Saturday, 23 November 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1981: Ian Charleson and Ben Cross in Chariots of Fire

Ian Charleson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Eric Liddell, and Ben Cross did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire.

I was originally going to review William Hurt for Body Heat but his performance, which is essentially his own take on Fred MacMurray's character from Double Indemnity, would have been the weakest of his works that I have reviewed. I still liked him, particularly his final scenes where his character realizes he's been had where I would say he was quite great, but for most of the film I did not think he was really used for his acting ability. Hurt is just about a piece of meat for much of the film, and seeing this and Altered States, where he was also frequently without clothes, I can see actually that Kiss of the Spider Woman was actually quite a departure for him.

I decided instead to look at the leads to the film that was the best picture winner for 1981. Chariots of Fire is often derided among best picture winners, even the nominees of that year, but it's one best picture winner that I will defend to my last breath. I love pretty much everything about the film actually, and I really like the two performances that lead the film. Unlike most films about two men, the two men actually don't interact that much as they have only one scene where they even talk to each other which actually is only a slightly awkward greeting. They are united though by their passion for running, which brings them to the Olympics, and the way their faiths drive them.

One half of the duo is Harold Abraham's played by Ben Cross, who is technically the more driven runner. Cross has what seems like the more challenging role in that Abrahams's is the much more flawed character. The Jewish Abrahams is a man with a chip on his shoulder as he feels he is constantly being judged by so many for his religion, the thing is though he is not really wrong about it. Cross portrayal of Abrahams is a smartly handled one. There is a difficulty in the character which is not to make him entirely unlikable in his performance considering that his character is not the easiest to get along with. Cross is able to find where the man's personality comes from, therefore allowing sympathy for the man's plight.

Cross is rather intense in his performance by he is able to show the nature of the intensity. Cross makes this intensity as something that Abrahams has devised through his experience through life. He is often mocked in someway, Abrahams never outright reacts to this rather Cross keeps Abrahams slightly belligerent most of the time, even some of the time when he is not he is quick to become so if he thinks he is being threatened. Cross expresses this as his defense mechanism to frankly always show his distaste for his treatment at all times, but this is not the man which is important to his character. When Abrahams is with his good friend Aubrey or his future wife, Cross reveals a much more tender calmer man behind that shield he uses to protect against the discrimination.

Ian Charleson plays the other runner a Scotsman who is also a Christian missionary. Eric Liddell is a plainly good man whose major crises is that he must stand by his beliefs even if that interferes with the Olympics itself.  Charleson's performance is the much more unassuming work of the two but he deserves so much credit for what he does with Liddell. The purity of Liddell could have seemed to much, he could have sanctimonious, or just an unbelievable character, that is never the result of Charleson's portrayal which turns Liddell into a genuine man. Much like Mark Lee in Gallipoli, Charleson gives an honest portrait of a good man with an incredibly strong personal conviction in his principals.

Charleson's two best scenes in the film are his two sermons one from the bible, and one that Charleson actually wrote himself. Both of the speeches are flawlessly delivered by Charleson as he brings out such a power in the words. Charleson firstly brings such devotion in his delivery which always stress the deep belief that Liddell had, and just how much following the Lord's word meant to him. Charleson never overplays the moment to make the seems overly grand in nature, but instead gently tells the speeches. Charleson does not portray Liddell as a man who is trying to force anyone to believe, but rather a man who humbly asks them to because the strength he finds in his faith.

Both men are very fast, although their running style vastly differ and Charleson and Cross even make the style of running as part of their character. Cross is very straight forward and determined as Cross wishes to use his running as a way to override people's view of him. Cross, therefore runs straight with this purpose as the running is the only thing he thinks about it. Charleson is rather different though as Liddell believes showing off his God given talent brings glory to him. Charleson in turn plays the running as a joyous experience for Liddell who seems almost one with the heavens as he almost seems to float across the track in his most unorthodox running style.

Both actors realizes their characters, and realize the unique dynamic between the two in a marvelous fashion. Charleson and Cross both gives the story of two men who can run fast, and manage to create two distinctly different drives and passions in the men who come from very different places but end up technically reaching the same goals in the end. Although even their success still does not bridge the gap as Liddell is overjoyed by the experience and Abrahams actually is a bit perplexed, that result is really the only natural for these two men who Charleson and Cross realize so well in their performances that drive this great picture, that's right great picture you wanna make something out of it?


RatedRStar said...

yes I do wanna make something of it Mr Louis WiseMonk Morgan, you have insulted me for the last time, giving Phoenix high scores , giving Depardieu a low score, AND NOW THIS, unacceptable......just kidding =D.

Being British myself, I love Chariots Of Fire, a common stereotype that people sometimes make is that British people love the film, everyone else hates it lol.

Michael McCarthy said...

This is my 2nd favorite movie of 1981, behind Raiders.