Thursday, 2 July 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1989: Michael J. Fox in Casualties of War

Michael J. Fox did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Private Max Eriksson in Casualties of War.

Casualties of War is an effective film, even if it is somewhat hurt by a weak central performance, about an American military squad in Vietnam who kidnap a female civilian for vile purposes.

Michael J. Fox as an actor is probably best known for his more lighthearted work on television and in films. Of course this in no way stopped him from giving a great performance as Marty McFly in Back to the Future, but he was not exactly viewed as a dramatic actor. Fox perhaps attempted very briefly to somewhat change this at the end of the 80's with Bright Lights Big City where he played a drug addled writer, and in this film. Fox plays a Private who has just come to Vietnam in the opening scenes of the film. Not unlike the protagonist played by Charlie Sheen in Platoon his baptism by fire occurs rather swiftly as he is gets caught in a fire fight. Fox is very good in the scene in just creating the visceral intensity of the moment as Max has to take violent action to save his life. During the fight Max at one point is caught in an enemy tunnel but is saved at the last moment by a young though battle hardened Sergeant named Tony Meserve played by Sean Penn. Tony seems to sort of take the new recruit under his wing in the proceeding days after that event.

Fox is very good in these early scenes as he shows Max perhaps becoming more like the Sergeant as there becomes a growing callousness, and almost an insanity as he reacts to the attacks from the Vietcong. Fox in these scenes portrays perhaps how decent man like Max could perhaps become like the Sergeant as he captures the way the danger of their surrounding seem to take themselves to almost a different plain of thought. Fox gradually exudes similair attributes to what we see in the Sergeant, although it should be noted that Fox does this in a far more convincing fashion than Penn's over the top work. Fox makes it believable though that Max does not immediately seem to believe the strange idea proposed by the Sergeant. The idea being that their squad should kidnap a local woman to be a sex slave for the squad since they were forced to go on without relief. Fox captures the situation for Max incredibly well because he shows how Max at first is unable to do anything about it since he's still quite sure its just a sick joke by the Sergeant that's just a part of the insanity, and the Sergeant will not actually go through with the plan.

The Sergeant though does begin his plan and Fox is terrific in displaying the sheer disbelief in Max as he can't believe that this is all really happening. The squad goes through with the kidnapping and when they set up the camp for the night it becomes obvious that the Sergeant will soon have the entire squad rape the woman. Although one other man has reservations Max ends up being the only one who will actually stand up to the Sergeant. Fox is great in this scene because he actually does not necessarily make Max this larger than life figure of virtue. Fox rather portrays him very simply as a man who will not do something he knows is absolutely wrong. The confrontation scene is an outstanding moment for Fox because he portrays a terrible fear in Max as he attempts to stand up to Sergeant. This becomes especially powerful because Fox conveys the difficultly and considerable effort it takes for Max to be able to stand up to the four men. Fox shows Max looking for some help from any of the men as well as that the stare of all four is horrible but that Max's beneath it all simply has his simple conviction that gives him the strength to stand up to them.

The men do proceed with the rape since no matter what if Max interfered it would result in his death either immediately or soon afterwards. The Sergeant instead forces him to take guard duty away from the camp while they commit their heinous act. The nightmare continues for Max though since it becomes evident that the men are not done and plan to murder her in order to destroy the evidence of their crimes. Fox takes Max out of the state he had been growing into as he sees that their actions of the moment very much do have meaning. Fox's work in the proceeding scenes is essential  in creating the horror of the scenes. Where the other men have little to no remorse for their actions Max is forced to witness it all with only the faintest hope of trying to stop the murder of the woman. Fox expresses the terrible tension within Max as he simply does not know what to do since if he takes the woman himself he'll be a deserter, but also can stop all four of the men. Fox creates this fierce unease and confusion that overwhelms Max as he tries his best to do something. Every facet of savagery is made the more palatable by Fox's honest reactions as Max is forced to watch the woman's brutal murder.

After they return though Max ignores the other men's threats and goes to report their crime as soon as possible. Unfortunately the commanders have little concern for the actions of the men, and attempt to dissuade Max from going any further with his report. Fox again finds so much power in creating the disgust of just a normal man who cannot believe the callous uncaring nature of the chain of command. Fox does so much in just Max's silent reaction at the two commanders attitude and portrays the growing revulsion in Max. Fox builds this to one scene where Max confronts the rest of the squad after at least one of them has made an attempt on his life. Fox is outstanding in delivering just the genuine contempt in every word as Max tells them not to kill him since no one cares anyways. The despondent passion that Fox brings is tremendous because it all comes from not a great man but just a good man who knows a wrong has been committed. Fox though is at his most heartbreaking though after he shows that Max has given up on finding an real justice and just casually tells another soldier about the crime. Every word of Fox's performance seems haunted by the death and we see that Max can never forget the life that was lost. This is a marvelous performance by Michael J. Fox as he creates a reserved yet such a poignant portrait of one decent man living through an unforgivable atrocity.

42 comments:

Calvin Law said...

I'm actually incredibly overjoyed by this rating/review, he really is great, especially in his confrontational scenes. Even though it means my predictions are screwed. I hope Hurt gets a 5 as well :)

Thoughts/ratings on the rest of the cast?

Michael McCarthy said...

Knew it :)

Psifonian said...

Damn right! *cheers*

luke higham said...

Louis:
Your Female Lead/Supporting Top 5s For 1985 and 1986 with ratings.

I would also like to say thanks for stopping me from making a pointless request for Tom Hardy in Mad Max as well.

luke higham said...

Louis: Can you repost your ratings for Tess Harper in Tender Mercies, Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places and Anne Bancroft in To Be Or Not To Be.

RatedRStar said...

Louis: Oh I so agree with you on The Program, which scene were you referring to, because he says it once in the conference and once I believe in front of a mirror at the end of the trailer, omg I have to say it again the ending with the finger shhing was just insanely creepy.

luke higham said...

Louis: For '83 and '84, you forgot about Debra Winger in Terms Of Endearment and Linda Hamilton in The Terminator.

luke higham said...

Louis: Just to make sure, that you don't forget, your 5s for '85 and '86 are:
Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple
Kahn and Warren in Clue
Sigourney Weaver in Aliens
Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet
And Dianne Wiest in Hannah And Her Sisters

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your top ten films of 1988, 2012 and 2013?

Deiner said...

Great review. By the way, can you give your Top 5 Female Lead/Supporting for 1994 with ratings.

luke higham said...

Terminator Genisys Ratings
E. Clarke - 2
Courtney - 2
J. Clarke - 2
Schwarzenegger - 2.5
Simmons - 3

The film itself was OK, although it's somewhat an improvement over Salvation.

Calvin Law said...

Can't say I'm rushing to go see Genisys, Clarke and Courtney just aren't very good actors and Clarke hasn't impressed me much outside of Gatsby and Zero Dark Thirty. Will probably watch it for Simmons; does he have a substantial role?

I actually did like Salvation to an extent. Worthington was awful but I actually enjoyed the sheer stupidity of the action, and the performances of Anton Yelchin, and Moon Bloodgood. Christian Bale was fine but I felt he could've brought a lot more to the role, based on his abilities.

luke higham said...

Calvin: In regards to Simmons, not really.
I found Salvation incredibly dull, If I'm perfectly honest, whereas Genisys did have moments of humour that clicked with me to a moderate extent.

Calvin Law said...

Luke: By the way, finished Wolf Hall :)

Rylance: 5 (will save my thoughts for a future blog post)
Lewis: 4/4.5 (I will say he grew a LOT on me as the series progressed)
Foy: 4.5 (verging on a 5)
Pryce: 4.5
Robb: 3.5
Hill: 3.5
Lesser: 4
Gatiss: 4
Whalley: 3.5
Raine: 4.5 (verging on a 5)
Wakefield: 4.5
Holland: 3.5
Brodie-Sangster: 3.5

I should note that anyone I've left out would probably be around the 3-3.5 range, it really is a great ensemble though if I had to root for Emmy nominations/wins, I would go for:

Rylance
Pryce
Foy, Raine, and Wakefield

Luke: what are your ratings

Calvin Law said...

Actually I think I'll up Hill and Whalley to 4's.

Calvin Law said...

Also, despite having very small roles, I though Mathieu Almaric and Natasha Little (Cromwell's wife) added a lot with their very limited roles.

luke higham said...

Rylance: 5 (One of the easiest I've ever given)
Lewis: 4.5
Foy: 4.5/5
Pryce: 4.5/5
Robb: 3.5
Hill: 4
Lesser: 4/4.5
Gatiss: 4
Whalley: 4
Raine: 4.5
Wakefield: 4.5
Amalric - 3.5
Little - 3.5
Holland: 3.5
Brodie-Sangster: 3.5

luke higham said...

Calvin: Where does Rylance rank on your top ten Miniseries/TV Movie performances list.

Calvin Law said...

Luke: Him, Ian Richardson and Alec Guinness are all vying for the top spot.

luke higham said...

Calvin: You know what, Rylance is my number 1 now ahead of Guinness.

Calvin Law said...

It's an amazing performance. Period. :)

And actually the three ladies I mentioned, I might bump them all to a 5 in the near future. Especially Foy.

Calvin Law said...

Those Boelyns put all previous portrayals to shame :)

luke higham said...

Calvin: They're all great, although for me, Foy's quite likely to go up to a 5 on rewatch.

Also, I'm absolutely dying to get Louis's opinion of it. =)

luke higham said...

Louis: Have you seen any new films recently.

RatedRStar said...

Going back to a conversation, I remember I kept saying that 1962 and 1939 were the greatest film years, I could easily throw 1968 in the mix of one of the great film years, anybody agree?

I mean, 1968 has iconic legendary films like Once Upon A Time In The West, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, Rosemarys Baby, Oliver! and The Lion in Winter, but it also has a fair amount of hidden gems like The Fixer, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Faces.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: It's in the top 15 for sure.

RatedRStar said...

Luke: Oh yes definitely, I am was surprised to finally get a copy of The Fixer =D I really liked it actually, I am quite surprised that Alan Bates was nominated for best actor, do you reckon he could have been a surprise nomination Louis/Luke or anyone else? or maybe a sure fire nominee, anyway I really liked it even if you thought it might have been a bit heavy handed at times.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: He had a globe nomination, so I don't think it was a complete surprise.

RatedRStar said...

@Luke: That is possible, but he did also get a Globe nomination for 66 and 67 but was snubbed (although I thought Bates wasnt too good in Georgy Girl).

RatedRStar said...

Louis what do you reckon? also Luke about the 68 nominees, was there a surprise since O Toole won, while Arkin, Robertson were nominated while the late Ron Moody won for Comedy, as for Alan Bates, you reckon he could have been guaranteed as a nominee with The Fixer receiving just a single nomination (given his previous two globe nominations)

RatedRStar said...

I am only mentioning this because like Billy Budd, I think The Fixer is a hidden gem.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: I'm sure Mostel had a chance for The Producers, yet Louis would have more knowledge of this than I ever could.

RatedRStar said...

Luke: Yes you are right Luke, Mostel could have also had a chance, maybe he wasnt quite as well known as the other nominees in terms of star power like the others who had been leading men in other films (except Moody who most likely Yul Brymered his way to a nomination), The Producers did win for Best screenplay, maybe Wilder was recognised cause he was a newcomer.

Matt Mustin said...

I saw Jurassic World. I thought it was just awful.
Cast ratings:
Pratt-3
Howard-1.5
Simpkins-1.5
Robinson-1.5
D'Onofrio-1.5
Khan-1.5
Johnson-1

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Penn - 1.5(I could go lower as this is such a missed opportunity of a performance. I believe the film wanted us to see how in part the environment of the situation drove these men to be far worse than they would have been otherwise. Two of the performances convey this, one does not need to, and Penn unfortunately just plays his role as an over the top crazed villain. That accent and mannerisms just come off as obvious here as well. The worst is he could have created a certain respect for the character in the earlier scenes making the stripping away of it all the more disconcerting, but his caricature of a gungho soldier gets in the way. Then in the later scenes he plays it like a straight villain than a crazed soldier for the most part.)

Leguizamo - 3.5(You know you're doing something wrong when John Leguizamo gives a better performance than you, but I should not joke too much he's genuinely good here. Leguizamo effectively shows how a man can be gripped by peer pressure, and he believably shows how the pull of others makes his character do some despicable things)

Reilly - 3(Reilly gives a bit of substance to the role having those slight moments where his man seems to have a little regret, but as well being just as convincing in showing how the man still joins right with the others at their worst moments)

Harvey - 3(Harvey far more effective than Penn since he's doing his character as a straight psychopath, whereas Penn is all over the place. Harvey does this rather well, and shows the sort of man that would have no remorse for his actions)

Luke:

4.5, 4, 4.5

Jurassic World, Kingsmen, Furious 7

1985:

Actress:

1. Whoopi Goldberg - The Color Purple
2. Nobuko Miyamoto - Tampopo - 4
3. Ally Sheedy - The Breakfast Club - 3.5
4. Meryl Streep - Out of Africa
5. Glenn Close - Jagged Edge - 3

(I really need to see Page's win)

Supporting Actress:

1. Madeline Kahn - Clue
2. Lesley Ann Warren - Clue
3. Sonia Braga - Kiss of the Spider Woman
4. Eileen Brennan - Clue
5. Colleen Camp - Clue

1986:

Actress:

1. Sigourney Weaver - Aliens
2. Marlee Matlin - Children of a Lesser God
3. Chloe Webb - Sid & Nancy
4. Geena Davis - The Fly

Supporting Actress:

1. Isabella Rossellini - Blue Velvet
2. Dianne Wiest - Hannah And Her Sisters
3. Cathy Tyson - Mona Lisa
4. Laura Dern - Blue Velvet
5. Helen Mirren - The Mosquito Coast

Louis Morgan said...

RatedRStar:

In front of the mirror of course. Foster just brings so much vanity and sleaze in that delivery.

In regards to 68 I'd say Bates would not have been too much of a surprise given his Globe nomination as well as if you examine the competition. Although I should note the Globes perhaps liked the Fixer too much since they nominated Hugh Griffith for some reason, which really odd when you have Dirk Bogarde's performance in the same film. Zero Mostel apparently received some mixed reviews for his performance that probably hurt him, since they could just focus on Wilder instead. O'Toole was the favorite, Robertson was the winner, they had a brief love affair with Arkin, Moody "lead" the best picture winner which leaves Bates. Bates had been nominated the previous two years for Madding Crowd and Georgy Girl at the Globes, so really the Academy could have said "alright let's take him" not to mention he was probably helped by the fact that The Fixer is a film focused squarely on his performance.

Anonymous:

1988:

1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
2. A Fish Called Wanda
3. Tucker a Man and His Dream
4. Die Hard
5. Dead Ringers
6. Scrooged
7. Midnight Run
8. Cinema Paradiso
9. Eight Men Out
10. Bull Durham

2012:

1. Skyfall
2. The Master
3. Seven Psychopaths
4. Cloud Atlas
5. Lincoln
6. Zero Dark Thirty
7. Argo
8. Moonrise Kingdom
9. The Grey
10. Django Unchained

2013:

1. Snowpiercer
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Inside Llweyn Davis
4. 12 Years a Slave
5. Gravity
6. Mud
7. The Zero Theorem
8. Captain Phillips
9. Fast & Furious 6
10. Dallas Buyers Club

Deiner:

Thanks.

Lead:

1. Natalie Portman - Leon: The Professional - 4.5
2. Jamie Lee Curtis - True Lies - 4.5
3. Valerie Chow - Chungking Express - 4
4. Faye Wong - Chungking Express - 4
5. Heather Langenkamp - New Nightmare - 3.5

Supporting:

1. Uma Thurman - Pulp Fiction
2. Jennifer Tilly - Bullets Over Broadway
3. Dianne Wiest - Bullets Over Broadway
4. Helen Mirren - The Madness of King George
5. Isabella Rossellini - Immortal Beloved - 4

Calvin Law said...

Surprised that Filth isn't on your 2013 list, nor Les Mis for the 2012 list, have you lost some of your enthusiasm for those flicks?

Calvin Law said...

Also thoughts and ratings on the casts of Jurassic Worls, Furious 7 and Kingsmen?

Michael McCarthy said...

Oh pleeeease say you've lost enthusiasm for Les Mis. And that you're gonna lower Jackman's rating.

Calvin Law said...

I'm glad you liked Leguizamo. Probably his best performance (and first, funny that).

Michael McCarthy said...

I also think I liked Reilly more and Harvey less than you.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Yes to Les Miserables. I still like it though. I feel the same about Filth, which I really love James McAvoy's performance, but I like the film just fine.

Pratt - 3(Not much of a role, but he's quite charming and carries it as much as he can)

Howard - 3(Actually I ended finding her fairly endearing after awhile, even if she's not written particularly well)

D'Onofrio - 1.5(I could see some one really owning this role, no matter how stupid it is, but D'Onofrio does not own it)

Simpkins - 2.5(That divorce scene seems wedged in there, but he actually does it well. The rest time he's fine too)

Robinson - 2.5(For playing dumb stupid teenager I really did not think he was too bad)

Sy - 2.5(Good but oh so wasted)

Wong - 1(His mad scientist speech was just awful. Actually I don't think the part required him to be completely evil but Wong unfortunately decided to play him as such)

Khan - 1.5(I did not mind him for most of his scenes, but really could he look any more bored when going down in helicopter?)

Johnson - 2(I did not mind him, but I just did not find him all that funny either)

Furious 7:

Diesel - 3(He's fine throughout, but he really does deliver with that final monologue)

Walker - 2.5(Likable enough just like he had been before)

Johnson - 3(I was disappointed by his limited appearance, but I did quite enjoy him when he was onscreen)

Russell - 3.5(A true master of exposition)

Statham - 3(Despite being the main villain I thought he was a tad underused actually. Statham brought a nice bit of menace still)

Kingsmen:

Egerton - 3(He does well enough, though not extraordinarily so, of doing the whole young punk to prim hero)

Firth - 3.5(Firth seems made for this sort of role, and he does it rather well. He's got the style down quite well though as a sly edge that differentiates the role quite nicely)

Jackson - 1.5(Eh either this performance simply works or it simply does not. It did not me at all, and I really felt in certain scenes he just dropped the act, and wen to a standard brand of Samuel L. Jackson menace)

Caine - 2.5(Felt wasted but he was fine)

Hamill - 2.5(I liked him, but the film barely gave you time to go "hey look Oliver Reed is still alive")

Strong - 3.5(My favorite part of the film actually as Strong brought the right combination of serious gravity along with soft comic touch)