Monday, 3 February 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2013: Ben Foster in Ain't Them Bodies Saints and Lone Survivor

Ben Foster did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Patrick Wheeler in Ain't Them Bodies Saints or Matthew "Axe" Axelson in Lone Survivor.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a fairly remarkable film about two lovers and outlaws Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) who become separated after Bob takes is arrested and takes all the blame for Ruth, even though she was the one who shot one of the police officers in a standoff.

The egregiously underrated Ben Foster plays the unfortunate man shot by Ruth, but he survives his wounds and continues to be involved with the life of Ruth who is a single mother due to Bob's incarceration. The character of Patrick Wheeler is probably the nicest character found in any film released in 2013. Wheeler does not become a bitter man from being shot, rather he is as decent as a man probably could be in his circumstances. The playing of such a man is a challenge for any actor, because there are many pitfalls for such a character. An actor could easily be too much in his portrayal, he could easily be overshadowed by the less humble characters, or worst of all the actor could seem disingenuous in their portrayal. Ben Foster does not fall into anyone of these pitfalls.

This is a bit of a departure for Foster actually because even in his quieter roles there usually is an underlying intensity somewhere to be found there is not any intensity, and nor should there be as Patrick is not an intense man. It is also a part where Foster does not sound or have the presence he usually has in anyway. Ben Foster undergoes a transformation with this role, even though he does it in such an unassuming way that you don't even notice it. Foster disappears completely into his characterization of Patrick Wheeler as the soft spoken Texan, and has such a true maturity with his performance. Foster flawlessly creates his character here, as he makes Patrick Wheeler such a real part of the setting of the film, and what he does in his creation of Patrick makes it all the easier to accept how kind his character is.

Foster is amazing in every scene that he shares with Rooney Mara as Patrick tries to so gently romance Ruth while informing her about Bob's most recent prison escape. What is so fantastic about Foster's performance is that Patrick says only very little about his feelings toward Ruth, it all really mostly conveyed through Foster's portrayal. Foster is so wonderfully sweet in his work here though because there is nothing forceful about Wheeler attraction to Ruth. Foster perfectly conveys the attempt of a timid man to reveal his love, which is not helped because Foster suggests well that Patrick knows it is a troublesome situation altogether. Foster only ever makes Patrick's concern and cares for Ruth so genuine in just every little glance, and every one of his gentle words he almost seems to struggle to say at times.

I found myself fascinated by Foster's performance, because there is never a single false moment throughout his portrayal of the goodness of his character. The way he excels in this part actually got me thinking that he would have been the perfect choice for portraying Samuel Bass in 12 Years a Slave. Even in a scene like when Ruth basically questions why Patrick keeps coming around to to the house, and Patrick states simply that he won't come back if he's not wanted. The scene could have easily seemed overly pathetic or like Patrick was trying to make her feel guilty, but Foster does not allow for anything like that because he makes it only true to the man that he has developed. Foster makes him believably this humble, and in turn makes Patrick's attempted romance particularly poignant.

Foster's best scene though comes when Ruth steps around admitting to Patrick that she was the one who actually shot him. The scene is an incredible scene as Patrick comes closest to outright stating his love for her while basically saying he completely forgives her for shooting him. It's an extremely moving scene because Foster's performance is filled with such warmth, and as well how he brings the effort in Patrick's words. His portrayal of Patrick's shyness is completely authentic, and when Patrick goes as far as he does in the moment Foster shows that it really was very difficult for Patrick to make his leap. The whole scene considering the completely forgiving nature of Patrick could have been absurd, but Foster's realization of Patrick's nature is something vivid and only for a lack of a better word beautiful.

Ben Foster also was in Lone Survivor about a hazardous mission to take out a terrorist leader in Afghanistan by a group of Navy SEALs. I suppose I would describe the film as good, but it's third act is seems very tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film, and boy can you tell that it was not filmed in the Middle East.

There is another problem with the film and that is with the performances of 3 of the four main men. Emile Hirsch always seems like Emile Hirsch in the film and does not make much of an impact. I think Taylor Kitsch is probably second best of the main four because his character is suppose to be a straight arrow and his mostly bland performance does at least get that quality of the character across. The lead of the film and the one who plays the titular character Mark Wahlberg seems like he is a different kind of movie. Wahlberg is acting though he is giving the same type of performance he gave in Two Guns, but the problem is Two Guns was suppose to be a fairly light romp this was not. His performance makes that last third in particular feel more like a standard Hollywood action film rather than a realistic depiction of war.

Then there is Ben Foster who is in a different league from the rest of the actors in basically every way. Foster's performance has none of the bad qualities found in the other actors even though they are given very similar material to play off from. In the early scenes where the other actors might be trying a bit hard to set  up the camaraderie of the men with their antics, Foster always seems much more with his character then they, and hides the effort unlike Wahlberg and Hirsch. Those scenes in the scheme of things don't really matter so much though as the meat of the film is really once the men go on their mission. The men goes south quickly when they come across a group of three goat herders whom they temporary imprison and have decide what exactly to do with them, as letting them go will end the mission and put them in danger.

In the scene where the four men debate what to do with the three herders Foster absolutely owns the scene without question. This performance is more in line what he is best known for, which is his intensity, and he is best known for this for a reason. Foster uses his intense presence so brilliantly, and it is rather interesting that he has more of an impact in the scene than Wahlberg or Hirsch despite them actually giving somewhat louder performances in the scene. Foster frankly cuts right through the scene right to the very point of what's going on and what it means. When Axe says that they should kill the old men and two boys Foster does not show him to be some sort of psychopath monster, but rather he honestly shows the fierce determination of Axe's belief that the terrorist leader needs to be stopped and killed no matter what.

Even when it is decided to let the men leave, and Axe goes along with this decision you can see in Foster's eyes the sense that Axe knows this very well might mean all their deaths. Foster brings the emotional weight to the scene with such power, and this only continues once the men start to get surrounded by enemy combatants forcing them to fight for their lives. Where sometimes Peter Berg's direction and the other actors's performances don't quite bring the conflict alive as they should, Foster's performance definitely does. The strain of battle is seen in every bit of frame, and even though the firefight jumps from one man to another, Foster kept my attention throughout. The very idea of the battle becomes realized through his work particularly as the battle continues to wage on.

Every second counts with Foster's work here as he reflects every part of the battle in his performance. You can see his properly restrained viciousness as a soldier when he kills every enemy he spots, and always that desperate will to survive the mission. He is particularly effective in every scene where Axe receives a wound because he actually brings the pain out through his performance. We see him getting beaten and it is particularly brutal to watch because of how well he shows the blunt physical affects of his wounds. Foster gives an actual depiction of a man dying slowly here. There is not dramatic sudden death, but rather a slow demise. He is absolutely heartbreaking in the scene where Axe asks Wahlberg's character to send a message to his wife and in the scene he brings the sacrifice of the man powerfully to life.

I love both of these performances and I have to say these are two supporting performances that are exactly what a supporting performance should be. In both cases he completely fulfills everything in regards to his roles. He absolutely is the kind police officer who only has the best intentions, and he is absolutely the soldier who believes in his cause. Foster in his performances improves both films just with from presence as Saints could have easily been uninteresting in its non crime ridden scenes, but Foster never allows that, and if Foster had not been in Lone Survivor the film would have been sorely lacking in the intensity needed for such a film. In fact if it were not for him I might be far more negative toward Lone Survivor as a whole. He goes above and beyond in both roles and does what one would want from all supporting performances. These are two great performances from a great actor.

51 comments:

Matt Mustin said...

Ben Foster is a great actor that no one seems to know how to use. What did you think of Affleck and Mara?

Also, "boy can you tell that it was not filmed in the Middle East." made me laugh.

Kevin said...

Louis, what did you think of his performances in The Messenger as well as 3:10 to Yuma?

Also, what ratings will you give those two performances?

RatedRStar said...

I know Woody Harrelson seems to have woken up from this Larry Flynt days but I personally would have prefered to see Foster nominated for The Messenger instead, he might have been able to make 2009 lead actor a bit stronger than it actually was, possibly taking Freeman or Clooneys spot.

RatedRStar said...

Lone Survivor looked more like it was filmed in Sherwood Forest lol.

Kevin said...

Also Louis, have you seen Kill Your Darlings? If you did, what did you think of Foster and Dane Dehaan 's performances?

Matt Mustin said...

Kevin: I'm hoping to see at least one of those performances reviewed.
RatedRStar: Foster was the MVP in The Messenger by a country mile.

Michael McCarthy said...

Uh-oh, looks like Jared Leto's top 5 status might be in jeopardy...

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: Mara's very good and would probably be in my top 5 for actress. Affleck's good too, but I thought he was distant third from Foster and Mara.

Kevin: Thought he was great in The Messenger and I preferred him over his Oscar nominated co-star. I probably would give him a 4.5 for that. I think I'll probably review him for Yuma.

I haven't seen Kill Your Darlings, but I definitely want to.

Kevin said...

One last question, what ratings will you give to Gosling, Cooper, Dehaan and the rest of thr cast for their performances in Place Beyond the Pines?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Loved him in Saints, and I didn't even think the movie was anything special too. Haven't seen Lone Survivor yet.

Louis Morgan said...

Kevin:

Gosling - 4
Cooper - 4
Dehaan - 3.5
Ray Liotta - 3
Eva Mendes - 3
Ben Mendelsohn - 3.5
Bruce Greenwood - 2.5
Mahershala Ali - 2
Emory Cohen - 1

luke higham said...

Louis: what ratings would you give to the casts of Ain't them bodies saints & lone survivor.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Ain't Them Bodies Saints:

Affleck - 3.5
Mara - 4.5
Keith Carradine - 3.5

Lone Survivor:

Mark Wahlberg - 2
Taylor Kitsch - 2.5
Emile Hirsch - 2
Eric Bana - 2.5

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'm not even sure if I would give Emory Cohen a 1. Maybe a 0.5 at the most.

luke higham said...

Louis: It's surprisingly, looking like a much stronger year for supporting in your eyes, than I thought it would be.

What was your rating for Don Cheadle in the Guard.

Psifonian said...

One of the most harrowing scenes of 2013: watching the three bullets in "Lone Survivor."

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'm glad you're reviewing Foster in 3:10 to Yuma. Textbook definition of stealing the show. I swear, he hooked me as soon as he bellowed "This town's gonna burn!". He's my #2 that year behind Rockwell.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: I give Cheadle a 4.5.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis: Really? I barely remember him. Granted, that might be because I wasn't that impressed by the film other than Gleeson's performance.

Louis Morgan said...

Yes, I really enjoyed the film and I thought he and Gleeson had great chemistry. I particularly liked their exchange about how a gun shot feels.

Matt Mustin said...

Well, I did think they had great chemistry. I might have to give it a rewatch.

Michael McCarthy said...

Brendan Gleeson seems to have great chemistry with most everyone he acts with, he must be a great guy.

Matt Mustin said...

Quick question Louis, do you consider Mark Ruffalo Lead or Supporting in Zodiac?

luke higham said...

Louis: Without spoiling 2009 alternative supporting actor, What are your top 5 Michael Fassbender Performances.

luke higham said...

Louis: also your rating for Fassbender in A Dangerous Method.

luke higham said...

Louis: what were your ratings for the the three main performances in Only God Forgives.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: I think I'd put him in supporting but you can certainly make an argument for lead.

Luke: Without spoiling okay.

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Hunger
3. Shame
4. CENSORED
5. CENSORED

I would give him a 3.5 for A Dangerous Method. He's good in his scenes with Mortensen but his scenes with Knightley are very dull.

Only God Forgives:

Kristin Scott Thomas - 4.5
Vithaya Pansringarm - 4.5
Ryan Gosling - 2.5

luke higham said...

Louis: what were your thoughts on Thomas, Gosling & Pansringarm.

luke higham said...

Louis: I'm happy enough with your ranking, even though I would put shame ahead of hunger, but still I'm satisfied that your top 3 were given 5's each.

Lastly, I predict that you'll favour his performance in Inglorious Bastards over Fish Tank.

Basterds 4.5
Fish Tank 4 or 4.5

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: I thought Scott Thomas did her acerbic particularly well, by giving her character basically no shame. He pronounced intensity even sells some of the odder lines she is given.

Only God Forgive probably has one of the stranger twists of 2013, the twist being that the hero of the film is not Gosling's Julian but rather Pansringarm's Chang. Pansringarm is effective in being other worldly, yet extremely vicious.

luke higham said...

Louis: which non-2013 films have you seen in the last couple of weeks. Since you added Johnson, Diesel & Walker to your 2011 Alternative rankings.

Louis Morgan said...

The Next Karate Kid can't say that made much of an impact on my top tens for 1994.

luke higham said...

Louis: what is your ranking of Stanley Kubrick films, from best to worst.

Louis Morgan said...

1. Dr. Strangelove
2. Paths of Glory
3. A Clockwork Orange
4. Spartacus
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey
6. Full Metal Jacket
7. Lolita
8. The Shining
9. Barry Lyndon

luke higham said...

Louis: Can I have your thoughts on them.

Louis Morgan said...

Dr. Strangelove (Pretty much flawless satire bolstered by some hilarious performances)

Paths of Glory (Packs a great emotional punch without ever going overboard into melodrama. It also contains probably Kirk Douglas's best performance(I wish he was not going against Guinness in that year).

A Clockwork Orange (A thrilling and extremely effective insane trip through an insane man's mind)

Spartacus(Very solid epic with some wonderful performances, I'd probably only put it behind Ben-Hur when it comes to that type of film)

2001(My ranking is perhaps a bit controversial since I don't think its as great as most. It is a tremendous technical achievement, and when it's great it is amazing. The whole HAL sequence is particularly strong. The film could have easily cut almost the entire Heywood Floyd sequence and strengthened the pace.)

Full Metal Jacket(First half is absolutely brilliant the second half is good but always overshadowed.)

Lolita (This is the rare Kubrick film where it really is about the performances more than his direction but with James Mason in the lead the film does just fine.)

The Shining (Kubrick builds an extremely creepy atmosphere that is quite effective, but Nicholson's overblown performance really does not give any nuance to his character, and in turn he really does not even have a transformation to speak of.)

Barry Lyndon (It has some great scenes and some great images but it falters somewhat with its lead performance. A more lively performance was needed that could have properly balanced Kubrick's clinical tone.)

Kevin said...

Hey Louis, I know I am a bit late on this as I only just managed to finish watching Breaking Bad, but what are your thoughts on Cranston, Paul, Norris, Esposito and the main cast?

luke higham said...

Louis: what is your rating & thoughts on Kirk Douglas in Spartacus, as well as your rating for Nicholson in The Shining.

Also, Who would you've cast as Redmond Barry.

Louis Morgan said...

I'd give Douglas a 4 and Nicholson a 3 (overblown but I do feel he has a certain visceral effectiveness).

I would have cast Terence Stamp as Barry, but out of the two choices Kubrick was allowed I think I would have preferred Robert Redford.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Douglas.

Louis Morgan said...

Nicely understated performance that of course is filled with the passionate conviction that Douglas is so good at.

luke higham said...

Louis: what are your thoughts on each of Christopher Nolan's Films, as well as your ranking of them.

Louis Morgan said...

1. Memento (Ingenious in its construction and execution, but even more than that it carries a strong emotional weight and can even be rather funny as well.)

2. The Prestige (I just love watching this film all the way through its trick, and I find the world it goes through fascinating. It technically might cheat, but hey you can always cheat when Tesla is involved.)

3. The Dark Knight (Terrific superhero film that is a thrill ride throughout with a strong emotional impact bolstered by some great performances particularly Ledger's legendary turn, and Oldman's underrated heartfelt performance).

4. Inception (Excellent as a thriller, but frankly could have had either more fun with the concept or gotten into the ideas of the world a little more.)

5. Batman Begins (Good origin story film with some strong casting almost throughout Cillian Murphy being the best in the cast, although the character of Rachel Dawes was a mistake both as written and as played. The action though is a bit of a mix bag, with the fight scenes sometimes being unintelligible, and there are too many bad one liners.)

6. The Dark Knight Rises (I'm not a stickler for plot holes but this one let's a little too many slide. It did not need the twist at the end. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character was too underdeveloped to be given so much time, and the film should have just let Oldman shine again as Gordon instead. The ten year jump did not work, and the film itself probably tried to be too epic honestly. Nevertheless I find it watchable, I think Bale gives his best performance in the series, and Bane's an enjoyable villain with the Batman breaking scene being a great highlight.)

7. Insomnia (Great performance by Robin Williams, but it is a muddled at times. Also Nolan actually over directs a bit with too many flashbacks and inserts in portraying Pacino's character's conflict, when he really should have let Pacino just portray the guilt himself.)

luke higham said...

Louis: what are your ratings for Bale in the Dark Knight Trilogy.

Also, will you be reviewing Jackman or Bale for 2006 Alternative Best Actor.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

The Dark Knight Rises is far and away my least favorite Nolan movie. It tried WAY too hard. Bane was entertaining, but ultimately anticlimactic thanks to the lame-ass twist. And how the hell can Cotillard go from her creepy, weirdly compelling work in Inception to... whatever the hell she was aiming for with Talia.

luke higham said...

Louis: Lastly, ratings for female performances in the Nolan Films.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: 4 for Bale in the first and third 3.5 in second.

As for The Prestige boys, I might review one or the other.

Carrie-Anne Moss: Memento- 4
Harriet Sansom Harris: Memento- 4.5
Hilary Swank: Insomnia- 2
Katie Holmes: Batman Begins- 1.5
Scarlett Johansson: The Prestige: 2.5
Rebecca Hall: The Prestige- 3.5
Maggie Gyllenhaal: The Dark Knight- 2.5
Ellen Page: Inception- 2.5
Marion Cotillard: Inception - 4.5
Anne Hathaway: The Dark Knight Rises - 3.5
Marion Cotillard: The Dark Knight Rises - 2

luke higham said...

Louis: what were your thoughts on each of Bale's performances, as well as on Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises and Marion Cotillard in Inception & The Dark Knight Rises.

Louis Morgan said...

Begins: Nice start to his performance and as he does in all of them he plays well between the real Wayne and the fake Wayne. He also probably does his batman voice best in it.

Dark Knight: Mostly overshadowed by the other performances, and he overdoes the voice but he has some strong moments like the scene after he has failed twice.

Rises: Solid. And I thought his scenes in the prison were particularly strong in showing Wayne's pain.

Anne Hathaway surprised me in Rises and is actually one of the more energetic elements of the film.

Cotillard makes herself a most intriguing mystery in Inception, but a group of bad mysteries in Rises particularly why she performed her death scene so poorly.

luke higham said...

Louis: Even though, that unlike most people, you are very modest with your expectations, I would like to ask you on what are your hopes & expectations for Interstellar.

Louis Morgan said...

I'm very interested to see it because it's Nolan, and it looks like McConaughey could keep his streak going.