Sunday, 2 November 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1977: Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine in The Duellists

Harvey Keitel did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gabriel Feraud and Keith Carradine did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Armand d'Hubert in The Duellists.

The Duellists is a great film about two soldiers who continually fight duels with each other during the rise and fall of Napoleon.

The casting may seem odd with the decidedly American Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine in the roles of two French men. Of course if they were two British actors, Michael York and Olivier Reed were apparently director Ridley Scott's first choice, no one would bat an eye even though that's hardly being French either. The casting though I think only seems odd before you actually watch the film and see how their performances actually work in context to the film. Anyway neither man puts on a French or even English accent in the film. They do both adjust their accents though which is a good thing since Keitel's natural accent is particularly strong. Keitel doesn't cover up his accent though but rather all he does is ease back on it, as does Carradine. Keitel just sorta takes away the sharper edges of his usual accent and actually is quite effective in overcoming his apparent miscasting. 

The film opens as we Gabriel Feraud, an officer in Napoleon's army, as he is dueling Alec Guinness's son. Feraud seriously injures the man leaving him to be reprimanded for injuring the great actor's son like that. Unfortunately the man given the task as messenger of this reprimand is Carradine's Armand d'Hubert. Feraud is not a very reasonable man though viewing the messenger as giving the insult which begins their first duel. Keitel's actually makes himself appeared to be very well cast because he's someone who just has that natural volatility to his screen persona. This allows Keitel to be quite effective in the way he portrays Feraud's nature which is to duel first and to think of the possible consequences, well never actually. Keitel is not overt about this insistent quality, in that he doesn't really yell all that much, but rather there is just such an intensity in his eyes as Feraud demands an honorable fight.

Carradine's performance acts as a great counterpoint to Keitel's as he shows d'Hubert to be in many ways the opposite of Feraud, although they both believe fervently in their own personal sense of honor. Carradine makes himself kinda the straight man, and easily the more sympathetic of the two as he portrays d'Hubert as an easygoing guy who's rather charming a low key sort of way. Their initial face off when d'Hubert gives the message to him is quite memorable. Keitel's terrific in the basically foolish passion he portrays in Feraud as he demands a battle to the death immediately over the insult d'Hubert gave him, even though d'Hubert was only doing his job. Carradine does quite well by merely portraying d'Hubert's reaction as what any sensible man's reaction would be. Carradine's disbelief is perfect in basically setting up how d'Hubert whole association with Feraud is one of obnoxious obligation.

Keitel and Carradine were perhaps perfectly cast actually since the way they handle this feud works so well in context to the film. There is a certain comedic bent about their performances that never makes the proceedings seem stuffy in the least, as they might have with less interesting actors. I love how Keitel does not really portray Feraud as really even hating d'Hubert in anyway. In his scenes he has not really a death stare toward d'Hubert at any time but rather something much stranger. It never feels unnatural though as Keitel shows this almost insane, yet he is so proper about it in his gentlemanly way, devotion in Feraud to his code of honor. It is in this code where Feraud wants to apparently kill d'Hubert not for hate of d'Hubert as a man, but hate directly at the slight insult that d'Hubert once gave him. Keitel makes this drive in Feraud a force of nature and something that always seems perfectly sane for a man like Feraud.

Carradine on the other hand is equally good by portraying d'Hubert reactions to every duel in a far more normal fashion. He does also bring a passion in terms of the idea of honor, but Carradine makes it less vicious so to speak. Carradine is very good in portraying such a quietly growing desperation d'Hubert as he has to keep fighting Feraud despite trying his best to avoid him using various loopholes in the dueling guide such as not being able to fight in times of war or when the men aren't the same military rank. Carradine is very good by just playing it close to the chest and giving a pretty moving portrayal of a man forced by circumstance to keep risking his life. It isn't in big speeches where d'Hubert expresses this but rather just simple reactions. Carradine makes the most of these by just showing the honest fears of a man who has to fight to a possible death simply because he was the guy who had to deliver a message one day.

Both actors are fantastic in the actual dueling scenes. It is rather amazing just how good they are because they do more than you would expect in the scenes. On one end physically they are both incredibly believable in just displaying the physicality of each fight. Their middle fight of endurance is particularly good as both men show their characters are at complete exhaustion. The two are so good in giving tension to the fight in portraying such genuine reactions in the two with Carradine bringing a little more obvious concern and Keitel more ferociousness. What I love best perhaps though is that they do manage a certain lightheartedness within the tension. They both are so careful never to compromise the severity of the duels though. They are entertaining though by carrying themselves always with the reserve of a proper gentleman and soldier even though their lives are on the line.

Each actor realizes their character so well to make the ending rather remarkable. Carradine makes d'Hubert someone we can naturally root for and makes the happy ending feel completely appropriate. Keitel is equally good by never allowing Feraud to seem to be even a villain. It is rather his pride and duty which Keitel creates such a strong sense of in his character. This allows for his character's ending to be surprisingly moving as he shows a man basically looking into the void as he know is a man whose lost his purpose in life. Unlike Ryan O'Neal in Barry Lyndon, who also played a duelist, by the way here's two more guys who would've been better in that role, they completely overcome the fact that they seem miscast on paper. The main way they do this is by just giving a damn good performance. They make the duels more than just a series of physical clashes, but as well a consistently fascinating clash of personalities.

15 comments:

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Keitel is such an underrated actor. I agree with you, though, about how I liked how he tried to nullify his usual accent, it must've been very difficult for him seeing as how distinctive his usual one is.

Along similar lines, do you think it's necessary for an actor to be able to do different accents in order to be considered 'great'? It seems to be more of a recent thing (i.e. actors and actresses like Meryl Streep, Christian Bale, Daniel Day-Lewis), whereas in the olden days many of the greatest actors rarely, if ever, diverged from their natural accents (i.e. James Stewart, James Mason, James Cagney, Cary Grant,and to an extent relatively recent examples like John Hurt and Jack Nicholson). even if they were chameleonic actors like pre-1960s Olivier, and Guinness.

Kevin said...

Louis, what are the top 10 directorial debuts in your opinion?

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

I would stay the first practitioner of the "multi-accent" approach to acting would arguably be Robert Shaw and Peter Sellers.

Kevin said...

Louis, what are the top 10 directorial debuts in your opinion?

Louis Morgan said...

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

I'm glad you asked that as I've read in a few places that Matthew McCounaughey can't be considered a great actor because he doesn't do multiple accents, but I guess that meant Paul Newman wasn't a great actor either or that Jack Nicholson was never a great actor.

Simply put I don't think the ability for accents makes or breaks a great actor. Although I suppose I'm required to say that since only about three of my top ten actors would often do different accents in their performances.

I think it is perhaps a testament to many of those actors' talents that they are able to create these unique characters despite not necessarily giving them different voices. This does not even put limitations on the roles they take necessarily as long as they find their own way to bringing the characters to life.

Two great examples of this are Wiliam Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman and George C. Scott in Patton. Hurt, technically plays a South American, yet he does not do a South American accent. You really don't even think about that because how much he makes the role his own anyway. Scott's voice is actually highly inaccurate to the real Patton. Scott's performance worked so well for the role though it actually changed the public perception of Patton's voice.

Actors like Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis have shown how a great accent can help accentuate elements of a character, but it never makes or breaks a performance. For example Day-Lewis's Italian accent in Nine hardly made up for the low energy and overly somber way he played the part.

Kevin:

1. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh)
2. Badlands (Terrence Malick)
3. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont)
4. The Duellists (Ridley Scott)
5. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)
6. Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson)
7. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton)
8. The Killing Fields (Roland Joffe)
9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Elia Kazan)
10. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black)

My ranking is purely based on personal preference of the films rather than any sort of directorial achievement, so to speak, or how great of a director they would eventually become. I also only included their first theatrically released film, so no Duel.

Kevin said...

What about Neill Blomkamp for District 9?

Louis Morgan said...

For some reason I always forget that was a debut. I'd put it at #9.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Thank you Louis, that was a brilliant bit of analysis.

Who are your top 10 actors again, by the way?

Anonymous said...

Louis, what are your ratings and thoughts on Natalie Wood in West Side Story? I know many hate her because her singing was dubbed and because she was clearly miscast, but I felt that despite the miscasting she gave quite a moving and heartfelt performance. What do you think?

luke higham said...

Louis: In no particular order, who are your top 25 directors.

Anonymous said...

Louis, what are your ratings and thoughts on Deborah Kerr in Black Narcissus and Rosalind Russell in Mourning Becomes Electra?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Actually, you never put Daniel Day-Lewis in your 2009 ranking. What score would you give him?

luke higham said...

KoooK160: Louis gave DDL a 2.5 for Nine.

Anonymous said...

@kook160: He said he would give him a 2.5. You can read his thoughts on him and the rest of the cast of the movie on the comments on Kevin Spacey's review for L.A. Confidential :)

Louis Morgan said...

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

Here's my top 9, in no particular order, since #10 is still a bit of a toss up for me.

Richard Attenborough
Toshiro Mifune
Laurence Olivier
Alec Guinness
James Mason
Robert Shaw
Robert Duvall
James Stewart
Gene Hackman

Anonymous:

Wood - 2.5(I've never really minded her performance all that much. I would actually say the far more miscast actor is Richard Beymer who is hard to believe as a former gang leader, even in a dancing gang. I don't love her performance though as I've never found her chemistry with the aforementioned Beymer to be rather. I thought she was decent enough in her more emotional scenes particularly the last scene)

Luke:

Directors:

Akira Kurosawa
Alfred Hitchcock
Stanley Kubrick
David Lean
Frank Capra
Charlie Chaplin
P.T. Anderson
Steven Spielberg
Martin Scorcese
David Lynch
Sergio Leone
David Cronenberg
Quentin Tarantino
Ridley Scott
David Fincher
John Huston
John Ford
Fritz Lang
The Coen Brothers
Francis Ford Coppola
Billy Wilder
Sidney Lumet
Robert Zemeckis
Christopher Nolan
Roman Polanski

I need to see more from the likes of Clouzot, De Sica, and Okamoto.

Anonymous:

Kerr - 4(The performance to remember from the film is Kathleen Byron's. Kerr still gives a solid enough, if a bit limited, performance herself. Her character is suppose to be the mostly sensible but somewhat troubled Nun. In turn Kerr brings enough of the spiritual passion in her performance but there is always a certain weakness that effectively suggests her character's doubts)

Russell - 4(Like Michael Redgrave in the same film this is a bit of an odd-ball of a performance. There is such a crazed intensity in some scenes while being so cold in other scenes. Having said that I do find it works as her character is suppose to be insane. I also find that she balances the two sides a little better than Redgrave even though I could not help but think she was miscast)