Saturday, 22 June 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1980: Mark Hamill in The Big Red One

Mark Hamill did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Pvt. Griff in The Big Red One.

The Big Red One is a pretty good World War II that focuses closely on just a small group of men as they make their way through various situations in the war.

Mark Hamill is an actor best know first and foremost as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars trilogy, then second for voicing the Joker in various animated forms, and thirdly if your making a joke Corvette Summer. Not much else gets mentioned about his filmography and to be truthful he mostly has voice work to his credit. He did manage to appear in this film as the technically rather cliche role of the one guy who doesn't want to murder in the role and looks poorly upon the other soldiers who treat life with so little care. I've seen this role before, but this film's depiction of the role is considerably better because we don't get constantly reminded of his character's nature over and over again unlike some other war films.

It is interesting to see Hamill in a purely dramatic role in a mostly serious war film like this, and actually he proves himself quite capable. Why this is a better portrayal of the usual sort of character, even though he follows a rather similar path, is that a lot is left unsaid. Hamill has his scenes where he outright says it, but even then he never forces the sentiment in an artificial fashion. He makes it a short passionate moment that is not at all sanctimonious as he keeps it entirely within his empathizing eyes never making any accusations at the other men. Hamill leaves it as something that is Griff's own personal issue that he must deal with and not something he pesters his comrades with.

The film does well though not to keep bringing this point up and actually leaves it to Hamill to express as they make their way through the war.  Out of the supporting men Hamill always manages to have the strongest presence and frankly brings the most power to various scenes in the film. This film technically speaking does not have a lot of connective tissue in the traditional sense instead we kind of jump from one circumstance to another during the war and therefore the actors have to kind of jump around quite a lot in terms of their character's particular feelings during a particular scene. Hamill is the best at this bringing whatever is needed in a particular scenes whether it is some light humor or more profound gravitas. 

The highlight of his performance is easily the required scene where the man who does not want to murder not only kills but does it in a way that particularly seems like murder. In this film it comes about when the men are liberating a concentration camp and Griff is going through the ovens finding the human remains until eventually he finds a German soldier hiding among them. Griff kills the man but then proceeds to continue shooting the man long after he is dead. Hamill manages to sell the scene because he builds up to it through the horror he expresses as Griff sees what is inside the ovens. As he kills the man Hamill is quite chilling actually as we see almost a pent up anger as well as almost an insanity in him as continues to shoot the man.

The film as well as Hamill kind of takes Griff's moment as just temporary insanity though and there really is not any follow up to the scene afterwards as he just kind of becomes the same old Griff. This is fine enough I suppose, but I do think it would have been more interesting to have seen Griff reflect on what he had done after the fact. Hamill's work here still is quite effective throughout adding to some of the strength of this film, and does manage to create one of the better character's of this kind even with the film structure which does not allow for a more traditional sort of character arc. It also is an indication that perhaps Hamill was capable of more in terms of live action then what he ended up doing through his relatively limited feature film career.


Michael Patison said...

Darn, I think I put him in 3rd and barring both Nielsen and Ford getting at best mediocre 4s, which I guess may be possible. Here's hoping that happens

Michael Patison said...

Lewis, you accidentally made the link for 1980 lead into a link for 1980 supporting instead. Just thought you should know so that could fix it.

Louis Morgan said...

Thanks for letting me know.

Psifonian said...

I thought that he was absolutely tremendous.

Jared Wignall said...

I think Mark Hamill should've been nominated and won for The Big Red One. Granted Hamill as Luke Skywalker is my favorite character he's played, but Griff was a great role for Hamill. With The Big Red One you see Hamill's acting range. From what I've heard, he was also great in Broadway plays.
He was praised for playing Mozart in the play of Amadeus, that he wanted to play the role in the film adaptation, but they went with Tom Hulce instead, who was great as Mozart, but one could wonder how Hamill would've been in the film.
But that's just an example of how great Mark's acting is. He seems to have never been given a real chance of acting in the film industry.
He did get to be famous again in the 90s and onward being The Joker in the Batman cartoons and video games as well as being a successful voice actor of the result of being The Joker.
But all of these examples I'm giving you is just how talented Hamill is. And that the film industry rarely wanted to give him a chance of playing a character that wasn't reminiscent of Luke Skywalker.
Griff is a great departure of Luke, granted he's still the good guy, and has struggles, but in Big Red One, his struggles are different from Luke.
He has a dilemma of being a great marksman, but doesn't want to kill anyone. And being a soldier in WWII, that's kind of a predicament he's in.
On one hand he wants to help people and help his country, but he doesn't want to kill people either. I'm sure that's what a lot of new soldiers kinda went though. They want to help their country but they also don't know if they could kill someone.
The realism he convays in the film, seems like he could've been a real soldier in WWII, with his internal conflicts that's going on within him.
I personally think all of that combined should've been enough to have gotten him a nomination. I personally think Mark Hamill should've been nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor of 1980.