Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1946: Roger Livesey in A Matter of Life and Death

Roger Livesey did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Frank Reeves in A Matter of Life and Death.

Roger Livesey plays the doctor who Peter (David Niven) and June (Kim Hunter) goes to see because of Peter miraculous survival from jumping out of a plane, and his subsequent apparent visitations from someone from beyond. As I wrote in David Niven's review the romance between Peter and June loses its steam as soon as they meet each other face to face for the first time I still loved the film though because of the splendid direction of Powell and Pressburger, and due to the performances from the supporting players with Livesey being the most important of these. Livesey basically picks up the slack since he becomes the crowd in Niven and Hunter's scenes together. It should be stated that Roger Livesey has one of the underrated voices of cinema as that along with his whole manner as a performer makes himself quite the magnetic figure who just seems to bring something quite special to the picture.

Livesey technically does not do too much in his early scenes other than observe Peter and offer some exposition here and there of what he believes it might. Well that's apparently more than enough for Livesey since he infuses so much into the role of doctor. Livesey's has such a tremendous presence and brings such a palatable authority to his words. There is this dramatic determination that Livesey has that brings weight to Peter's situation with such ease when the doctor does start to give his own diagnosis on Peter's problem. Livesey's portrayal of the doctor is not some excessively serious performance and he equally excels in his reactionary moments. Livesey is excellent in beginning a certain casual curiosity as the doctor seems somewhat bemused by Peter's claims, but he effectively transforms this to genuine concern as it becomes abundantly clear that no matter what is the truth it's not good for Peter's well being.

Livesey's best scene though takes places in the court of the most high as he defends Peter's right to stay and lie a much longer life then what was intended for him. The doctor must defend Peter against the bitter prosecution of one Abraham Farlan (Raymond Massey) who hates all things English since he was the first casualty of the American Revolution. Livesey and Massey's face off is one of the best highlights of the film. Massey brings his usual dignified manner in his character's fairly petty points made against Peter. Livesey is terrific in this scene carrying himself in such a clever fashion actually. I like how both he and Massey bring a very different kind of passion to each of their characters. With Massey's being a venomous side of things while Livesey keeps the doctor points as spoken in a lighthearted yet still very forceful manner. Livesey portrays it as  if the doctor is shooting down Abraham's points by turning them into a bit of a joke.

Livesey makes the most out of every single moment of speechifying in the heavenly court. Livesey never let's this become at all boring instead he makes his tradeoff with Massey surprisingly thrilling. Livesey's performance even manages through his delivery to give weight to the idea of the central romance even though the central romance ends up not even being anything that special past their first scene. This is a strong performance by Roger Livesey as he steals the film right out from under David Niven, although he does not do this in the way you might expect. He does not go for any sort of obvious flamboyant overacting nor does he make an overt attempts to bring needless attention to himself. Livesey very effortlessly just makes the doctor the most watchable character in the film, and the one who simply enlivens the story the most.

12 comments:

mcofra7 said...

1. Barrymore
2. Travers
3. Livesey
4. Currie
5. Bendix

Michael McCarthy said...

1. Lionel Barrymore
2. Henry Travers
3. Roger Livesey
4. Finlay Currie
5. William Bendix

I should've ranked Livesey higher originally, I really enjoyed him a lot.

Also I just saw Birdman and loved it, if anyone wants to know any of my thoughts on it feel free to give me a shoutout.

Kevin said...

1. Barrymore
2. Travers
3. Livesey
4. Bendix
5. Currie

Kevin said...

Oh and Louis, what are your thoughts on Nightcrawler, as well as ratings and thoughts on the cast?

Anonymous said...

@Michael McCarthy: I'd like to hear your thoughts on the film and the cast.
@Louis: what are your thoughts on Nightcrawler and your ratings and thoughts on Russo and Ahmed?

luke higham said...

Louis: Thoughts on NightCrawler, as well as ratings & thoughts for the cast.

Louis Morgan said...

Kevin:

Nightcrawler - (A good thriller and a great character study. I'd write more but then I feel I would have to get into its lead performance)

Russo - 4(Bordering on a 4.5. I thought she kinda made her character a very much past her prime version of Faye Dunaway's character from Network. She has that same fervor in her moments of the programming showing almost a devious satisfaction in creating the media, yet having the right desperation whenever she has a more normal human interaction, although its hard to call it that when it's with Gyllenhaal's character)

Ahmed - 3.5(He's enjoyable in his early scenes in portraying a confused earnestness than converts this quite effectively at the end to a confused fear)

luke higham said...

Louis: How likely is Gyllenhaal for a review.

Louis Morgan said...

I won't lie, he's guaranteed.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

On the topic previously concerning GotG, I'm glad I'm not the only one to think Gillan was AWFUL.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad Louis liked Russo almost much as I did, for most of the movie I thought I would have just settled for a 4 but her final scenes when she seems to have become just like Lou made me upgrade her score. My Best Supporting Actress pick so far.

Michael McCarthy said...

Anonymous: I'll just copy the review I put on Facebook:

Birdman is probably the most thought-provoking film I've seen this year. The direction is in my opinion astounding, especially with it's "one-take" technique that contributes to the feeling of watching a stage play, and more importantly creates a feeling of tension, as if the whole affair could fall apart with just the slightest problem, which is true for every character for a different reason.

Then there's the acting. Michael Keaton is getting a lot of awards buzz here, and I'm happy to say this isn't just the film industry trying to award a veteran actor who's "overdue." Keaton here fully realizes a man who's physical, mental, and emotional health has deteriorated from years of being out of the spotlight. Because of this, he has this subtle haunted quality to his performance that is apparent even in the more flamboyant scenes that Keaton is known for. What is amazing is that despite all of this, he still manages to tone it down in his scenes with his family, giving his character genuine heart.

Edward Norton is a perfect counterpoint to Keaton as he plays a celebrated stage actor who claims to be all about finding truth in his acting, and who has very genuine seeming emotions on stage, but who lacks any real emotion in all other parts of his life. Emma Stone is a wonderful presence in the film as a recovering addict who seems like she might still have the potential to snap at any moment due to her lukewarm relationship with her father, and Naomi Watts gives a very likable and realistic performance as a struggling actress who knows that her Broadway debut could either make or break her career. I was most surprised by Zach Galifianakis, who played the sleazy lawyer with just the right amount of fake warmth.

One of the themes that I think was present in the film is whether or not the theater is more dignified than film. I personally don't think either is MORE dignified, but what I thought was so interesting about the film was that through the contrast between Keaton and Norton's characters it suggested that a great artist can create something real and memorable, no matter what medium they are using. Other than that, it's just a very entertaining and timely story that I recommend to everyone.