because he does not go about an easy route for Frank which would be just being a rebel all the time or being black and white in the way Frank can change so easily. Mortensen gets across the instability and the impossibility of such a man to just rest for a moment though by instead being as unpredictable as Frank should be as character. The final result that comes from Frank is made by Mortensen an eventuality even though it seems so sudden sense builds the nature of Frank so well throughout his story. This is not Viggo Mortensen's greatest performance, but it is a great early indication of his considerable talent as an actor. 

11 comments:

RatedRStar said...

such an underated actor, im quite surprised you changed his 2007 win to Day Lewis, although to be fair I was very happy you gave Cagney the win for 38 =).

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

What did you think of Morse?

Louis Morgan said...

I thought he was quite strong with his understated work.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I think he's an underrated and very underused actor.

nick wingerter said...

Louis , I hope you do a review on Mickey Rourke in Rumble Fish when you do his year.

Michael Patison said...

I agree, koook. Have you ever seen the 80s TV series St. Elsewhere? He's really great in it.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

No, but I have the first season on DVD. I just finished all of The West Wing on DVD (it only took me three years), so now I have to decide between that, Breaking Bad, or Homicide to watch next. I got most of these season sets 4 years ago. -_-'

Michael Patison said...

How'd you like The West Wing? It's my favorite show ever. I'd say watch Breaking Bad first. Frankly, it's the best of the three and it's also by far the shortest. After that, it's really whatever. Both St. Elsewhere and Homicide are brilliant shows for extremely different reasons. If you're turned off by things being out of date, then I might hold off on St. Elsewhere simply because, as a medical drama, it is far more out of date in terms of medical knowledge and technology than Homicide is.
That being said, St. Elsewhere is, in my opinion, undoubtedly the best medical drama ever to air. It's better than anything from the 70s and before simply because it has far better medical knowledge to work with. In it's first three seasons, Grey's Anatomy was superb. Then it got too melodramatic and even worse eventually just started repeating itself. The '90s undoubtedly were the golden age of the medical drama, with both ER and Chicago Hope. Hope was the better character drama, while ER was the more melodramatic, but Hope, for me, lacked ER's wow factor. It also lacked the David Morse-esque character (that is , young doctor through which at least part of the series is framed), which ER obviously had in John Carter.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Well, I completely disagree about Grey's Anatomy, because I hated it right from the get-go. But as for West Wing, I loved it. I fell in love with the characters right from the pilot. It's a shame a lot of the actors never found parts as rich as the ones they were given on the show (Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe, I'm looking at you two). But damn, I freaking loved it. It does help that the show agrees with my politics, but that seems to be a prerequisite for liking it.

On a related note, I watched the first season of The Newsroom, but it seemed a little... lacking. I hope it improves by next season, or I'm calling it quits. Daniels is great, but most of the actors seems oddly miscast. That includes otherwise underrated players like Emily Mortimer and Alison Pill. Sorkin needs to cut down on the melodrama and focus on the , y'know, newsroom aspect that makes it interesting. And for God's sake, I'm as liberal as you can get, but The West Wing and Boston Legal combined didn't soapbox as much as this show. And at least those two were timely (i.e. Bush Administration) in their righteous indignation. We get it Aaron. The right sucks.

Michael Patison said...

Agreeing with the politics really isn't a prerequisite. I'm pretty much the opposite from the views in the show. Sorkin was good at being very liberal, but also putting forward the conservative viewpoint in every episode.
I got through 2 episodes of The Newsroom before giving up. I agree that what will make his show is the newsroom aspect. I think, if he were to focus on that, the other parts wouldn't seem so miscast. Most of what makes them miscast is Sorkin's neverending soapboxing. Not one of the characters, save Daniels (who essentially just soapboxes endlessly so it doesn't seem out of place for him), has his or her own voice. They spend half of their time being an actual character and the other half of the time spewing liberal stuff. They're never able to form characters because of it. Also, I think Mortimer and Pill have such a hard time of it because Sorkin has returned to creating shitty female characters. C.J. Cregg is one of the best, strongest, most complex female characters in the history of television. But Sorkin can't write female characters normally, and all of The Newsroom's female characters are no different.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I usually don't give up on a show in its first season unless it's unwatchable. I usually can forgive a bad first season if it picks up the slack in later ones and finds its voice. If Sorkin doesn't cut the shit by S2E5, I'm done.

Hey, do you watch The Good Wife? This season started off weak, but DAMN is the second half awesome.