Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2004: Willem Dafoe in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Willem Dafoe did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Klaus Daimler in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou tells the story of a Jacques Cousteau style documentary filmmaker Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) who embarks on voyage to avenge his dead best friend who was killed by a giant shark. It is probably Wes Anderson's most divisive film, and when I originally saw it I liked it, but on re-watch, I must admit to all the haters of the film, I loved it.

Willem Dafoe is probably best known for his various villain roles he played, or even some of his non-villainous roles which usually are rather emotionally intense. That is not the case here were Dafoe actually plays very much against type as Klaus Daimler the engineer of Zissou's crew and easily his most loyal man. Dafoe plays the accent with a very German, German accent. I mention his accent because Dafoe does it so well. I would not say he goes for a wholly realistic accent but it never feels cartoony either. Dafoe find just the right balance in to make Klaus quite a character but not just a caricature. It feels wholly natural to his Klaus, and actually it does a pretty wonderful job of covering up Dafoe's normal voice which tends to be slightly intimidating even if he's not trying to be.

Not exactly everyone is all that happy in Steve Zissou suffering some emotional problem or the fact that the new film seems set out to be a disaster. One consistent bright spot can be found though with Klaus and the way Dafoe plays him. Dafoe is so incredibly endearing with his performance with his bright smile and general affable attitude. In the wrong hands Klaus could have been very easily cloying but Dafoe with his great energy only ever makes him rather, for the lack of a better word, adorable. There's nothing but likability in that smile of his, and the entire way that he carries himself here. There's such a genuine sweetness that he brings that really is surprising to see out of Dafoe, but he completely nails this part that seems so out of character for the hard bitten roles he usually plays.

For me Dafoe easily makes himself the comedic highlight of the film as he so consistently funny with every chance given to him. Technically the reason is because of how "straight" Dafoe technically plays the part. He makes Klaus's general sweetness so honest that whenever he does something seemingly stupid it comes off as both funny and charming in its own way. It's hard to say which of my moments is my favorite whether it's when he gets so enjoyable sad after being given a slap without warning, his discontent at being named team B but then his pride when he is reminded that he is the team leader of team B, or when he so dramatically crosses the line to support Steve only to have to quickly run back when finding out the line was for those who wanted to quit. Dafoe in every instance makes the naivety of Klaus just so genuinely sweet, that it's hard not to love the guy.

Although we are only given a little view into their past in terms of the film, Dafoe makes anyway though almost wholly through the way he reacts to Murray's performance. There is such a fierce loyalty that Dafoe conveys in every moment as no matter how anyone else is reacting Dafoe always shows Klaus fiercely devoted to the word of his captain. I particularly the moment where Steve does name him to team A and Dafoe shows Klaus's reaction to be that of soldier ready to fight to the end. Of course Defoe acquits himself in the various small moments that do focus on Klaus throughout the film always making the most of any scene where he is given the spotlight no matter how brief that may be. This mostly is a truly supporting performance in that much of his performance is when Klaus is supporting Steve. In this way Dafoe also excel bringing such a simple warmth through the supportive Klaus. It's lovely work that adds so much to this great, that's right I said great, film.


koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'll give the movie a second shot. I've got a different view of Anderson than I originally had.

thevoid99 said...

Klaus is one of my all-time favorite characters in a Wes Anderson film. I just adored him as I felt that Willem Dafoe stole the film from everyone.

"Thanks for not picking me".

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, is Collateral still your pick for Picture and Director, or have you changed your mind?

Anonymous said...

Thoughts/ratings on the rest of the class?

Anonymous said...

I'm extremely interested in this movie as I really like Wes Anderson's style! Personally I didn't enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom too much, but I absolutely love Grand Budapest Hotel and The Royal Tenenbaums. Louis, I'd like to hear your thoughts and ratings and the rest of the cast of The Royal Tenenbaums, except for Gene Hackman and Gwyneth Paltrow since you've reviewed the first and already gave your opinion on the other (and I perfectly agree that both were brilliant)

luke higham said...

1. Carradine
2. Madsen
3. Dafoe
4. Fong
5. Hoffman

Vincent said...

1. Carradine
2. Madsen
3. Dafoe
4. Hoffman
5. Fong

Anonymous said...

Louis, can I have your thoughts/ratings on Zellweger in Bridget Jones, Chicago, and Cold Mountain?

RatedRStar said...

Louis, being that Alex Fong might be next since you have seen the film, what are your thoughts on the charisma vaccum that is Daniel Wu (in one of his only 2 acting nominations in the same year)

JackiBoyz said...

@RatedRStar: What would your thoughts be on the Hong Kong 2004 best actor race.

RatedRStar said...

@Jackiboyz: Alex Fong was definately 5th place in the voting, he was the only nominee to not recieve any other award mentions, and its likely the committee couldnt decide if he was lead or supporting (he is on the border) but being that supporting 2004 was weak, he should have been in that category, as for Daniel Wu, I think Louis was fairly right for giving a 3, I would give him a 3.5, I think he is fairly dull at times, but I think his final scenes are quite good, basically when he gets beaten up and retaliates, and he handles the physical side well enough, I was a bit dissapointed in Tony Leung Chiu Wai for 2046, its basically the same performance as In The Mood For Love and Lust,Caution but he seems a bit tired at times like he knows he is doing a repeat, Stephen Chow in Kung Fu Hustle gave an enjoyable performance that fit his very over the top film, Jackie Chan was really bad in New Police Story, overacting and mugging, it isnt helped that the movie cant decide between grim depressing serious and comedy.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: Actually I might give Zissou picture on re-watch, although I think Mann would still be my director win.


Wilson - 2.5(The weak link of the film for me and I think a lot of it comes from the accent he uses in the part. He makes it quite thick making it quite distracting, while not making it wholly consistent. It would not be a huge problem but it always gives his character a certain artifice which is unfortunate)

Blanchett - 4.5(I preferred her here over her Oscar winning work actually. She's really endearing here and has such a lovely presence here. She plays her scatterbrain character rather adeptly and I love, even though they aren't the romantic duo, her chemistry with Murray. First her very comedic scenes where they trade insults then later where they show an honest connection)

Huston - 3(Unless she's Morticia Addams I tend not to be much of a fan of Huston. Her cold routine works fine here though)

Goldblum - 4(I always like some Goldblum, and he's certainly good here in portraying the pompous rival of Zissou. What I like most though is the way Goldblum shows the change to a far more modest man at the end, after his character has been cut down to size)

Gambon - 3(Does not have a great deal to do, but handles his part with the proper grace)

Cort - 4(Makes his "Bond Company Stooge" quite a delightful character in his straightforwardness. I particularly like his first scene where he states he still wants to be treated like a human being. Like Dafoe he's always good in his reactions, and whenever he gets a moment to himself he makes the most of it)

Taylor - (It's no surprise to learn that he apparently was the acting coach for the non-actors in the film, since he's pretty much only ever in the background. He does well with that, but Taylor deserves more than that)


Huston - 3(Again I don't think stands out all that much but I quite like her one scene where Hackman reveals he's dying then takes it back then says it again)

Wilson - 4(I like the way Wilson handles his interactions with Hackman showing that there is one child with some warmth with his father quite honestly. This is also a surprisingly heartbreaking performance from him. I like the way he shows the way his character is emotionally cut off from many things in the world losing his perceived love. The way he sets up his character enabling his emotional breakdown scene to have the power it deserves)

Stiller - 4(Stiller is good at being so hateful toward's Hackman's Royal in a comic sense, but behind it all Stiller always alludes to the honest emotions of bitterness in his character due to his upbringing. He's always very good in showing his own different sort of emotional trauma as he plays Chaz's over protectiveness coming from the strain of losing his wife)

Wilson - 3.5(One of the more comic character, although even he has some serious problems. Wilson is quite enjoyable in portraying his character's over indulgence in a funny way, yet like Stiller suggests the serious problems lying underneath)

Murray - 3.5(Murray's role is relatively brief but he's quite funny in his dead pan portrayal of his Oliver Sachs style researcher)

Cassel - 3(Cassel has just enough fun, without going over the top, in his portrayal of the phony doctor)


Cold Mountain - 3(I do think that her approach actually makes sense as the film did need some brightening which is what she tries to bring. I just don't find her overly entertaining though)

Chicago - 2(She has a distinct lack of sultriness here and gives Roxy almost no allure. In addition to that she really flops in what should be comedic moments. Not only that but I feel she very much overshadowed by performances that I don't even like that much)

Louis Morgan said...


I thought Wu was mostly fine and had a few decent moments. I think he had a chance for a great character in his hands though and he only gives a, at best, adequate performance. I never hated him, but there were so many instances where I wanted much more than he delivered.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

You gave her a 3 for Cold Mountain!? That's, like, the worst performance to ever win an Oscar.

Louis Morgan said...

Eh, I was once like you...but now I just don't think she's that bad.

Louis Morgan said...

he haw accent and all.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

For shame, Louis. For shame.