Sunday, 28 September 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1983: Ed Harris in The Right Stuff

Ed Harris did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying John Glenn in The Right Stuff.

The Academy actually did right for The Right Stuff (no pun intended) when they nominated Sam Shepard for his excellent understated performance as Chuck Yeager, although that doesn't make up for the ridiculous snub of Philip Kaufman's direction. The Right Stuff though has a great ensemble though with almost everyone offering something with their performances. From Jeff Goldblum and Harry Schearer's enjoyable performances as comic recruiters, the finely attuned work from Veronica Cartwright, Kathy Baker, Mary Jo Deschanel and Pamela Reed as the astronauts' wives, and of course most of the astronauts themselves. Dennis Quaid brings the right type of smirk pompousness as a man whose too much of a hot shot, Fred Ward an endearing and later rather moving lunkhead, and Scott Glenn is quite entertaining as the somewhat offbeat Alan Shepard. My favorite performance out of the Mercury seven though belongs to Ed Harris given the complete opposite of his viciously cynical performance in Under Fire also from 1983.

It's interesting to look at Harris's work as a bit of an interesting counterpoint to Sam Shepard's performance as Yeager. Shepard exemplifies the true American hero who strives for the very best but with the utmost modesty and integrity. Well Harris's John Glenn is a little different, he's also an all American hero but of a different sort. The first time we see Glenn it is on a TV show and we meet the John Glenn as would be perceived in the media. Harris plays Glenn as the most obvious sort of all American hero in that it would be seemingly impossible not to recognized him as such. Harris brings the most upright of posture, the brightest of smiles and his whole demeanor is that of pure optimism. Harris manages quite a certain charm here of this very particular sort in his performance. He makes his Glenn just seem almost too good in his all American quality and Harris is great here by subverting it slightly. He makes Glenn the public hero he should so that all would seemingly love him but Harris makes it so extreme to show that to a certain degree that it is a facade for the press.

Glenn is not always in the public eye though and Harris presents a slightly different Glenn. Harris changes his performance just enough in that well he's not quite exactly the image he presents, although he's not entirely not that either. Harris rather presents a technically similair man but this time one that you can wholly believable. In the scenes with the other astronauts, particularly when they are in contention with one another, Harris shows that Glenn fervent belief in his own morality does not always make him the most likable. When Glenn yells at the other astronauts for a perceived unfaithfulness to their wives Harris does not portray Glenn's outrage as an endearing morality, but instead as a very passionate yet seemingly hate driven venom toward the other men. Harris does not try to make Glenn negative though but rather effectively wipes away the sheen he so brilliantly created in his earlier scenes. Harris is terrific though also in revealing a more positive side of Glenn in a more realistic sort of way.

Harris nicely, along with Ward, Quaid, and Scott Glenn, creates a real camaraderie between the astronauts as they begin their missions as well as start getting to know one another. There is not any obvious moments where each become friends really, but rather they are very good in naturally portraying the way they seem to accept each others as proper comrades. My favorite warmer scene with Harris is in his scenes with Mary Jo Deschanel as Glenn's wife Annie who suffers from a very sever stutter. Harris is particularly sweet in this scene as he portrays Glenn as almost kind of laughing at his own perfect image to his wife. Harris, in all his scenes with Deschanel, exudes such a comforting quality portraying Glenn's love for his wife but also the way he tries to protect from scrutiny due to her speaking disability. It's lovely work by Harris and shows the the true strength of his performance. It is rather fascinating in that he manages to create a portrait of John Glenn's image as false, well making it true at the same time.


mcofra7 said...

Thoughts/ Ratings on the rest of the cast

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

So is Ed Harris just one of those actors that you generally like, just not in his Oscar nominated roles?

Anonymous said...

Your rating on Sevigny in American Psycho, since I forgot to ask that in the previous page and only asked for thoughts

John Smith said...

Could you please review Sach Baron Cohens's performance in Borat? A rating would be appreciated as well if you can not (:

mark said...

His best performance and the ony 1not oscar nodded.

Louis Morgan said...


Ward - 3.5(He maybe overplays a few moments but for the most part I found him quite endearing. In addition I thought he was particularly moving when Gus was facing the pressure from possibly messing up his mission)

Quaid - 4(Quaid's quite good at creating the ego of Cooper. In one sense he does manage to be rather charming in his own way, while still being someone you may wanna slap at times as well. He strikes up just the right balance, and that smirk of his is perfect)

Glenn - 3.5(Glenn has a weird role with Shepard as the film seems to most focus on his love for the impression of a Mexican by a comedian. But hey Glenn goes with it quite well giving an oddly entertaining portrayal of this, while managing to seem like astronaut material)

Hershey - 2.5(The only one of the wives who I felt did not manage to overcome her relatively simple part. I found her just kinda forgettable)

Cartwright - 3.5(I always like Cartwright anyways she just has such a way with conveying emotions. That's a perfect fit as the roles of the wives is mostly reactive, and Cartwright couldn't be better)

Shearer/Goldblum - 3(They don't get to do much but they are an enjoyable double act of haplessness. I particularly enjoy their narration over the various candidates for astronauts)

Baker - 3(She perhaps gets to do the least of the wives, but like all of them she has a particularly believable chemistry with her on-screen husband, in her case Scott Glenn)

Reed - 3.5(She perhaps gets the most do to out of the wives as she portrays the worry of the test pilots wife. She does so effectively though. She never becomes overbearing about it showing how her character really wears the worry most often with a smile)

Deschanel - 3.5(She and Harris are my favorite couple in the film as their is such a sweetness in their scenes together. Deschanel has a real quiet charm in her performance. She though exudes the right shyness and handles the stuttering moments well)


Yeah, pretty much.

Anonymous: 4

John Smith:

Well there's no room for him at the moment, but he could always show up in the Bonus round.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Forgot to ask you this on the previous post but what are your general thoughts on Burt Lancaster as an actor?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Speaking of extra rounds, I recently saw a performance for 2000 Supporting that I think you'd like: Joaquin Phoenix in The Yards. You'd certainly like him more there than in Gladiator.

Louis Morgan said...


A his very best he's one of the very best. At his worst he can perhaps be a little bland, but even then he's still got an enormous amount of screen presence.


I'll certainly keep him in mind.