Monday, 22 April 2013

Alternate Best Actor 2001: Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums

Gene Hackman did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning a Golden Globe as well as a couple Critic Awards, for portraying Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums.

The Royal Tenenbaums is about the dysfunctional but once notable family. Although I find it fairly easy to see why some may not go for Wes Anderson's particularly quirks as both a writer and director, I do enjoy his style this film included.

I suppose it is no secret that Gene Hackman is one of my very favorite actors. I've covered several of his performances from his amazing subtle work in The Conversation, to his chilling yet humane performance in Unforgiven, but I have not covered any of his performances in comedies. Although to be sure this is not a pure comedy by any means as it has more than its fair share of dramatic moments, but Hackman does get ample opportunity to show off his comedic chops here. In fact it is pretty easy to say that his performance and character is what really puts this film much more on the comedic side than it would be otherwise, as his character always seems to look at the lighter side of things.

In the opening montage of the film we see the childhood of the Tenenbaum children with Royal as their rather self indulgent father who seems quite insensitive to all of their needs going so far as to even shooting his own son with a BB gun because hey that's just Royal does. I could see how so many actors could easily have gone the wrong way with Royal into just an unlikable mess, but this is Gene Hackman so he nails the character from his first scene. Hackman is such a delightful presence to behold and he knows how to play the role with an energetic glee that can pretty much override the character's despicable nature to make it so we can laugh right along with him. 

Hackman is a genius here because well he doesn't avoid being unlikable yet he never stops Royal from being compulsively likable. He doesn't just fall on one facet of the character exactly, and it is quite interesting the way Hackman is able to show exactly what Royal did with his children yet not make us feel the alienation like the children. A great moment is when he first witnesses his daughter's play at her birthday party and only criticizes it rather bluntly. This works because Hackman is just so unabashed about it, and he doesn't play it like Royal is being purposefully sadistic in his method, rather Hackman is able to portray the selfishness of mind that keeps Royal from even fully realizing what he is doing at times.

Like all my favorite actors Hackman is able to be simply fun to watch act, and this is definitely true in this case as Royal Tenenbaum throughout and every scene is only made better when he has something to do in them. There is a great number of scenes in the middle where Royal is launching his scheme to attempt to get back in his family by pretending that he is dying. Hackman is terrific as Royal acts as if he really cares about everyone well still not away from his usual self obsessed schemes as well. Hackman is so wonderful in his little moments as we see that same old Royal, and has some comedic gems he brings whenever he can.  Sometimes it can be a slight reaction, like when Royal is astonished by a game room he has not been into for sometime, and Hackman makes it comedic gold.

The role of Royal does have quite a change through the film as he seems not particularly redeemable in his behavior early on yet he changes quite a bit by the end the film. This of course can be done rather poorly even by someone like Jack Nicholson who failed to be fully believable in his try to bring the curmudgeon around in Its As Good As It Gets. Hackman also has quite the task but doesn't make any of the mistakes that Nicholson did in his performance. Where Nicholson was far too sudden in his approach and not at all natural, Hackman knows how to properly maneuver through the change appropriately. One of the important aspects of his portrayal is the way he eases into the change in Royal, he never rushes it, and just as importantly he never loses that joy in Royal's behavior found before his change.

During the period of faking that he is dying Hackman although always suggests the game Royal is playing there is a certain caring in him particularly when Royal tries to connect with his grandchildren. Hackman never forces it showing there still is that imp at least partially in his manner even when he tries to be entirely earnest with his children. He works toward it in a brilliant fashion though and the moment where Royal is found out about his lies we see the change finally in Royal. The moment where Royal finally says what the family really does mean to him by saying his days with them have been the best days of his life is made so poignant as Hackman does not just leave it to the narration to say it, he shows the mixed bitter sweet moment in Hackman's expression when Royal realizes how important his family really is to him.

After Royal finds himself on the outs again with his family Hackman is so good in showing that Royal can't go back to his old ways completely, although importantly he still has some nice funny moments still never losing that primary characteristic of Royal which is that he loves life. Royal manages to be brought back in by a real family crisis and Hackman is very moving as he portrays the changed Royal attempt to make things right. What works so beautifully about Hackman's performance is that Royal is entirely genuine in his attempts to bond with his family, yet what works is that he shows a struggle in Royal. Hackman doesn't have the struggle to be a good man, but rather struggle with just his lack of experience. What is so effective is that Hackman conveys the honest effort Royal puts in as he tries to connect with his children despite his numerous shortcoming, making it much more powerful when he finally does.

This is another excellent performance by Hackman in every respect. He is a comedic force through the film always making a situation quite hilarious even no matter what the situation might be. He doesn't avoid being the unlikable father to self absorbed to care about his family, no instead he absolutely relishes in that fact and gets such great moments by this approach. He is consistently funny and it is a delight to see Hackman succeed so effortlessly with humor as he managed to do in his earlier far more dramatic performances. Of course there is drama here to and Hackman knows exactly how to handle that as well. He connects right with the comedy side of the role. They are one and the same, Hackman excels in the role seamlessly combining all that is Royal winning when it comes to creating laughter with his performance, and moving when he needs to express the more soulful moments. All I can say is that I love this performance.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Will you be reviewing his Get Shorty performance for supporting actor in 1995? That's another comedic gem from Hackman.

Anonymous said...

Also great comedic performances from him are The Birdcage (better than William in my opinion) and Superman.

Lezlie said...

Ah, I loved this film:)

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Like this performance, do not like this movie.

Fritz said...

I love the movie but don't quite get the deal about him...

mrripley said...

I think he's great but not nom worthy.

Anonymous said...

Its a masterful comedic performance far better than the mannered performances of Crowe and Washington that year. Comedy is much more harder than drama in my opinion.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I admit, while I find (pre-Moonrise Kingdom) Wes Anderson to be a pretentious douche when it comes to his writing, Hackman made Royal a wonderful character. Certainly would be a major step up of the nominees that year (Penn, Crowe, and Smith).

Houndtang said...

Great film and performance. My favourite moment is a small one - Ben Stiller's character Chas says to Royal 'I've had a rough year, Dad.' and Hackman touches his shoulder and tells him that he knows he has.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous: Maybe.

Koook160: That's funny that you say that about Anderson's writing because my brother said basically the same thing. Although he was referring to Moonrise Kingdom, since he liked all of Anderson's previous films.

Michael Patison said...

Great film. I at least like every single Wes Anderson I've seen. Of course, I do think, as most do, that Moonrise Kingdom was his best yet. I can find faults with pretty much every film he's made except for Moonrise Kingdom, many in some of his work, but that doesn't mean I didn't like the film.

I actually was somewhat offended by koook's comment about him seeing Anderson as a pretentious douche bag in every film until Moonrise Kingdom, because Moonrise Kingdom is simply Wes Anderson doing Wes Anderson better than before. It's just the way he makes movies. He has an incredibly quirky sense of humor and an even quirkier visual style, and if you think that makes him a pretentious douche bag, then you're just intolerant. I just also have trouble understanding how you liked Moonrise Kingdom without liking an ounce of any of the others. He did the exact same things visually and dialogue-wise as in his other films, but just more effectively. I guess that just means he did a good job at being a pretentious douche bag. That makes sense.

Also koook, about Crowe, I know you've expressed your disdain for him and Connelly and the film on some of my YouTube videos, and while I can understand your dislike of the film (unless you've only seen it once, then I'm dumbfounded by your lack of taste) and its plot twist. But it's a well-made film on the whole, even if not a great. Crowe and Connelly, though, I find to be astounding. Connelly less so, though I still think she's excellent. Crowe plays a part that is so popular with the Academy and is so often overdone and overplayed. It's a type of part that so many use unnecessary mannerisms for, and while he does use some mannerisms, he doesn't use a ton, and every single one seems natural because of how brilliantly he expresses his emotions with his face and eyes and sets off his mannerisms. For me, he's brilliant, and the simple fact that he never overplays a single moment while so many before him in similar parts have puts him over Wilkinson for best of the year for me.

Anonymous said...

Wow that koook160 comment was kinda wild. I wonder what RatedRStar would say about Wes Anderson XD since he seems to be the angry moody one on the blog.

RatedRStar said...

I liked Hackman a lot as always, I thought the film was fine,


And as for me being the angry moody one, I have never made fun of anyone on the blog (except George Clooney, Joaquin Phoenix, James Cagney and Andrew Garfield lol XD)

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@Michael: How is it offensive? The majority of the time, I see his movies and the leave me with this feeling that Anderson seems to think he's smarter than he actually is. His usual observations are not witty, funny, or even clever. They're dull. The reason I liked Moonrise Kingdom is that there was a level of sincerity I could get behind. It wasn't nearly as cruel to its characters like, say, Life Aquatic was.

And as for A Beautiful Mind, I've seen it three times. I liked it the first time, but that was before I actually paid attention to every aspect of a movie. The second and third times made me despise it. Ron Howard is a milquetoast director who takes the safe route the second something may become complex. Akiva Goldsman is an outright hack when it comes to writing. His script for A Beautiful Mind is laughably bad. I'm not one to criticize a film based on its inaccuracy, but a rule of thumb I follow is that if the "real" story is more interesting than the biopic failed. The real John Nash was far more than the walking calculator the film portrays him. They missed the boat with his infidelity, anti-Semitism, and insane ramblings that made him unlikable, yet fascinating. In other words, it could have been like Raging Bull or My Left Foot, which you guys seem to love so much.

As for the acting, Crowe has done much, much better than his mannerism-filled take on Nash. He plays right into every single textbook cliché of Schizophrenia in film, down to the mumbling. Connelly was no acting gem either. She had zero chemistry with Crowe and was just plain boring. The closest thing to a standout was Harris, and he was limited by his non-character and lame dialogue.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Also, if you want to see an ACTUALLLY great performance concerning Schizophrenia, I direct your attention to Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko from the same year.

RatedRStar said...

@Koook160: does Wes Anderson come across as a douche in general (like Joaquin Phoenix) or just as in his writing and directing style?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Writing more than anything. His direction varies (I actually liked Fantastic Mr. Fox due to his direction). I just find his treatment of characters snide. Then again, I've heard the same arguments towards Alexander Payne and the Coen brothers, so what do I know? (To be fair, they can be a little snide too, just not as grating.)

dinasztie said...

I love this movie and Hackman gives a really great performance, a better one than any of the guys nominated that year.