Monday, 14 April 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2009: Sharlto Copley in District 9

Sharlto Copley did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Wickus Van Mere in District 9.

District 9 could be viewed as the good version of Avatar as it actually an interesting and entertaining film about a difficult relationship between humans and an odd group of aliens.

Sharlto Copley before moving into playing a variety of wackos made his acting debut in his friend Neil Blomkamp's own feature film debut which is this film. Here Copley plays a much more down to earth fellow mentally this time around. In the opening of the film he is in fact no more than a bureaucrat ordered to take charge in the eviction of the Aliens from District 9 who are to be sent to another camp named District 10. Wickus spends his early time directly addressing the screen as Wickus is being the sort of star of a documentary video as he goes about his task. Copley is great in introducing us to Wickus as the corporate drone of sorts. The reason being because of just how realistically that he creates Wickus early on despite this being a film about stranded Aliens.

Copley smartly treats the role by playing Wickus simply as man who is being followed in his job as in a real documentary. Although a corporate man Copley still nicely plays Wickus as a man and at the start he is very effective in showing such a genuine excitement in Wickus as he receives his promotion along with his new assignment to remove the Aliens. Copley is particularly likable in the role even in these moments where he could have been unlikable simply because how much life he does bring in the part. Yes he is a bureaucrat to be sure, but Copley very naturally suggests that there is obviously at least a little more to the man than that. Copley makes him a feel like a completely real man even before we see him evict any Aliens, and in dong so he grounds the film incredibly well that could have easily become far too detached otherwise.

Although the film does not mind showing Wickus to be a more than a little out of his element as he tries to perform the evictions, and Copley does not mind showing this really either, he very importantly does indeed act as an excellent guide through District 9. Copley holds these scenes together incredibly well through the naturalism that he brings to the part. The reason for this is how well he plays the fact that Wickus is making a documentary at this point. In that point Copley properly brings a constant energy in the scenes that only reflect a particular passion that Wickus has to make a good impression in the documentary, but also just the baser sense that he is happy to be the star so to speak. Along with that though Copley brings the right pride in just the way Wickus walks as well as espouses his information of the land as if he were the expert he needs to be for this job.

Copley carefully shifts though depending on the situation as he should in a proper fashion that shows Wickus shifting gears when needed. Whenever Wickus is actually going through the process of evicting Copley effectively brings out the bureaucrat all the more as he attempts to portray Wickus as all business. Copley brings the right weakness in Wickus's manner in these scenes as it is easy to see the cracks in him as he tries to act tough in front of the Aliens. Again though I like that Copley does not overplay that though as he never makes Wickus defined by it by any means. Copley is good in bringing the strong bluster in Wickus trying to be in charge, but Copley shows that he just really does not have it in him. Copley very realistically brings the attitude of a man who really just is not that good at his job, but really is trying very hard to be.

Copley is also terrific when things begin to go wrong during his attempted evictions such as when the Aliens commit violent acts or perhaps even he makes eye contact with a local human crime lord. Copley shifts perfectly in these scenes always to reflect the intensity of them. He even twists quite cleverly yet still realistically though by showing Wickus's strong attempt to try and seem like he still knows what he is doing despite it seeming obvious that he is in over his head. Copley is great by showing how every encounter shakes up Wickus a little more and he makes Wickus filled with far less confidence and a far more nervous fellow then he was at the beginning. This only becomes much worse for poor Wickus though when Wickus accidentally sprays a strange liquid upon himself that came from a hidden canister from one of the Aliens's shacks. 

That liquid causes Wickus to suffer severely and Copley once again delivers brilliantly with this aspect of his performance. Wickus start out becoming ill and Copley does not just leave it to spewing black liquid from his orifices. Copley brings the illness alive through his portrayal and his depiction of Wickus's physical degradation is made odd believable because of him. After he is done for the day Wickus collapses at home finding himself in the hospital, but much worse than that he finds that his hand has become the same hand that belongs to the Aliens. Copley's reaction is outstanding because he merely conveys what most men's reaction would be to discovery this. The horror in his eyes and panic is painfully raw. Copley is very powerful in that scene as well as the proceedings scenes where his company uses him as a guinea pig, but being just so honest in his performance.

 The film technically takes a rather drastic turn as he goes on the run seeking refuge in District 9 while gradually transforms more into the Alien. Copley capitalizes on the fact at the beginning of the film he always manged humanize Wickus even though he was a bit of dope. This is especially important when the film expects us to become completely invested in him as he must try to cure himself and avoid being dissected by his company. Copley allowed the right sympathy by never turning Wickus into a caricature earlier therefore when Wickus's life is threatened it becomes very easy to feel for his plight. The film does not spend too much time on Wickus's regrets as he ends up with teaming up with one of the Aliens, it pretty much leaves it to Copley's portrayal of Wickus's reactions to the Alien. That is all that is needed as Copley's naturalism shines through as we see the shame and regret in him, but Copley keeps it subtle fitting to a man who's problems are quite pressing.

The last act of the film is very action oriented as Wickus has to fight off by the armed company men and plenty of criminals who want him for their use. All of the action could have easily overwhelmed Copley's performance and he could have easily just been kind of there. Copley never let's that happen though making the most of all of his reactions. Yes Wickus kind of does become an action hero through his use of the alien armaments, but Copley does not play it that way. Copley brings the right awe in Wickus's astonishment at most of what he does, as well still bringing the appropriate fear and desperation as he is forced into this situation he never wanted to be a part of. Copley that carries this film so flawlessly. He does this because in every step, even though it is science fiction, even though he plays a guy who is turning into alien, who always makes Wickus feel like a real person through his portrayal of every emotion he goes through. He gives a great performance that is probably one of the best feature film debuts I've seen.


Matt Mustin said...

Brilliant performance in a terrific film.

Anonymous said...

louis, I watched Alien 3 ans was not impressed with Mcgann , I barely saw him at all on screen , is he in the longer cut?

Anonymous said...

This is off topic Louis but, have you seen any more of the main actors from Children Of Paradise, since they seem to be quite talented (my personal favorite was Herrand who managed to make his shadowy criminal surprisingly cool and likable)

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous: The majority of his scenes were cut in the theatrical version. My review was based on the assembly cut.

I haven't really seen any more of them yet.

Anonymous said...

What did you make to American Graffiti and its performances?

Anonymous said...

Your right Louis , I just noticed you reviewed him in the Assembly Cut. After watching the theatrical I had to question what the hell you saw in him lol.

luke higham said...

Louis: Can I have your top ten debut performances, with ratings.

Kevin said...

District 9 is one of my favourite films, and Copley carried it magnificently. What would be your ratings and thoughts on David James as the villain?

On an unrelated note, what will be your rankings and thoughts on the Coen Brother's films?

Louis Morgan said...


1. Haing S. Ngor - The Killing Fields

2. Sharlto Copley - District 9

3. Eva Marie Saint - On The

4. Sydney Greenstreet - The Maltese Falcon

5. Jason Miller - The Exorcist

6. Timothy Dalton - The Lion in Winter

7. Harold Russell - The Best Years
of Our Lives

8. Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips

9. Edward Norton - Primal Fear

10. Richard Widmark - Kiss of Death

Kevin: I probably give James a 3. He's solid in that he is properly menacing but I did not find him overly memorable.

Coen Brothers:

Barton Fink - (Such a fascinating depiction of both the metaphorical and literal hell of one man's writer's block. It fires so well on every cylinder from the characters, to the cinematography, the art direction which is practically its own character, and of course two great performances by Goodman and Turturro)

Fargo - (One of the best films on a plan that makes everything go wrong. The film is so brilliantly funny yet so incredibly intense as well. It creates that perfect blend and is again with some great performances from Macy, McDormand, Stormare, and Buscemi, and one again great cinematography)

No Country For Old Men - (It took me some time to really appreciate the film but it is a chilling depiction of a soulless world, but importantly with just the right touch of comedy although in this case it is completely pitch black.)

O Brother, Where Art Thou - (Just a whole lot of fun from beginning
to end, and I always love it when a road movie is well done. That is definitely the case here.)

Inside Llewyn Davis - (A fascinating companion piece to Barton Fink. The film never holds back on letting the lead be unlikable but makes him so in such an interesting way. The film has a great balance though with that cold quality but along with some genuine heart found particularly in its use of music throughout the film)

The Man Who Wasn't There - (Probably not one of their most satisfying films, but I love the noir world they create in this one which is lead well by Thornton's appropriately dead pan work)

A Serious Man - (A great adaptation of the book of Gob. As with almost all their films the atmosphere is so perfectly vivid, and is incredibly well used in creating this funny yet so oddly muted tale of one's man's woes that only seem to slowly grow)

True Grit - (I do think the film is flawed because most the actors, besides Barry Pepper and a few of the other bit players, don't quite get a hold on the particulars of the speech pattern. Still I find to be a gloriously shot, and quite an entertaining western)

Raising Arizona - (This one is another case of them just going for a lot of fun and I have to say it succeeds pretty well in that regard even if I do think the main villain is kinda lacking)

Blood Simple - (This one is technically a bit of a mixed bag because not every scene is great and John Getz is not a particularly compelling lead. There are plenty of very memorable scenes though that are well amplified with the strong performances of Walsh and Hedaya.)

The Big Lebowski - (One I need to re-watch I will admit. As of now though I loved the scenes involving one particular character, but I found some of it not particularly interesting or very funny.)

Miller's Crossing - (Another I need to re-watch. Again I did think there were some strong performances and a few great scenes, but overall I felt it was slightly bland with a few performances that were pretty underwhelming)

Burn After Reading - (It has some truly hilarious moments, mostly involving Brad Pitt, but the whole thing is a bit too disjointed to be really called a great success)

The Hudsucker Proxy - (Great set design. Otherwise it has just too much style without any substance in pretty much every way from the dialogue to the performances as well. Worst of all though it just is not funny)

I have not watched Intolerable Cruelty or The Ladykillers.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Seriously, rewatch Lebowski and Miller's Crossing. Those are my two favorite Coen brothers movies.

Matt Mustin said...

Yeah, I gotta agree with Robert here, you REALLY need to give those another shot.

Lezlie said...

Louis, I finally settled on the performance I'd like to request, it would be Ken Watanabe in Letters from Iwo Jima.

Anonymous said...

What did you make to American Graffiti and its performances?

Louis Morgan said...

Robert: I definitely will as I feel the circumstances in which I watched those films were not exactly ideal anyway.

Sorry about that.

I have seen American Graffiti, but I don't remember enough about to really go into detail about the performances.

Matt Mustin said...

I watched the premiere of the Fargo tv show and I cannot overstate how great Martin Freeman is. Did anybody else watch it?

moviefilm said...

I'm surprised you liked him that much... :)

varun neermul said...

Who is next?

Kevin said...

Hey Louis, what would be your ratings and thoughts for the following performances?

Hayden Christensen in Shattered Glass
Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man
John Travolta in Grease
Michael Caine in The Prestige
The cast of True Grit (2010 version)

Anonymous said...

What are you thoughts on Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

luke higham said...

Louis: When's the review up.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: I saw it. Although I was not crazy about the series itself he was very good.

Varun Neermul: Most seem to like me to keep it a secret.


Christensen -4(A performance that actually plays off his weaknesses extremely well. The hollow emotions he brings fit perfectly for his perpetual liar)

Crowe - 4(A very solid performance as he brings just a tremendous amount of heart to a boxer who was suppose to be all heart)

Travolta - 4(Travolta works very well as the singing greaser and he's charming and even surprisingly funny in the scenes where Danny is trying out for the sports teams)

Caine - 4(Adds some fine support throughout the film. He is mostly there to add some balance and understanding to the conflict and does so quite efficiently)

True Grit:

Stanfield - 4(She had many moments where her performance seemed very rehearsed but I still found her quite winning while bringing that drive needed to explain her character's actions)

Damon - 3(I thought he was fine enough actually but I don't feel he completely had the language together. I still felt he did properly show what he needed to with the role)

Brolin - 2(I usually like him a lot, but here he just overdoes it. He is way too garbled sounding yet all of it sound too precise at the same time)

Pepper - 4(As I have said before he gets the language completely and owns the film in all of his scenes so much so that I kinda wish he had been the main character)

Anonymous: I thought the whole thing was a little too unemotional for a revenge story, and unlike Oldboy just was not especially thrilling it isn't without good moments though.

Luke: Unfortunately I am very busy at the moment so I'm not sure right now.

Anonymous said...

pretty nice blog, following :)

Anonymous said...

What are your top ten films of 2005 and what r ur brief thoughts on them.

Michael Patison said...

Could somebody tell me who Louis listed as his directing wins for as back as he has done (I think the 90s). I remember the following (I think they're accurate):
1990 - Scorsese-Goodfellas
1991 - Coens-Barton Fink
1992 - Eastwood-Unforgiven
1993 - ??? (prob Schindler's but I'm not entirely sure)
1994 - Darabont-Shawshank
1995 - ???
1996 - Coens-Fargo
1997 - Hanson-L.A. Confidential
1998 - ???
1999 - ??? (PTA?)
2000 - Nolan-Memento (???)
2001 - Scott-Black Hawk Down (???; maybe Lynch?)
2002 - ???
2003 - ??? (Jackson seems the logical guess, but I could be wrong)
2004 - Mann-Collateral
2005 - ??? (either Cronenberg or Hillcoat I'd guess)
2006 - Cuarón-Children of Men (right?)
2007 - ??? (either Coens or PTA)
2008 - ???
2009 - Tarantino-Inglourious Basterds (right?)
2010 - ???
2011 - ???
2012 - Mendes-Skyfall
2013 - Cuarón-Gravity

Anonymous said...

2002 was Mendes for Road to Perdition, I believe

Kevin said...

@Michael Patison:

If I remembered correctly,

1993- Spielberg for Schindler's List
1995- David Fincher for Se7en
2000- Nolan for Memento
2001- Lynch for Mulholland Drive
2003- Peter Jackson for Return of the King
2005- Hillcoat for The Proposition
2006- Cuaron for Children of Men
2007- Fincher for Zodiac
2008- Nolan for The Dark Knight
2010- Kim Jee-Woon for I Saw The Devil
2011- Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive

Can't really remember 98, 99 or 2002

Matt Mustin said...

98 was Peter Weir for The Truman Show, 99 was P.T. Anderson for Magnolia, 2002 was Sam Mendes for Road to Perdition

Michael Patison said...

Excellent. Thank you guys.

Michael Patison said...

Also, did he ever set out his lead and supporting actress wins since 1990 (or 80)? If so, what were those? I know the following:
1990 - Bates-Misery
1991 - Foster-Silence of the Lambs
1992 - Weaver-Alien 3
1993 - Hunter-The Piano
1994 - ???
1995 - Bates-Dolores Claiborne
1996 - ??? (it's either Grier-Jackie Brown; Blethyn-Secrets & Lies; or McDormand-Fargo)
1997 - ???
1998 - ???
1999 - ???
2000 - ???
2001 - Watts-Mulholland Drive
2002 - ???
2003 - Theron-Monster
2004 - Thurman-Kill Bill 2
2005 - ???
2006 - ???
2007 - ???
2008 - ???
2009 - ???
2010 - Lawrence-Winter's Bone
2011 - ???
2012 - ???
2013 - Bullock-Gravity

1990 - Bracco-Goodfellas
1991 - Davis-Naked Lunch
1992 - ???
1993 - ???
1994 - ???
1995 - Parfitt-Dolores Claiborne
1996 - ???
1997 - Moore-Boogie Nights
1998 - ???
1999 - Walters-Magnolia
2000 - ???
2001 - ???
2002 - Richardson-Spider
2003 - ???
2004 - ???
2005 - Watson-The Proposition
2006 - ???
2007 - Blanchett-I'm Not There
2008 - ???
2009 - Mo'Nique-Precious
2010 - Weaver-Animal Kingdom
2011 - ???
2012 - ???
2013 - Swinton-Snowpiercer

Thanks again, and I'm sorry I keep posting.

Michael McCarthy said...

I believe 1996 was Frances McDormand, and Pam Grier would be 1997.

Michael Patison said...

Of course. I feel dumb now. I misremembered Jackie Brown's release year.

Louis Morgan said...


1. The Proposition - Atmospheric and incredibly powerful Australian western. Pretty much every element of the film excels in creating the unique and very brutal world in which it is set.

2. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - Another great western this time modern set. Two great characters and performances at the center.

3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Wildly entertaining and very funny mystery that runs like a perfect machine.

4. History of Violence - Harsh and cold depiction of the nature and results of violence and effectively so.

5. Grizzly Man - An absolutely gripping yet also quite disturbing documentary.

6. Batman Begins - The fight scenes are shot far too close but otherwise it's a very solid origin story film.

7. Good Night and Good Luck - A very clean and concise film that stays on its point and tells it's story well.

8. Munich - Imperfect to be sure but I still found it a fairly compelling revenge story of a very different nature.

9. The Chronicles of Narnia - It really is not told in a particularly special or innovative way to be sure but I did enjoy the adaptation nevertheless.

10. Cinderella Man - Standard inspirational story told in a standard way, but I thought it was done well in that sorta way.