Thursday, 28 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Matthias Schoenaerts and Michael Sheen in Far From The Madding Crowd

Matthias Schoenaerts did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd.

Far From the Madding Crowd is yet another effective enough adaption of the story about Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a woman who has inherited a very large farm, and has three very different men vying for affections.

I have previously covered the three men with the 1967 version of the story where they were played by Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terence Stamp. Bates played Gabriel Oak as just an honest bloke with a low key charm whose a bit down on his luck. Matthias Schoenaerts, a Belgian actor, which you would not know, well other than his name obviously, as he seems a bit a master of accents as one would never second guessed that he was really a New York thug in The Drop nor is there any reason to question his status here as an English shepherd. Schoenaerts fits right into the role to be sure, giving just the needed physical stature for the role. Though it would be easy enough to copy Bates's take on the character, it was a good performance after all, Schoenaerts takes a different approach. Where Bates was that likable average Joe, Schoenaerts takes a more stoic approach to the character. Schoenaerts plays him in a much colder fashion than Bates, though I don't mean that he plays the character as cold. Schoenaerts internalizes his performance even more than Bates did, and seems to purposefully strip away any direct charm from his Gabriel Oak. Though again that does not mean that this is not a charming performance.

On the contrary Schoenaerts actually has a very appealing presence, but it is never directed in a way as though he's trying to win any one over. There is a likability that Schoenaerts finds just in the way he so genuinely creates the modesty of the man. This is an interesting way to play the part, and it actually helps to further explain Bathsheba's original rejection of him at the beginning of the story when he's still a man with property and wealth. Schoenaerts is very good in this scene by showing his proposition as wholly earnest, though without an excess of passion, as Gabriel is just not the type of man who would try to actively win her over. Schoenaerts suggests even though Gabriel does have a charm of his own, the instinctual nature of the man keeps Bathsheba from accepting him at this point. Gabriel though loses his wealth through an unfortunate incident, which keeps him no longer acceptable even since Bathsheba becomes rich by chance, and with no where else to go really Gabriel starts working for her. With Bathsheba's new found status this does lead her into a situation where she meets her second potential suitor William Boldwood. 

Michael Sheen did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying William Boldwood in Far From the Madding Crowd.

The role of Boldwood in the 67 version was played by Peter Finch. Finch's performance was purposefully restrictive as he portrayed the man ruled by his upbringing to hold back his emotions. Michael Sheen, who is perhaps known a bit more for his depictions of more open and about British chaps, takes a bit of a different approach for Boldwood. The character stands as a disciplined sort, but Sheen plays this less as an active conditioning. Sheen's approach is less of man being trained to be this way, but rather a man only simply is this way due to a lack of experience of being showed any real love throughout his life. Where Finch shows his interactions to remain proper, Sheen instead reveals more of timidness as he tries to speak plainly with Bathsheba early on, which could be seen as rude at a cursory view, but at closer inspection Sheen presents a man unsure of how to act exactly. Sheen's approach is a rather intelligent one since he manages to makes Boldwood no longer seem as much of a thankless role, by finding a way out of the restrictions Finch set with his characterization. Sheen still makes Boldwood fit as the same man in terms of his stature and general background, but finds a way not to be nearly as constrained by these elements of the character.

Sheen's alternate starting point allows him to set a different path for the character than what Finch took in that earlier adaptation. Boldwood only becomes a potential suitor when Bathsheba purposefully sends a mocking valentine to him. Sheen realizes the cruelty of the act particularly well as Boldwood makes his own proposal to Bathsheba. Sheen is really quite moving by suggesting such a nervousness in the moment from a lack of experience with such matters, while exuding a very real tenderness in his request at the same time. Sheen is terrific in just how much emotional vulnerability he shows in any of the scenes where Boldwood is interacting with Bathsheba, as there's even a sweetness in the way Sheen suggests his love for Bathsheba is gradually building a certain confidence which allow him to express more emotions. One particularly great scene for Sheen is when Bathsheba sings a song for her workers, with Boldwood in audience as well, and Boldwood joins in. Sheen is very affecting in the scene as he reveals Boldwood coming out of the confines of his original emotional state through his feelings for Bathesheba. The feelings that Sheen finds are only ever wholly genuine, unlike her last suitor one Sergeant Frank Troy played in the original by Terence Stamp, but here unfortunately by Tom Sturridge.

Well there's a reason that I'm not reviewing all three suitors, as I had done for the three in the 67 version, since where Stamp gave the best performance in that film, Sturridge gives the worst performance in this film. So back to the good performances, though they are still attached to Troy somewhat. Technically it should be noted that Schoenaerts's indirect charm would have been a perfect set up for someone with a considerable direct charm, which Stamp had in the role. Now Schoenaerts's approach actually makes him really standout, even after his character is overshadowed in terms of the story as it focuses on Bathsheba's other two suitors. Gabriel never leaves the film but he is often reduced to a few reactionary moments here and there, with them often being silent. Schoenaerts keeps Gabriel from being forgotten though by standing well as the moral conscious of the film. He makes an impact with every single one of his reactions, as he always portrays well Gabriel's certain distaste with many of Bathsheba's actions, while still keeping a certain undercurrent of Gabriel's own true feelings for her beneath it all. Importantly Schoenaerts finds the right unsaid chemistry with Mulligan from the beginning, which he naturally transitions from being a possible suitor, to a true friend who's willing to tell her the harsh truths.

Now Sheen's moments are more specific as Boldwood has scenes still devoted to him. With every scene though Sheen reveals Boldwood coming out of his meek state all the more, even after Bathsheba has rejected him for Sergeant Troy. There is yet another very striking scene for Sheen when he discusses this with Gabriel. Sheen is rather heartbreaking by having Boldwood open up all the more as he presents just how devastated Boldwood is over the rejection, and suggests that allowing himself to become emotional through his interest in her has only caused him to suffer. When Boldwood is given a second chance with Bathsheba, Sheen continues to be very effective as his performance finds a considerable joy within the chance, but still an ever growing unease. As even in his new proposal Sheen lines it with a palatable fear at the possibility of being once again ignored by her. In the end Boldwood's story is a tragic one which Peter Finch portrayed as resulting from almost a time bomb as his emotions finally are let out all at once. Although that worked well, Sheen's approach is all the more powerful though as he manages to build to this point, by only ever depicting a growing emotional distress in Boldwood that leaves him to take his final irrational act of violence. This is even with this version's approach to the ending which is a bit rushed, and gives less focus to Boldwood than the 67 version did. Now the ending's swift pace continues as Bathsheba finally chooses Gabriel. This might have failed completely but Schoenaerts and Mulligan ,for that matter, manage to make up for the film's shortcomings because of that underlying chemistry they shared right from their first scene together. They make the ending convincing because it less of a revelation, and more of an acceptance. Both Schoenaerts and Sheen actually manage to best Bates and Finch, who both gave fine performances, as they manage to find their own unique approaches to the material which enliven their characters.
(For Schoenaerts)
(For Sheen)

31 comments:

Robert MacFarlane said...

So, SO glad you loved Sheen.

Calvin Law said...

Very, very happy with both these ratings, though I would personall give both 5's and the slight edge to Schoenaerts. Both were fantastic though, and brought to life two of my all-time favourite fictional characters to life so well.

Calvin Law said...

You know who'd have probably been great as Troy? Aidan Turner. Very charismatic screen presence and definitely would've been far more convincing as this conniving cad.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: Thoughts on Charity Wakefield (Mary Boleyn) in Wolf Hall, my female MVP.

Michael Patison said...

Satisfied with both ratings, though I wish Schoenaerts had a 5. They both have 5s in my book, with Schoenaerts my preference. I just love how he derives his charm from the air of self-confidence he portrays and not from some sort of overt charisma. It makes it incredibly realistic for me.

Then again, depictions of the moral man just trying to do his best to do his best, no matter the cost, whether it be monetary or emotional. (That's the main reason why I like Luke Evans in Desolation of Smaug so much). Schoenaerts earns every second of his final payoff through his quiet dignity.

Anonymous said...

Louis if you had to choose which of Johnny Depps three Oscar Nominations would you say was the best? you didn't answer before and I just wondered because all 3 got the same rating.

moviefilm said...

So glad you loved Sheen. This is my rating for him, as well. I agree with you on the scene of singing. Loved that one!

Mulligan - 4.5 (verging on 5)
Shoenaerts - 4
Sheen - 5
Sturridge - 2.5

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Extremely pleased, that you loved Sheen. :)

Calvin Law said...

The main reason I loved Schoenaerts so much was that he built his performance up with just small little reactive scenes, all so brilliantly done. Like Cohen, he has little to no scenes focused directly on him (unlike my other members of my top 10 Stallone, Del Toro, Jackson, Rylance, Hardy, Hoult, Goggins and Elba).

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I must say, I'm feeling really confident for Cohen. I personally am hoping for Driver to do really well, if not, I could live with it. :)

Calvin Law said...

I'm certain Driver will be a very strong 4.5 at least. I could see Hoult and Cohen both getting 5's, something I'd have never in my wildest dreams imagined last year.:)

Luke Higham said...

I'll predict the rest of the review order.
3. Cohen
4. Isaac
5. Hoult
6. Driver
7. Elba
8. Jenkins
9. Del Toro and Brolin
10. Goggins, Jackson and Russell

Calvin Law said...

Luke: You reckon Hoult could potentially win? I think it's between him, Hardy, and Del Toro.

Calvin Law said...

I would say Jackson too, but the fact that Goggins is to be ranked makes me think the latter has a higher chance.

Calvin Law said...

I mention this because I just rewatched Fury Road and have bumped Hoult to #4, now I have to decide who to knock out of the top 5, Rylance or Cohen :(

Calvin Law said...

*bumped Hoult up

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Possibly, though if Hardy wins, I don't expect him to win the Lead overall as well, which may very well go to McKellen or Fassbender.

We'll see with Jackson and Goggins.

Anonymous said...

1. Jenkins
2. Goggins
3. Driver
4. Sheen
5. Isaac

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: For 2012 Supporting, Louis chose Rockwell (His #4) over Walken (#2) in the prediction contest, so I think Jackson will rank higher.

JackiBoyz said...

RatedRStar: Thoughts on this years Hong Kong film nominees?

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: I'm not gonna change my prediction for the second lineup, as I do think its feasible for both Isaac and Driver to get fives.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I'd say Driver is more likely to get a 5, while Isaac gets a 4,5, but that's just me.

mcofra7 said...

I'm really hoping Isaac gets a 5

Alex Marqu├ęs said...

It's a very fun performance but I'm not sure how it will rank in the overall list.

By the way, just saw "The Gift". Pretty enjoyable thriller overall, really liked it. Solid solid performances.

Anonymous said...

Louis: What are your thoughts on Humphrey Bogart and Robert Preston as actors?

Deiner said...

I liked Schoenaerts a bit more than Sheen, but I'm not sure if I'd give any of them a 5. Great review, by the way.

Michael Patison said...

I seem to be the only one who did either really like or love Driver. Maybe I should rewatch it, but I felt he lacked enough conviction in his early scenes so his deterioration did not impact me as much as I think it should have. That one scene where that one guy dies, for instance, impacted me more because of who got killed than because of him. I will admit that he was excellent in the specific scene through the end of the movie, but I don't really feel he completely earned his pivotal scene.

Robert MacFarlane said...

His approach is what makes Driver's work clever. Kylo Ren for all of his powers with the force is not a menacing character: he's a child playacting as one. The second he takes off the mask, we realize just how unthreatening he actually is. His hesitation when speaking during his interrogation with Rey illustrates it. The way Driver's lip quivers as if he's afraid to talk without the mask makes that scene work, because Rey stops fearing him too. Kylo Ren is a pitiful character, and Driver's work is nuanced enough to illustrate that without ever making it obvious.

Michael McCarthy said...

I'm currently watching Ex Machina for the third time, and it's really making me hope Oscar Isaac gets a 5. His frat boy approach was certainly a very unique take on the character and like everyone else I thought it was a lot of fun, but I'm realizing just now how perfect it was for the themes of the film. At a certain level, Ex Machina is about gender relationships, specifically a man's need to analyze and control women. Isaac's approach to the character of Nathan is so filled with machismo and smarmy charisma that it seems perfect that he'd the one who would create artificial intelligence as both a way to be seen as a genius and as just a way to get laid. In very simple terms, he's a fuckboy genius. And that's exactly the kind of person who'd have created Ava.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Yeah, I have heard the reading that Ex Machina is about toxic masculinity. Certainly is a plausible analysis.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Luke technically answered for me based on my old long list, but I'd actually probably go with Pirates actually.

Anonymous:

Bogart - (He was one of the legends for a reason as when he was on he was a tremendous performer. When he wasn't he was quite bland, and it was all pretty random which way he would go. I mean in 48 you have two films both directed by John Huston The Treasure of Sierra Madre and Key Largo. Key Largo he's frankly kind of boring overshadowed by Barrymore, Robinson and Trevor. Then with Madre he gave the best leading male performance of that year.)

Preston - (He was great at doing that Preston shtick. I have seen a few things where he wasn't doing that but usually in fairly minor roles. Either way it usually made him a engaging performer, even if you knew exactly what to expect from him)