Friday, 20 June 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1979: James Woods in The Onion Field

James Woods did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Gregory Powell in The Onion Field.

The Onion Field is not a particularly skillfully made film about the murder of a police officer by two criminals and the fallout form that. The film becomes very disjointed later on, and eventually falls into some bizarrely corny final scenes. The film is not without merit though as the build up and the scene of the crime are well done, also there is a certain performance.

James Woods plays one of the two criminals Gregory Powell who is a small time crook who decides to do a few robberies with his criminal associate Jimmy Smith (Franklyn Seales). Woods is great at playing a criminal quite simply as there is such a volatility he brings that is a perfect fit for Gregory Powell, who, in addition to loving crime, also is more than a bit mentally off. Woods brings the needed unpredictability in his performance as you never quite know what one should expect from Powell. Woods is excellent in any scene where it seems Powell is amiable enough that there is still a danger at all times as Woods has this manic energy that brings such a spontaneity in his performance that works extremely well in making Powell a completely unpredictable and always very dangerous presence in the film.

Woods is terrific in every one of his early scenes as he carries such a menace about the character that is always underneath the surface even when Powell seems to be trying to make Smith his friend. Woods is great at being such a live wire in his performance as he so effortlessly brings that tinge of insanity in his performance while always seeming completely natural in his performance. In the early moments Woods completely makes us meet Powell and allows us to understand the odd mindset of the man before he and Smith are faithfully stopped by two cops Karl Hettinger (John Savage) and Ian Campbell (Ted Danson). The cops though are quickly surprised and both disarmed making it so Powell and Smith take both of them hostage and go on to bring them to an onion field which Powell claims is just to allow he and Smith the needed time to get away from their pursuers.

Woods is so good in the kidnapping scene because of how casual he plays the part especially when compared to Seales's performance which purposeful shows Smith hiding his fear by acting out in an intense fashion. Woods commands these scenes without question as Powell almost seems to have a friendly banter with the cops at times even claiming that he'll let them find their guns that way they won't have to pay for them. Woods makes all of the banter seem completely genuine and his portrayal of Powell allows the relaxed attitude of Powell seem completely believable. Woods's relaxed method makes it all the more brutal when Powell suddenly kills Campbell. Woods makes the act seem all the more senseless, which it was since Powell did thinking, wrongly, they had already committed a major crime, because it seems so random yet wholly fitting to the Powell that he has created in the film.

The two men are unable to catch Hettinger who runs off and eventually they are both caught and put on trial for the murder. This where the film starts to become particularly disjointed, focusing too much time on Hettinger's story since it does not handle it especially well, and not quite enough on Powell and Smith's. The time that Woods does have available to him is still more than anything as he continues to bring so much depth to Powell in his scenes. There's a particularly effective scenes in the court proceedings where Powell, defending himself, tells about how he was like a father to his family when he was younger. Woods again is very strong in this scene, even really quite moving as he so honestly expresses yet another facet about Powell as a person. Even though we see not of the past Woods suggests it wonderfully and again makes it still fit with the man we know from the present.

The film really does lose its way as it goes on since it seems to want to make a major point about the way Powell and Smith try to use the system to stave off their execution yet it gives it so little time to explore the details of this. This is only made all the more problematic since Woods easily gives the best performance in the film and is the most compelling element of it. I would have preferred more time to his character rather than the fairly repetitive and unfortunately not particularly powerful scenes  depicting Savage's character's struggle with his survivor's guilt. It would have been interesting to see as Powell and Smith become even savvy with the system, and the ways they try to exploit it. That would have been particularly great since Woods could have brought us even more sides of Powell since he excelled with bringing in creating Powell into a man, a bad man, but an actual human being who has done evil. Although the film falters Woods never does giving a very good performance that deserved a superior film.

15 comments:

mcofra7 said...

1. Sheen
2. Dourif
3. Kinski
4. Woods
5. Chapman

Michael McCarthy said...

What were your rating and thoughts for Savage and Seales?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'm gonna change my predictions.

1. Dourif
2. Sheen
3. Woods
4. Chapman
5. Kinski

markg said...

I have franklyn in supporting actor,nice to know if you would review him in supporting alternates.

RatedRStar said...

My 2 winning requests are from years that have already been done Louis, from two of my favorite ever films, so there is no rush for you to review them, do them whenever you like =D.

Liu Ye - Lan Yu (Alternate Best actor 2001)

Lam Suet - The Mission (Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1999)

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your thoughts on Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story?.

JackiBoyz said...

I might do this fairly often from now on but what is everyone's top 10 films of 1979?.

RatedRStar said...

1: Alien
2: Nosferatu The Vampyre
3: Kramer Vs Kramer
4: The China Syndrome
5: Breaking Away
6: Apocalypse Now
7: Wise Blood
8: The Warriors
9: The Muppet Movie
10: Manhattan

RatedRStar said...

They would be my ten.

Kevin said...

Louis, what are your thoughts on the film Trollhunter, as well as ratings and thoughts for the cast?

Michael McCarthy said...

1. Apocalypse Now
2. Manhattan
3. Kramer Vs. Kramer
4. Alien
5. Life of Brian
6. Wise Blood
7. Being There
8. Breaking Away
9. The China Syndrome
10. Mad Max

Louis Morgan said...

Michael McCarthy:

Savage - 3(He's fairly good in the early scenes with Danson but I feel that he loses his way after the kidnapping. It's rather disappointing since he did such a great job of portraying the stress from a traumatic in The Deer Hunter)

Seales - 3(He's got some solid moments one in particular is when he meets Powell again after having had sex with Powell's pregnant girlfriend. Overall though I did he feel he was overshadowed by Woods every step of the way, and his intense scenes were a tad overacted.)

Anonymous: Another one where it's been a long while since I have watched it. As I recall Dragon technically was bit silly particularly in its portrayal of the angel of death that Lee must fight. I still find it was fairly entertaining though aided well by its rather memorable score, and I thought Jason Scott Lee did a pretty good job as Bruce Lee.

Kevin: I found Trollhunter to very enjoyable even if takes a little too long to get going. Once it gets going though its has some great fun with its Troll science, and it uses its cgi especially well. Most of the cast does just fine, if forgettable, at doing the documentary thing, but the film of course belongs to Otto Jesperen who brings just the right sort of deadpan humor to the role of the exasperated Trollhunter.

Michael McCarthy said...

I think I'd give Savage a 4, but I've always thought he had this really relatable quality that makes me biased, kind of like Joel McCrea.

John Smith said...

Louis, your rating on the cast of The Shining.

Louis Morgan said...

John Smith:

Nicholson - 3

Duvall - 4

Crothers - 3.5

Lloyd - 2.5