Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1994: Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show

Ralph Fiennes did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Charles Van Doren in Quiz Show.

Quiz Show arguably has three leads. One found in John Turturro's Herb Stempel the original Jewish champion of the rigged game show 21. I am bit mixed on Turturro's performance in that despite having some very strong moments he makes Stempel a bit more of a caricature than he needed to be through his slightly too flamboyant mannerisms where Turturro is oddly more of the top when Stempel is not on the show. There is also Rob Morrow who plays Richard N. Goodwin the chief investigator into the quiz show scandal. Morrow at best is suitable in the role and at worst comes off as a little sanctimonious. Then there is Ralph Fiennes who portrays Charles Van Doren the man who beats Stempel on the show and is becomes a sensation of sorts.

One of the most important aspects of Charles Van Doren is is image, and Fiennes appropriately pays proper in creating the image of Van Doren for the film. Charles Van Doren comes from a wealthy prominent family who is the son of a a famous the poet (Paul Scofield). Fiennes nicely handles the upbringing of Van Doren with his refined accent, and demeanor of the very proper college professor. Importantly well Fiennes portrays the wealth in Van Doren he also allows him to be very approachable. Although Fiennes makes the background of Van Doren clear, he carefully avoids making him at all snobbish. His demeanor is his demeanor, but Fiennes properly never even slightly suggests that Van Doren thinks he is superior. 

Fiennes actually is quite likable as Van Doren and this is important for two reasons. One being Fiennes should make it believable that Van Doren would be as popular as he becomes on 21 as he manages to have a low key charm that works perfectly for Van Doren. The other reason is Fiennes by allowing Van Doren to be a relatable on at least some level allows the audience to be welcomed into Van Doren's mindset as he is tempted with being the star of the fixed game show as well as the process of becoming famous for something that is completely fake. Fiennes is very good because in the scenes of the real Van Doren he is very earnest in his portrayal and lets us see how Van Doren could so easily be caught up in the Quiz Show.

As the film progresses Fiennes shows Van Doren as a man of two sides. There is the man on the Quiz Show. Fiennes is very good in portraying the performance of the man. He does not make it obvious importantly, but there is something stagy about everything that he says and his manner. It is all very well handled by Fiennes because he shows why people would love him, but as well does indicate the falseness of it all. The other side of the man is shown when he is being himself. Fiennes is effective in mixing the emotions of the man as he tries to just enjoy his success. Fiennes brings the right unease in the man as the scandal is slowly brought up, and in a properly subtle fashion suggests that underneath his happiness from success exists the fear of being found out.

My favorite part of Fiennes performance though is his relationship with his father. Fiennes is almost rather sweet in his portrayal of Van Doren's motivation for the fame, which in part seems to be just for his father Mark Van Doren to be proud of him. Fiennes and Scofield are both genuine together as they portray an loving relationship, and Fiennes is especially strong in his depiction of just that small desire in Van Doren to get an extra pat on the back from his father. By establishing this relationship their late scenes together, when Charles has to admit the fix to his father, Fiennes is particularly moving in the way he conveys the distress in Charles as it pains him so much to have to disappoint his father in this way.

To be completely honest before I watched Quiz Show for the first time I thought Charles Van Doren might have been portrayed as a bit of a villain particularly due to Fiennes playing the role who definitely is not opposed to playing. I found something far better than that though instead as Fiennes gives a complete portrait of the man Charles Van Doren is. He does show us the star in the man, why he would be the man loved and admired by so many as he plays the game show, but in the same Fiennes with equal effectiveness shows who the real man is. He lets us see the way a man could be swept up into such dishonesty, and how this "success" would both encourage and haunt him.


RatedRStar said...

speaking of people that come across amazing in interviews, Fiennes on The Actors Studio is amazing, when he talks about his mother he is so touching and kind.

Ralph Fiennes should have least got more than 2 Oscar nominations, I imagine he could have come close to beating Rush and Lee Jones.

Michael Patison said...

Goodwin was portrayed by Rob Morrow, not Vic Morrow