Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Joaquin Phoenix in Her

Joaquin Phoenix did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Theodore Twombly in Her.

Her tells the love story between a man and the artificial intelligence that runs his computer. I quite liked the film although I suppose I was not quite as enraptured as some.

Joaquin Phoenix after his Oscar nominated performance in the Master as Freddie Quell and once again he plays a wounded man. Theodore Twombly's wounds though amount to very little compared to whatever it was that haunted Quell so deeply, but Theodore definitely is somewhat off after breaking up with his wife. Phoenix sets up making Theodore a much more approachable sort of a man, but perhaps just a particular and peculiar of one at the same time. Phoenix does proceed to go out on another limb as Theodore although this time it is a much unassuming way than with Quell, and with a far different goal. Technically both film at least in part about the soul searching of one man, but in this case the soul searching seems much more pleasant for all involved, and really much less pressing of a matter to be sure.

Anyway Phoenix once again is terrific in his creation of Twombly as a man that goes far more than just wearing the rather strange futuristic version of pants. Phoenix sets out in making Theodore, who spends his days writing romantic cards for other people's loved ones, as a particularly nebbish and sensitive sort. With the way he pushes his glass, and the way he always retires away from people Phoenix rather naturally sets up the shy nature of the man. He continues with the choice of accent and manner of speaking he uses. In The Master Phoenix made it so Quell was a man who hesitated since he seemed to suffer from every word he spoke, again Phoenix makes every word an effort but in a different way. It is not it pains him to say the word, but rather paints Theodore's manner of speaking as if he is quickly writing what he will say in his head before he says it.

The creation of Theodore is used quite differently than Quell though and this is a much warmer performance by Phoenix. Although technically speaking there are many things going on with Phoenix's turn here as he does many things to make Theodore who he is, they never become noticeable outside of Theodore. Phoenix makes them a natural part of the man, and merely Phoenix uses his various physical tics to amplify the nature of Theodore which is that of a shy and somewhat depressed man. These qualities in Theodore are essential for the character particularly as the film continues into stranger territory. It is easy to completely believe Phoenix as this retiring sort of man, and that is exactly what is needed once Theodore starts to use his own artificial intelligence Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) who definitely seems to have a mind of her own. 

The whole relationship that quickly grows into a romance between the man and the computer which is rather absurd to say the least to begin with, and only seems fitting for a certain episode of the Twilight Zone starring Wally Cox. In that episode the relationship was more that of a femmefatale who slowly broke the man down to his wits end with all of her manipulations, this time the relationship is much more gentle in nature to say the least. The whole concept could pretty much break down instantly if it were not for Phoenix's way of setting up Theodore before he starts the relationship. The neediness and vulnerability that Phoenix conveys so well in his early scenes and that wounded quality he has about, Phoenix makes Theodore a man who you could honestly see date his operating system.

When the relationship first starts they do seem to be perfect together as they seem to love just talking together and doing everything together. They seem in perfect synergy with one another and to be sure Phoenix has great chemistry with the voice simply by portraying the happiness in Theodore in such an unabashed fashion. Phoenix, who definitely had none to give in his previous performance in The Master, offers a fair about a tenderness with his work particularly expressed through his face. Phoenix's portrayal of Theodore's happiness is especially endearing and because Phoenix is able to show Theodore to be so honestly happy it is far easier to accept the relationship between the two as something that at the very least is therapeutic for him as he no longer seems wounded. 

As the relationship proceeds there are some problems that certainly develop because obviously she has no actual physical body, but as well after he meets with his estranged wife who basically confronts him with the fact that its only the perfect relationship for him because he does not have to deal with a real woman. Phoenix is very effective in basically losing the intensity of the love and happiness in the early scenes as he begins to sew in the seeds of doubt into himself, and the problems begin to arise. Phoenix brings down Theodore's high very naturally and rather moving as we see him lose that magical quality the two seemed to have together in the beginning. Phoenix does not fall in one instance but after the first point of doubt Phoenix is exceptionally in showing it to be a downhill slide although still with some ups and downs.

Phoenix's performance is absolutely captivating here as he so authentically goes through this unusual relationship with the mix of both the bizarre and the real. The direction of the film often relies on Phoenix to carry a scene through just the image of his face as he reacts to Samantha. Phoenix is able to meet this challenge as he simply is Theodore in the film and any every change in him always feel the natural progression of both the man and his relationship with Her. Phoenix brings such a poignancy in every moment of the upside of whenever it seems like it is making Theodore a more complete person. Phoenix though is equally heartbreaking and quite believable in his depiction of Theodore's more pained reactions when it appears that his relationship with Samantha is far from unique as well is something that will not be lasting forever.

This year I seem to be handy out fives like candy corn to the actors, but really I don't have much of a choice. I see no reason to deny any of the performances that I have reviewed as they completely meet my qualifications for a five which is to meet or surpass the requirements of the role, depending on the complexity of the role as written, but as well just the extra something that makes an impact that makes me absolutely feel the greatness of the performance. That has been true of everyone I have reviewed so far, and this is also true for Joaquin Phoenix's performance in this film. His creation of Theodore is remarkable and creates a rather beautiful portrait of depressed man finding some sort of peace of mind. Phoenix fulfills his role and his greatness is evident in almost every frame thorough his technically very intensely acted performance, yet so wonderfully fitting for this film.

10 comments:

Michael McCarthy said...

Wow....5 for 5. I'm very anxious to see the overall rankings. I think I may have to change mine once again, I think I'm gonna move Phoenix above DiCaprio. God what a year...

Matt Mustin said...

BEST. YEAR. EVER.

Matt Mustin said...

By the way, do you have the next year in mind already? Cause I'd love to see you get around to Supporting '92.

JamDenTel said...

How did the Academy nominate Her for Best Picture (a lot of people thought they wouldn't go for it) and not nominate Phoenix? Ridiculous.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

This year was too fucking good for Lead Actors.

Michael Patison said...

JamDenTel: Spike Jonze's movies come across as being all about the scripts, and unassuming characters like Twombly rarely get their due. Jonze's only lead nomination was Nicolas Cage in a very showy role. Neither McConaughey, Ejiofor, nor DiCaprio could be described as tremendously subtle. Dern had his nomination in the bag from the get-go, and Bale rode on the back of the American Hustle love, which hustled tons of people in wide-ranging categories out of the nominations they deserved. Redford would also have been more likely because of veteran status, though his lack of acting love historically didn't help his cause. Etc, etc.

Matt Mustin said...

JamDelTel: Um, Ejiofor was very subtle.

luke higham said...

By far, the best lead actor year of this century, & would love to see how '39 & '62 would stack up.
This is probably the first time that you've gone 5 for 5 for anyone of your lineups, official or alternative.

Michael Patison said...

Matt: I shouldn't have described Ejiofor that way. He was quite subtle but his film got tons of love (rightfully so) and his work is the sort of emotionally charged stuff nominations are made of

Thomas Watson said...

I can only imagine how well this would have worked on paper.  Visually and audibly, Her is extremely successful, but the marriage between the cinematic and literary elements is a disappointing one ultimately.