Sunday, 24 August 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1933: John Barrymore in Counsellor at Law

John Barrymore did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying George Simon in Counsellor at Law.

Counsellor at Law is a rather solid film about the personal and professional trials of a lawyer.

John Barrymore was a name synonymous with great acting as was later the case with Laurence Olivier, then Robert De Niro, and most currently Daniel Day-Lewis. It has been said that his film career never reached the heights of his stage career and it is interesting that he could be cast in especially small roles like in Marie Antoinette for example. That is not the case for Counsellor at Law where he is front and center for almost the entirety of the film. The film's opening minutes even begin as basically a build up to Barrymore's entrance as we simply hear his secretaries keep telling many people that Mr. Simon is not in yet, until finally the film reveals Barrymore taking care of business. Once Barrymore comes on the scene the film practically becomes an almost nonstop acting showcase for him as the lawyer George Simon has to go from one problem to another whether it has to deal with his work as a lawyer or his marriage to a shallow wasp.

Barrymore begins in basically a rapid fire sort of approach as Simon juggles one case to another in quick succession. Barrymore actually is a bit of a marvel her and it is wonderful watch him in the role here. Barrymore certainly has a theatrical style of performance to be sure, but he still knows how to attune himself for film. His style though also really works for the character of the driven lawyer who obviously would not be opposed to doing a bit of theatrics in the courtroom if it called for it. The film almost plays a bit like a screwball comedy with the way Barrymore handles the dialogue in a rapid fire way early on. Barrymore though is great in selling the material and really giving it a constant energy. All the various exposition in these early scenes could quickly just have become muddled in no time or just could have come off as simply boring. Barrymore brings the material to life making it all clear in concise while doing it with a great deal of style.

Barrymore is in absolute command every minute as he is on screen and he is absolutely convincing as this powerful and passionate lawyer. We don't even need to see him in the courtroom to know how good he would be as Barrymore is so assured in his portrayal of Simon's various wheeling and dealings. When on task Barrymore shows Simon to be always assertive and have his situations within his grasp when they are technically just routine matters for the counsellor. Barrymore is exceptional here though in there is a palatable wit he brings to the part that may very well not have been there with a lesser performer. There really aren't any lines that are innately funny in nature, this is no a screwball comedy by any means, but whenever there is a chance to make a comment a bit comedic Barrymore does. It's particularly fine work because Barrymore makes these little humorous moments completely naturally, and just along with everything else that is going on with his character.

The character of George Simon does not have it easy though and many things from his past come to haunt him all in a short period of time. One of the first things is his shallow wife who quickly demands that he leave a case that would otherwise be a social faux pas, although at the same time she is obviously about to embark on affair away from Simon with a man much of her world. Then he finds himself threatened by disbarment due to having helped guy with somewhat questionable methods earlier on, and finally he has to try and help a radical from his old neighborhood. Barrymore is really quite interesting in the way he plays Simon's reactions to these various things in that he still is pretty rapid fire with it showing that seemingly nothing can stop Simon's drive as a lawyer. It's an odd trick but one that Barrymore pulls off quite graciously. When Simon deals with his wife Barrymore eases back on the intensity rather nicely but only for a moment to show that in one place in his life he has hesitations is in his troubled relationship with his wife.

So many of these films from the early 30's are rather brisk in their running time, and this is film is no exception to that rule. Barrymore's rather swift manner though makes it so he himself avoids ever seeming rushed in his portrayal of Simon's difficulties. Barrymore plays it well by showing as a growing intensity in Simon as one thing after another seems to go wrong for him, but Barrymore never stops keeping Simon on task even when things are going all wrong for him. It's never seems odd though as it always seems exactly how his character should behave as the only thing he really knows in life is too work hard, and constantly. Barrymore does not stop really until a final moment when he finally realizes that his wife has basically left him. Barrymore suddenly completely drops the drive of man, showing that in his wife is one place that Simon never fully understood leaving him completely confused and out of his element for once. It has a powerful impact because Barrymore built to the moment so carefully and convincingly throughout his performance. Although apparently there were many difficulties faced by William Wyler, who directed the film, in regards to Barrymore none of this can be seen in the film itself. The tremendous of Barrymore as an actor can be seen in this performance that stood as a true challenge, a challenge he more than met.

9 comments:

RatedRStar said...

My prediction has definitely failed lol

@Michael: The Actors (I will skip the actresses as I wouldnt be able to think of 3)

Chow Yun Fat - The Killer (5) A Better Tomorrow (5) Prison on Fire (5)

Leslie Cheung - Days of Being Wild (5) Farewell my Concubine (5) Nomad (4.5)

Jackie Chan - Police Story (4.5) Drunken Master (4) Project A (4)

Tony Leung Chiu Wai - Infernal Affairs (5) The Longest Nite (5) Happy Together (5)

Tony Leung Ka Fai - 92 Legendary La Rose Noire (5) Jiang Hu The Triad Zone (5) Election (4.5)

Stephen Chow - A Chinese Odyssey Part 2 (5) King of Comedy (4.5) Fight Back to School (4.5)

Andy Lau - As Tears go By (5) Running Out of Time (4.5) Infernal Affairs (4.5)

Eric Tsang - Alan and Eric (5) Infernal Affairs (4.5) Comrades Almost A Love Story (4.5)

Anthony Wong - Beast Cops (5) The Untold Story (5) Infernal Affairs (4.5)

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

RIP Richard Attenborough

Anonymous said...

RIP Richard Attenborough

RatedRStar said...

Sonny Chiba - The Street Fighter (4) The Storm Riders (3.5) Virus (3.5)

Sean Lau - Mad Detective (5) C'est La Vie Mon Cheri (5) My Name is Fame (5)

Jet Li - Ocean Heaven (4) Fearless (3.5) Once Upon a time in China I and II (3.5)

Liu Ye - Lan Yu (5) City of Life and Death (5) Curse of the Golden Flower (4.5)

Jiang Wen - Let The Bullets Fly (4.5) Red Sorghum (4) Devils on the Doorstep (3.5)

Jacky Cheung - As Tears Go By (5) Bullet in the Head (5) To Live and Die in Tshimshatsui (3.5)

Donnie Yen - SPL (3.5) Wu Xia (3) There isnt a third one lol.

Lam Suet - PTU (5) The Mission (4.5) Pretty much all of his other performances lol (4)

Alex Fong - Your Place or Mine (5) DrinkDrankDrunk (5) One Nite in Mongkok (4.5)

Nicholas Tse - The Beast Stalker (5) The Stool Pigeon (5) Bodyguards and Assassins (5)



RatedRStar said...

RIP Richard Attenborough xxx

luke higham said...

R.I.P. Richard Attenborough
Absolute Legend

RatedRStar said...

@Jackiboyz: Best actor choices from the nominees.

(1982) Leslie Cheung - Nomad
(1983) Sammo Hung - The Dead and The Deadly
(1984) Chow Yun Fat - 1941
(1985) Jackie Chan - Police Story
(1986) Chow Yun Fat - A Better Tomorrow
(1987) Chow Yun Fat - Prison on Fire
(1988) Andy Lau - As Tears Go By
(1989) Chow Yun Fat - God of Gamblers
(1990) Leslie Cheung - Days of Being Wild
(1991) Eric Tsang - Alan and Eric
(1992) Tony Leung Ka Fai - 92 Legendary La Rose Noire
(1993) Anthony Wong - The Untold Story
(1994) Tony Leung Chiu Wai - Chungking Express
(1995) Stephen Chow - A Chinese Odyssey II
(1996) Lau Ching Wan - Big Bullet
(1997) Tony Leung Chiu Wai - Happy Together
(1998) Anthony Wong - Beast Cops
(1999) Andy Lau - Running Out of Time
(2000) Tony Leung Ka Fai - Jiang Hu The Triad Zone
(2001) Liu Ye - Lan Yu
(2002) Tony Leung Chiu Wai - Infernal Affairs
(2003) Lau Ching Wan - Lost in Time
(2004) Alex Fong - One Nite in Mongkok
(2005) Tony Leung Ka Fai - Election
(2006) Lau Ching Wan - My Name is Fame
(2007) Lau Ching Wan - Mad Detective
(2008) Nick Cheung - The Beast Stalker
(2009) Lau Ching Wan - Overheard
(2010) Nicholas Tse - The Stool Pigeon
(2011) Jiang Wen - Let the Bullets Fly
(2012) Tony Leung Chiu Wai - The Silent War
(2013) Nick Cheung - Unbeatable

Michael McCarthy said...

RIP Richard Attenborough, probably the single most underrated film actor of all time, and certainly one of the greatest.

RatedRStar said...

@Jackiboyz: Best Supporting Actor choices;

(1984) Shum Wai - Long Arm of the Law
(1985) Lam Ching Ying - Mr Vampire
(1986) Waise Lee - A Better Tomorrow
(1987) Roy Cheung - Prison On Fire
(1988) Jacky Cheung - As Tears go By
(1989) Paul Chu Kong - The Killer
(1990) Ng Man Tat - A Moment of Romance
(1991) Ng Man Tat - Fight Back to School
(1992) Liu Kai Chi - Cageman
(1993) Paul Chun - C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri
(1994) Law Kar Ying - From Beijing With Love
(1995) Chin Kar Lok - Full Throttle
(1996) Eric Tsang - Comrades, Almost a Love Story
(1997) Chang Chen - Happy Together
(1998) A 3 way tie lol its that hard, between Patrick Tam, Alex Fong and Sam Lee.
(1999) Lam Suet - The Mission
(2000) Francis Ng or Roy Cheung
(2001) David Lee or Patrick Tam
(2002) Anthony Wong - Infernal Affairs
(2003) Tony Leung Ka Fai - Men Suddenly in Black
(2004) A terrible category
(2005) Alex Fong - DrinkDrankDrunk
(2006) Liu Ye - Curse of the Golden Flower
(2007) Chow Yun Fat - The Postmodern Life of my Aunt
(2008) Liu Kai Chi - The Beast Stalker
(2009) Nicholas Tse - Bodyguards and Assassins
(2010) Teddy Robin - Gallants
(2011) Lo Hoi Pang - Life Without Principles
(2012) Ronald Cheng - Vulgaria
(2013) Tong Dawei - American Dreams in China