Monday, 5 August 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2002: Bernard Hill in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Bernard Hill did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying King Théoden in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

I found when re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy that the first two films have one character each whose performance I really took for granted the first time I watched the films, but I have come to really appreciate for the depth they bring to their parts. The first film had Sean Bean as Boromir who turned what could have been just a one note bully to a tragic portrait of patriot brought down by his own devotion to his country. The third film perhaps could have had a performance like this in John Noble's Denethor, but the writing of the character and Noble's performance really leave a lot to be desired. I have to admit now that I made a mistake listing Noble far too high in my ranking for the supporting actors of 2003 as I wrongfully blamed only the writing, but really Noble is all over the place in his characterization and really overplays his role.

Now how about the second film though. The second film follows the very strings of the story, but the one that actually gets the most focus depicts Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) as they attempt to help the human kingdom of Rohan fight against the evil hordes of Orcs brought down upon them by the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee). A central figure in this story is that of the King of Rohan Théoden. Although to be sure he isn't at first when he is a slightly moving corpse who basically just gives out orders to make it so his own kingdom will fail since he is under the control of Saruman. Hill does not have much to do in these brief scenes for sure, but he certainly gets his chance to shine once Théoden regains control of himself.

When a King is a supporting character in a film they often are rather simplistic characters either being just kind of simple higher up good guys or bad guys. Bernard Hill deserve a great deal of credit for really making an honest character out of Théoden not just a place holder for power. Hill's work is one that I only appreciate more on additional viewings of this film as he brings so much to this part. What Hill does in the part is create the King as a real man, and what really what there is to the King as whole. When he regains his power it is a great scene for Hill as he goes from the living corpse to the King once more. It is a great scene because Hill naturally infuses into the part the inner strength and really the majesty there should be within a great King.

Of course immediately after that scene where Hill set up the strength of the King the tone quickly changes when Théoden asks to see his son who has recently been killed. Hill has a difficult scene as we did not know the son in any way and we just met Théoden so it very well could have fallen flat, but Hill absolutely delivers in the scene importantly bringing a great humanity to his role. It is a incredible scene not only due to Hill's heartbreaking reaction as he grieves over the death of his son, but as well in this brings a great deal of emotional weight to what will come through Hill's portrayal of Théoden feelings toward the conflict as the whole. There is such a haunting quality Hill brings as he regrets being the one who lives as the young dies and the world around him seems to be turning to darkness.

Hill continues to excel in the role by bringing depth to the part that very easily could have been overlooked. When Théoden makes his decision for his people to whole in the fortification of Helm's Deep this is not a decision that is just there to make the plot move forward rather Hill offers far more in the part realizing the duties of the King in his portrayal. These are not just skimmed over in an improper fashion by Hill he brings a great deal of heart in his performance and Hill always shows the devotion in Théoden to the welfare of his people. There is never a moment where the idea of being the King is that of just being a man of power to have power, what Hill really brings to life is the idea of the responsibility of the power, and Hill expresses this through his portrayal which is commanding yet always carries a certain empathy as well.

When Hill is the most important is in the central set piece of the film which is the battle of Helm's deep. With Mortensen needing to play the role of pretty much the leading action star and Bloom and Rhys-Davies being the killing machine comic reliefs it leaves Hill to be the one to to express what the battle really means throughout its course. Where as soon as the battle begins the others stay fairly consistent in manner Hill is excellent as he portrays the experience of the King in his battle that will either save or destroy his Kingdom. Hill is spellbinding in a scene just before the battle as Théoden asks one of his men if he will follow him to whatever end the battle might bring. Hill's expression conveys the heavy burden responsibility in Théoden, a doubt if he is worthy of such loyalty, and the fear of what may come from his leadership.

As the battle proceeds Hill acts as the face of the reality of the situation and is very effective as his honest portrayal of what the King goes through the experience of the decisive battle. At first with the hesitations but he moves toward confidence as it seems the battle is in his favor. This does not last long though as the battle continues. Hill in every act of battle allows us to see the seriousness of the situation even as the others are jumping head first into crowds of enemies or surf boarding shields. Hill makes Théoden always brings the power alive and makes it more than just a series of action scenes. He always brings the meaning to the moments and is especially powerful at the end of the battle as Hill shows the way the length of the fight has worn down Théoden. This makes it all the more inspiring as Théoden makes one last charge against the enemy. It is an amazing scene for Hill as he brings out the final strength of the King as he makes one final attempt to personally save his people.

I suppose I am committing some serious blasphemy when I say that Andy Serkis's performance as Gollum is not my favorite performance in this film, but even though I like that performance my favorite performance in that film and my favorite of the whole trilogy actually is Hill's portrayal of King Théoden. I just love this portrayal of a character that could have been so easily just brushed aside or been just a pretty unremarkable character. Bernard Hill gives a great performance that doesn't simply any aspect of his performance making Théoden a fully fleshed character and a remarkable look into the mind of this King. Hill brings a true poignancy in his performance giving the gravitas needed for each of his scenes, and his delivery of Théoden's speeches are some of the best moments in the film.

15 comments:

Michael McCarthy said...

:/ I definitely understand your points about Hill. I didn't notice the depth until I read this, I guess I just like Serkis better because his character was more unique.

Mark said...

I love the scene when Gandalf frees Theodin from Saruman, revealing he's now Gandalf the White and just as powerful as Saruman. What rating would you give Christopher Lee, Louis?

Mark said...

And also, is Bernard Hill's performance the only 5 star performance in a LOTR film?

Louis Morgan said...

Mark: Hmm either a 3.5 or a 4 I like him a lot I just wish he had been given just a little more to do.

Mark: Yes although Sean Bean, Sean Astin for ROTK, and Serkis for this film are very close.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Psifonian, I now give you permission to rub it in our faces.

Shit, I have to re-watch this movie. Also, am I the only one who thought Hill was EASILY the best performance in Titanic with his facial expressions alone? Seriously, the guy made a more tragic figure in the doomed captain than Kate and Leo combined.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

By the way, I'm very happy to hear you realized the error of your ways with Noble. He was AWFUL.

Lezlie said...

Yeah, I always symphatized with that poor captain. I must admit, I don't hate Titanic. It isn't my favourite movie by no means, but I think it's an okay film and I believe it gets a little more hate than it should. Although it is very possible that I just have a twisted and sick taste :D

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I actually love the movie, even though it's a mess. The dialogue is terrible, as with most Jimmy Cameron movies, but the direction of the second half is nothing short of cinematic bliss. Leo and Kate gave serviceable work. Not awards worthy, but certainly not the demonic performances they've been made into over the years. The only truly terrible performance is Billy Zane, who gives one of the most legendarily bad performances in the history of cinema. Seriously, his performance should be taught in acting schools on how NOT to play an abusive asshole. Or anyone.

Psifonian said...

"When last I looked, Theoden, not Aragorn, was king of Rohan."

So glad that you enjoyed his performance as much as I did. Astin and Serkis get all of the praise, and it is warranted, but Bernard Hill is (to me) the best of the lot in the second film. To see him go from a frail, living corpse to the hale and strong king that we would follow to the ends of the earth if need be is testament to the power of the part, but Hill's follow-up scene with the simbelmyne is truly heartbreaking. "No parent should have to bury their child", a line he improvised on-set, carries more weight than any monologue about loss and despair.

Lezlie said...

I absolutely agree with you, koook. Poor Billy Zane, I guess he thought that could be a star-making turn for him, lol.
And I, too, feel that it's time to rewatch the trilogy and concentrate on Hill's performance. However, I believe that Andy Serkis will remain my favourite from the second film, and my absolute number one will always be Sean Bean's Boromir.

Michael Patison said...

As for LOTR, I actually remember agreeing with Louis's ranking of Noble initially. That was until I then rewatched the entire trilogy again, paying special attention to Hill (whom Psifonian had already praised) and Noble. I still didn't see Hill's performance as especially praiseworthy, but still did see I had missed something. I think I'll find some time soon to rewatch Two Towers once again to see if I see more again. I did completely change my opinion on Noble and now think him absolutely horrendous.

I agree more with Lezlie about Titanic. I thought Winslet was a little better than fine, but no better than a 3.5 star performance. On the other hand, Leo, for me, gave one of the worst performances of his career. At the end of the film, I actually wanted him to freeze to death as bad as that sounds. I think Hill and Stuart did indeed give the best performances of the film, though Hill stands above the rest. All that being said, I did like the film and do not begrudge it its Best Picture nomination (its win is another story). Just like Avatar, its special effects are absolutely spectacular. The special effects shots of the interior of the ships (i.e. the boiler room) are masterpieces, and I agree that Cameron's direction of the second half is indeed bordering on excellence.

Lezlie said...

What would be your best pictures of 1997, if not Titanic?
I'm torn between Boogie Nights and L.A. Confidential.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

L.A. Confidential, not even close. Also, I didn't find Leo THAT bad. Not compared to Romeo + Juliet and J. Edgar, at least. Now THOSE were awful performances.

Michael Patison said...

I agree koook. L.A. Confidential was most definitely the best film of the year. The script is brilliant, as is Curtis Hanson's direction. The score and production design are beyond excellent in evoking the film's time period, and the performances are spectacular. That Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, and Kevin Spacey weren't nominated, or even in the conversation it seems, is a disgrace.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

You know I agree with that. Even to this day those four don't get as much love as Kim Basinger for some unexplainable, bizarre reason.