Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2009: Viggo Mortensen in The Road

Viggo Mortensen did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite getting a few critical mentions, for portraying the man in The Road.

The Road is an effective film about a man and his son trying to survive after the apocalypse.

Viggo Mortensen is no stranger to playing heroic characters but in The Road his character is a far cry from the wandering King Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Mortensen here only plays a man known as simply the man as formal names are never given. Mortensen seems like the perfect fit for such moniker considering he has a definite everyman quality to him, and this is further helped by his naturalistic style of acting. This average man though is not in any average situation though as some cataclysmic event occurs suddenly throwing the world into a post-apocalyptic landscape where few people survive, the plant life and most of the animals seem dead, and many of the human who still survive are cannibals who hunt down other survivors and sometimes even use them as if they were cattle.

There are a few scenes set before the man must wander the world with his son, the boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee). These are shown a few times early on in the film as we the Man and his wife, the woman (Charlize Theron), are first dealing with the event while the woman has to give birth to the boy. Mortensen is excellent in these few scenes by showing a different man than we see in the scenes set in the present. Mortensen portrays the Man much gentler and is exceptional in the way he suggests the lack of the current experience in the man. Mortensen properly gives us the man before the end where we see perhaps the man who had been living a good life. The scenes could have easily seemed unnecessary to the film as a whole but Mortensen uses them brilliantly as establishes so well the man who was of the old world and not the horrible one we see him existing in for the majority of the film.

Mortensen also powerfully creates though the beginning of the deterioration through his personal loss in one scene where the woman basically resigns herself from life and decides to leave the man and the boy just to go out into the darkness and just die somewhere. Mortensen is absolutely heartbreaking in the scene as the man tearfully asks her not to go. What makes the most so particularly moving is because Mortensen gives us the futile nature of the man's pleading. Mortensen plays it as the man knowing she is going to leave and that there isn't anything he will be able to do about. In the moment Mortensen makes the loss completely palatable despite the brevity of these scenes. We get very little of the relationship between the woman and the man and the scene comes relatively quickly. Mortensen is able to put forward that love the man shares with the woman and realize the better times while barely seeing making the loss something truly felt.

The rest of the film takes place in the bleak present where the man moves from place to place with his son in attempt to try to find food and some sort of refuge. Mortensen is excellent in these scenes as we see the years in this environment in his face and every physical mannerism of the man. Mortensen's eyes are absolutely haunting in every scene as we basically see what the man has seen within them. There is the history of loss in his expression as we see happiness is something far from what has every been found within his face. The man is slowly dying throughout the film from an unknown lung related ailment that only worsens as the film proceeds. Mortensen's portrayal of this as well as simply the ravages of starvation is harrowing to witness. There never seems to be any acting seen here, Mortensen manages to bring us this man in this situation.

Mortensen very importantly creates a very effective dynamic with Smit-McPhee as the son as he makes the man have a very particular relationship with his son, particular because of the world they must live in. On one hand Mortensen brings the needed warmth in the role and it always makes it obvious that the man loves his son deeply, even though Mortensen does well in often subtly suggesting than always coming out with it in a needlessly overt fashion. The reason that is so important is because the man is suppose to betraying to make it so the son will be ready to face what's left of the world even after the man's death. Mortensen does not make it a distance but rather very honestly portrays the attempts to make the son ready like any good father making his son ready but with far different circumstances. There is no coldness in it, but Mortensen gives the right bluntness in the father's attempts at teaching his son.

Mortensen never wastes a moments in their interactions as he brings such complexity to the relationship. Two of the most heart wrenching scenes are one slightly calmer and one more intense due to the predicament they find themselves in are when the father is trying to show the son how to commit suicide with a gun. The first time Mortensen shows it to be an unfortunate somber remainder to his son, and there is always that extra effort that Mortensen suggests in his performance, which exemplifies that the father does not want to do this, but he simply must. The other is when they believe themselves to be possibly caught by cannibals, and the man for a moments believes he must mercy kill the boy. It is an unforgettable scene because Mortensen makes the horrible nature of the moment only ever ring truthfully as his performance only reflects what any good man would be going through in such a moment.

Mortensen is incredible in realizing a man who tries to hold onto a decency even though it is extremely difficult to do so. Mortensen is fantastic in any moment where the man must set aside his morals for the moment due to the fact he must protect his son. This includes an early encounter with an encounter with an obvious cannibal. Mortensen gives a very moving portrayal by so authentically creating the desperation in the man as he must basically force himself to kill the man as there is no other way. When trying to avoid this Mortensen is so great at showing that the man tries every ounce to handle the man in a peaceful way, and once again shows that extra effort he must put forward to deal with the situation. Mortensen never makes the man an otherworldly hero, but rather very powerfully making him a man who is giving every ounce himself to protect his son and be one of the good guys. 

The film thankfully has a reprieve of sorts where the man and the boy happen upon a survival bunker that is stocked with supplies. The scene allows them to leave their current situation and sort of return what would likely be their normal relationship. Mortensen is terrific in this scene because we briefly see many of the fears and paranoia that had been slowly growing rest. It is a wonderful moment as Mortensen let's even more of the warmth and love the father has to give come out. Mortensen in this scene shows even more that has been lost by showing what has been gained by this comfort. Mortensen again carefully does not overplay the optimism instead beautifully suggesting but never going too far as the man's unfortunate suspicions come to play once again when they hear people who seem to be following them.

This is a complete triumph by Viggo Mortensen as he carries the film upon his shoulders. Although John Hillcoat's direction realizes the apocalypse in all its cryptic detail it is Mortensen that makes the story resonate through his depiction of the man. Even though the story may take place in a fictional time and place this will never be found in Mortensen almost unbearably honest performance. Even though he is only a man and is named so simply as man there is nothing simple about Mortensen's man. He completely realizes every facet of this man's struggle with his son and the final moments of the man's life are devastating to witness because there is not a false breath in Mortensen's work. This is monumental performance by the great Viggo Mortensen and I have no hesitations with calling it his very best performance.   

44 comments:

luke higham said...

Louis: What were your ratings & thoughts for the rest of the cast.

luke higham said...

Louis: Lastly, your rating & thoughts on Mortensen in Appaloosa.

luke higham said...

R.I.P. Bob Hoskins, One of the all time greats of British Cinema.

Anonymous said...

RIP Hoskins. Most underrated British actor ever, I'd say.

Psifonian said...

All-time great work. ALL. TIME. GREAT.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Well fuck my luck, I bet on the wrong horse again.

luke higham said...

Louis: Ratings & thoughts on
Joaquin Phoenix in Two Lovers
Max Records in Where the Wild Things are
Matt Damon in The Informant!
Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds
Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes
Sam Worthington in Avatar

Kevin said...

RIP Bob Hoskins, your roles in Mona Lisa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit will be forever remembered.

Louis Morgan said...

R.I.P Bob Hoskins

varun neermul said...

Louis, Your thoughts and ranking on the director Ingmar Bergman and his films

Anonymous said...

Louis What did you make to Talk Radio?, also being that you like Daniel Day Lewis I highly recommend The Unbearable Lightness Of Being.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Smit-Mcphee - 3.5(He never gives nearly as an assured performance as Mortensen of course but he does share the right chemistry with him to create the powerful relationship at the center of the film)

Theron - 3(Her role is very limited and she's more than fine in her brief scenes even if I did find that she was overshadowed by Mortensen in all of them)

Pearce - 3(Only one scene he plays it well though, and suggests well that his character definitely had his own story to tell)

Duvall - 4.5(Fantastic work as per usual and Duvall makes the most of his two scenes. Duvall fits the scenery perfectly with his work and makes his major scene one of the highlights of the film)

Williams - 3.5(Very strong single scene as he goes from dangerous thief to sorrowful survivor so naturally and very moving)

Mortensen in Appaloosa - 4(Easily the best part of the film as his presence really gave the film an energy which was too often lacking in it. He has a particularly nice chemistry with Harris which is particularly interesting after seeing them as true enemies in History of Violence)

Damon - 4(A re-watch could help him although I'm not really in a rush to see the film again. I thought he was surprisingly effective in playing wildly against type playing the role with the right comic style while still making his odd character believable)

Pitt - (I'd say he's supporting since he's not really even in that many scenes. He's absurd to be sure, but I thought enjoyably so unlike his co-star Roth)

Downey Jr - 3.5(An entertaining leading performance from him and makes extreme brilliance quite enjoyable to watch)

Worthington - 2(A fairly dull leading turn and he failed to make me care about the story)

Need to see Phoenix and Records.

Varun: I have only seen a few of his films so it wouldn't be much of a ranking at the moment.

Anonymous: I thought Talk Radio was a very dated film but dated mostly in a good way. The film offers that unique brand of 80's nihilism that makes some very compelling cinema in the talk radio scenes, the more personal scenes aren't bad, but they are not nearly as effective

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

You actually liked Downey in Sherlock Holmes? I thought he mumbled his way through the performance.

Michael McCarthy said...

I may be in the minority here but I'd give Smit-McPhee a 4.5. He reminded me of Justin Henry in Kramer vs. Kramer in that he didn't try to be cute and gave one of the most natural child performances I've seen, but he also handled well the change in his character when he had to be independent.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what's your rating and thoughts on Jason Clarke in Zero Dark Thirty, as well as your thoughts on the film overall (if you haven't given them already)

Michael Patison said...

I actually quite liked the way Downey played Holmes. While Cumberbatch is undoubtedly better at creating Holmes simultaneously human and almost otherworldy (both in intelligence and eccentricity), I thought Downey's take on the character was perfect for Ritchie's style. I actually liked the mumbling as I felt it worked well with the rest of his characterization (RE: mannerisms) to create a natural and believable extreme eccentric. It's almost like he's continuously talking to himself. I'd give him probably a 4.

Matt Mustin said...

I agree with Michael regarding Downey's take on Holmes, except I think I liked him a bit more. I'd probably give him a 4 too, although I'm very tempted to go higher.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I dislike the film itself quite a bit. Ritchie's overuse of CGI and slow-mo is more Michael Bay than Sherlock Holmes ever should be. Downey was nigh unintelligible. Law and Strong were okay, though.

Michael Patison said...

I find the film extremely enjoyable. Downey and Law's chemistry is terrific and Strong is a worthy adversary. I do agree that Ritchie really overused his CGI, and his slow-mo, outside of the two fast fight scenes where Downey exhibits his observational powers, are well-used, but the rest of them are somewhat annoying.

Kevin said...

How did you all think about it's sequel?

I thought Law and Downey were great together, and Jared Harris was also very good as Moriarty, but the film itself was kinda meh

Kevin said...

Oh and Fry was hilarious

luke higham said...

Louis: ratings & thoughts for the rest of the casts for Sherlock Holmes & Avatar.

Michael Patison said...

I essentially agree, Kevin. Their chemistry saved the movie. It relied too much on their chemistry and on pointless, albeit decently choreographed, etc., explosions. The whole Noomi Rapace thing is worthless, so much so that I don't even remember what her storyline actually was in the movie. Jared Harris was fine but no better than strong. I much prefer the manic version Andrew Scott created.

RatedRStar said...

Have you seen the Cumberbatch version Louis, because its 5 star and faithful to Conan Doyles work, compared to Guy Richie's completely unfaithful and unnecessary version.

RatedRStar said...

Rant time

Plus now that we have the proper Sherlock Holmes which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (who is a million times better than Jude no personality Law), Guy Richie is one of the worst directors ever, Revolver, any one remember that, what about Rock N Rolla, what about Swept Away.

=D Guy Richie would be on that list of people I would like to headbutt including Michael Bay and Akiva Goldman

Kevin said...

@RatedRStar

Personally, I think Richie ain't that bad. Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels are really enjoyable films, and I thought RockNRolla and the Sherlock films were at least watchable, though I have to admit Revolver and Swept Away were absolutely nonsensical.

I think Richie is kinda like Shyamalan, he just sorta lost his touch, and cannot match the successes of his first few films.

Agree about Bay and Goldsman, and I will add Paul W.S. Anderson to that list.

JackiBoyz said...

Mark Wahlberg, could you headbutt him for me Daniel, when I saw Pain and Gain I just, I think its even worse than the Transformers movies because it was offensive and stupid and obnoxious.

Anonymous said...

DAVID O RUSSELL

luke higham said...

Louis: Gene Hackman's Performance in Night Moves (10) is missing from the my nominations page.

Michael Patison said...

He's technically #11 because the numbering is continued normally despite the double nomination of Caine and Connery.

Michael Patison said...

I agree with Kevin about Ritchie. Snatch and Lock, Stock... are terrific and only got better for me on rewatches, and the Sherlock Holmes films are indeed watchable (I'd also add rather entertaining) though I guess not necessary.

luke higham said...

I see.

varun neermul said...

Louis, Have you seen the 1972 Movie The Emigrants? If you have what are your thoughts on the film and would you considee Max Von Sydov's performance for alternate best actor 1972?

luke higham said...

Varun: The Emigrants had its first release in Mar 71' Although Louis, will probably consider him for the bonus rounds.

varun neermul said...

Oh, i read that it got it's Academy Award nominations 1972. Have you seen the Movie luke? If you have, what are your thoughts?

luke higham said...

I liked it quite a bit, although it was 4 years ago. I thought Sydow & Ullman were really good from what I can remember.

When it comes to Louis's Eligibility rules for review, It's always the original release date, which was in 71' in its native Sweden, not the year when its eligible for the oscars in 72'.

varun neermul said...

Im quite new to this blog so i did not know that(:

luke higham said...

Varun: Just here to help, No more, No less

luke higham said...

Varun: On one of your previous comments, about Twilight, If you've seen it, what were your thoughts on the whole shitfest of a saga.

varun neermul said...
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varun neermul said...
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luke higham said...

Louis: When will Rockwell's Review be up.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

So, just got back from Amazing Spider-Man 2.








I hate my life.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: Clarke - 4(He was very good in being slightly humorous and charming while bringing the appropriate brute force to the interrogation scenes. I actually could have gone for more of him in the film)

The film itself I felt was a very compelling procedural with the final sequence being a highlight.

Luke:

Holmes:

Law - 3.5(Thought he had some great chemistry with Downey playing the right sorta straight man to Downey's off kilter version of Holmes)

Strong - 3.5(Brings the right menace like he always does in parts like these. Further than that I felt he just brought the right tinge of knowing when playing the creepy bits to suggest the final revelation of his character)

McAdams - 2(Felt very out of place and lacked any real chemistry with Downey)

Avatar: Technically a re-watch is needed to be specific but everyone was either dull or pretty forgettable.