Sunday, 12 February 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2016: Ben Foster in Hell or High Water

Ben Foster did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite receiving a few critical citations and winning the Independent Spirit Award, for portraying Tanner Howard in Hell or High Water.

When will be the day when I stop having to refer to Ben Foster as the criminally underrated Ben Foster? Well still not today even though his performance here has gotten him the closest to widespread recognition so far. He still came up short, which is a shame since an Oscar nomination is just what he needs to raise his profile closer to where it should be. I won't bury the lead, my thoughts on Ben Foster are well known, why would I dislike this performance, in a film I've clearly shown by affection for. It's not a change heart for me but it gets me a chance to write about that perhaps I've underrated Ben Foster all along myself. This role on the outset may seem similair to his previous performance in 3:10 to Yuma where he also played an outlaw of sorts, though that film was a traditional western this one is a neo-western. Charlie Prince from Yuma mostly robbed stage coaches, Tanner Howard robs banks. What I think can be the testament to a great actor is what can they do new with a potentially similair character, a la Toshiro Mifune who managed to find so many variations within the heroic samurai.

One cannot hand wave, saying it was just the writing, Ben Foster's performance, when so many of his performances reveal hidden depths in the characters he's playing. Foster, even in a completely disposable action film like the Mechanic offers three dimensions to his character. So here he is in Hell Or High Water, a very well written film, but let's look at what Foster does. On the outset Foster grants you what you'd at least want from the "bad" brother/partner in terms of the most direct appeal of such a performance. In that Foster is incredibly engaging here, that's no surprise given it is Ben Foster. Ben Foster dominates though as he should in the robbery scenes. As I mentioned in Chris Pine's review for this film, Pine brought an awkwardness to the robberies, Foster brings the exact opposite. Foster in every robbery scene shows us a man who is absolutely in charge of the situation.  He of course brings the needed intensity as he shows, at least towards the tellers and such, that creates the sense of a proper threat. He intimidates just as he should and offers the right almost predicable unpredictability to the proper bank robber.

Now the obvious diagnosis for Tanner would be that he is a psychopath, not unlike the clearly psychopathic Charlie Prince, I will now my make case against that claim, at least as the traditional sort of psychopath whose crazy for the sake of being crazy, through describing what Ben Foster does in the role. It would be easy enough to be that type of psychopath, Foster again excelled as such in Yuma though also brought additional depths to that character as well, which is the traditional approach to this type of character. This would also appear to make sense for Tanner's background given that he murdered his own father, and openly admits to that fact. That's not what truly defines Foster's take which actually grants a far more fascinating approach. Foster's work narrows upon what it is that Tanner truly gets out of the robberies. He definitely has fun with them, but what I love about what Foster does is that he doesn't engage this as a sadistic sort of fun. Foster in a way can convince you on the enjoyment of the robberies, as he eases Toby's own reservations, because the sort of fun he seems to be having is very appealing, at least early on. He makes it sort of endearing in the way he allows us and Toby to experience it ourselves.

There is more to be discussed on the whole psychopath aspect, but more on that soon enough. A highlight of the film, which there are plenty of, is the relationship between Toby and Tanner. I wrote in Pine's review that I would get back to it, and here it is since it is an essential element to what makes Foster's work so fantastic. The two merely are brothers in this film which is so special to see onscreen realized this well. That's a testament to both actors who go beyond any surface notions of such a relationship. They find the sheer complexity of it all through the sheer naturalism of both of their performances. Here's what's so great is that they don't switch, okay now they get along, now they don't. It is a far more fluid and genuine realization than that. It is never a single thing, which is what is so great about it. So many of the comedic moments of the film come so well, and are in fact quite hilarious by how good they are together. One of the best pieces of dialogue in 2016 has to be Foster expressing Tanner's consternation at getting Mr. Pibb instead of Dr. Pepper with "Only assholes drink Mr. Pibb" countered by Toby's hilarious reply "Drink up".

The history of the brothers is within every interaction we see between them and I love the rich texture they bring to this. It is a complicated relationship in that there is a definite divergence in their personalities, exemplified by Foster's more outgoing performance against Pine's understated work. It goes past that though in that Toby definitely has problems with Tanner's life choices and his unwieldy personality. Foster defines his portrayal though because he shows that Tanner unquestionably loves his brother, there's no complication in this, but he does not depict as simple either. Foster importantly has it taken for granted that Tanner always is the older brother to Toby. We see the different sides to what this means. During the bank robberies he both breaks his balls and supports him all the same. It is never false or contradictory. Every switch Foster is able to attach it to the very same sentiment of just the way Tanner treats his brother. Pivotal in that is in the moments where he teases Toby, there is such an overabundance of warmth within the teasing. When Tanner scares off a woman from Toby, it is without any ill-will towards Toby, Foster directs all at the woman suggesting the older brother always is looking out for his kid brother, even if it isn't always in the best of ways. 

This is one of the most honest depictions of brothers that I have seen on screen. There are two scenes I especially love involving this. One is the very last scene the two share together. Foster is heartbreaking as he turns away yet so earnestly tells Toby that he loves him. Of course he follows this by saying he can "go fuck himself", but that in no way cancels the first statement. Instead Foster's joking delivery of the first, against the earnestness of the first, one so perfectly exemplifies their relationship, which is that the love is just a given even with complications around it. The other scene is less climatic but just as remarkable. It is basically a silent scene as we see the two of them at night as they are horsing around with one another. Foster and Pine are so good in that this just the boys being the boys they've been since childhood. Now back to the whole psychopath thing, which again is not handled with just the "I'm evil" sort of thing by Ben Foster. We hear his motivation to help Toby early on, as he directly verbalizes it as "Because you asked me to little brother", Foster performance shows this to be true in part, because he does love his little brother and would help him, yet it is not the whole story when it comes to Tanner's motivation.

We again see him around the robberies, and Foster shows that Tanner is absolutely loving every minute of it without question. There is something more to this though as again it isn't sadistic, at least in Tanner's mind. There is something so much more as in the joy there is also a real pride, which again more on that in a moment. This is in a stark contrast to what we see with Foster the rest of the time when he's essentially forced to face his life. When he is taken into the room where their sickly mother lived in just before she died, this could be a moment to show Tanner's disregard for her particularly with his final statement in the scene being a disregard, Foster shows the very real anguish in Tanner as he ponders if he could have done something. His final remark is delivered as sad reminder to himself that she never really loved him more than a bitterness towards her. There is another moment where Tanner speaks to his brother about his sons, and Toby says that his older son is a bit like Tanner. Tanner ruminates on his own mistakes while suggesting how his son can succeed, and Foster is outstanding by revealing such sorrow when Tanner really is forced to think about his life. Foster throughout the film interjects this affecting pathos that reveals how Tanner truly feels about himself. In that Foster shows that Tanner is actually quite self-loathing and is aware that he's basically a loser in normal existence. It is important look at say the scene where the brothers visit their lawyer, Foster shows Tanner is basically lost in average conversation, only coming alive when he can attempt to "support" his brother in some way. Foster utilizes this to give greater substance to Tanner's motivation, which his love for his brother factors in, but it's far more than that. Foster again has that pride within his enjoyment of it, and Foster behaves and speaks as an outlaw of the old west not the present day. That's not criticism, but it is a stroke of genius in Foster's work. He gives us a man whose doing the only thing that he's good at in these scenes furthermore it is the only part of his life that gives him any purpose. Near the end of the film when he walks towards a lynch mob, and scares them away with a machine gun, Foster walks with such swagger. Again Foster presents Tanner in his calling in these moments, as the "enemy to everyone", as opposed to the sad man he is otherwise.Yes this is indeed another great performance by Ben Foster. It's more though as it proves just how daring and nuanced his work as an actor is. This is indeed an entertaining performance that's fun watch. It's so much more still though in his ability grant far more to the character than would have been there otherwise. This is a phenomenal performance by a phenomenal actor.

78 comments:

Alex Marqués said...

Great review as usual.

Luke Higham said...

Patel won the BAFTA.

Giuseppe Fadda said...

I completely agree with your review. He's really great in the role.

Giuseppe Fadda said...

As for Patel's win: I preferred Mahershala Ali's performance but Patel is a nice winner too, I thought his performance in Lion was terrific.

Calvin Law said...

Affleck won! Pleasant surprise.

Anonymous said...

Casey Affleck just won best actor at the Baftas.

Luke Higham said...

I'm still picking Washington guys.

Calvin Law said...

As am I, Luke.

Calvin Law said...

Also great review on Foster Louis.

Calvin Law said...

I actually think Foster could take this.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Who's better, Hardy or Foster. :)

Robert MacFarlane said...

I really just don't see the big deal with this performance.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

They're both great.

Michael McCarthy said...

Couldn't agree more here. And I agree with Calvin, he really looks like he could be our winner, it seemed more enthusiastic to me than his review of Kubozuka.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

So, Foster gets his fifth 5. As someone who loved his work in 3:10 to Yuma, I liked his work here even more somehow.

Luke Higham said...

Michael McCarthy: Is Ineson a 4.5 for you now.

Anonymous said...

Great review.

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: I think Mifune's fives record will be equalled/surpassed eventually.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Your thoughts on how BAFTA changes the awards race.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Luke: Well, it's certainly not impossible. From today's actors, it could very well be Daniel Day Lewis, Tom Hardy, Fassbender or Foster who overtakes Mifune.

Charles Heiston said...

Some great picks by the Baftas.

Louis: Your updated top 5 performances from Foster.

Charles Heiston said...

Luke: I'm still picking Affleck.

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: It's gonna take Foster and Fassbender in particular much longer than Hardy. Day-Lewis has a possible upgrade for Gangs of New York, a review for his work in The Unbearable Lightness Of Being and Phantom Thread.

Louis Morgan said...

Tahmeed:

Picture/Director are all locked up. The techs though are open, the Oscars don't mind a sweep, I still think it could happen for La La Land.

Actor: Alright this is going to be a razor thin margin I imagine. I say Washington, but only just by the slimmest of margins. Affleck could easily take it. 50/50.

Actress: I say it's a done deal.

Supporting Actor: Ali still, Patel's got his home field boost, and Baftas really didn't love Moonlight. An upset could happen, since Ali has lost twice now, but I think it's his still.

Supporting Actress: A done deal.

Calvin Law said...

Michael: Exactly, although again, might be because he has a whole review to himself. But I think this is even more enthusiastic than his 3:10 to Yuma review.

Anonymous said...

Charles: Didn't you want Garfield to win?

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Calvin: Aside from having the review to himself, Louis doesn't have to suppress his thoughts on Foster's chemistry and dynamic with Chris Pine,(like he had to in the latter's review) which is integral to both their performances. Not to mention this is the type of role Ben Foster really sinks his teeth in.

Charles Heiston said...

Anonymous: I don't mind an Affleck win. It's between him and Washington so this tightens the race.

Calvin Law said...

I don't think you'll ever be able to stop calling Foster underrated Louis. Even if he gets that Oscar nom he'll kinda be a lower profile Gary Oldman, which is to say acclaimed but always taken for granted in so much of his body of work.

Calvin Law said...

I kinda wanted Garfield to win, but Affleck was my favourite out of the nominees, and Hacksaw got editing (:D) SO it's all good.

Calvin Law said...

True.

Luke Higham said...

Was everyone happy with Holland taking the rising star award. I was pleased, but knowing the British public, it was completely expected.

Charles Heiston said...

Calvin: I was hoping for a Garfield win too. More for his work in Silence instead of Hacksaw.

Calvin Law said...

Luke: I liked it, technically Negga have my favourite work this year but she's not really a 'breakthrough' star.

Anonymous said...

Manchester By The Sea will likely lose all of its Oscar nominations I think and be the big loser of the night.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Anonymous: It still has a shot for Original Screenplay and Actor, although I'd prefer it win the latter award only.

Charles Heiston said...

Anonymous: I'd say leading actor is a toss up.

Matt Mustin said...

Great performance here. Ben Foster rarely ever disappoints.

94dfk1 said...

Louis: Thoughts on Foster's performance in the scene where he faces off with the Native American guy he offends in the casino?

Calvin Law said...

^I actually found that to be one of the most darkly comedic scenes in the film, much better than that 'irritable waitress' scene. Felt like it came straight out of Fargo, with Foster as a Carl who actually means business.

Speaking of which,

2010s Fargo
Marge: Julianne Nicholson
Jerry: Jason Bateman
Carl: Ben Foster (against type casting but are you really gonna doubt him?), or Michael B. Jordan
Gaer: Mads Mikkelsen

Calvin Law said...

Although I might be wrong about it being comedic in tone.

Robert MacFarlane said...

2010's Fargo:

Jerry - Martin Freeman
Marge - Allison Tolman
Carl - Kieran Culkin
Gaer - Billy Bob Thornton

Wait a sec...

Calvin Law said...

Robert: Hm, I think you win there. Culkin as Carl is inspired though, since I was actually thining a while ago that Buscemi would have been perfect as Wallace in an 80s SPvTW

Louis Morgan said...

Charles:

Ask me again later.

94dk1:

Love it, I would say that Calvin is right that there is something slightly humorous about it as we see the intense ego of both men clash, but there is also something quite sad in the sentiment of being an "enemy to everyone". It's a great scene where Foster again portrays Tanner being the only thing he's really comfortable with is to get into such confrontation. Foster in that one though underlies a bit of respect for a fellow "Comanche". This is opposed to the scene with the gas station punk where Foster shows no respect whatsoever to the guy with his disdain filled "Ten of me!".

Calvin Law said...

Louis: what do you think of an alternate In Bruges set in a desolate town in the West, with Foster in Farrell's role, Bridges in Gleeson's, and Pine in Fiennes'.

Calvin Law said...

Mixed up Foster and Pine but actually that'd work too.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

I could dig it. Pine actually could easily work in both roles given his Carnahan collaborations.

Calvin Law said...

What do you think about Hacksaw winning for editing Louis? Pleased me most out of all the wins.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Oh excellent winner, though I wouldn't have had a problem with La La Land or Arrival taking it though, but I'm very very happy it did not go to Nocturanl Animals or Manchester, which is one of its weakest aspects.

94dfk1 said...

That "irritable waitress" scene did seem like it tried a little too hard at being a Coen brothers scene, along with the Gil and Marcus in the motel room. Otherwise, the movie is very funny.

I wonder what town said "In Bruges West" version would take place in? Santa Fe maybe, with Harry (Fiennes) stationed in El Paso? I think I'd prefer Foster as Harry a little more than Pine, since Foster is better at being intense than Pine from what I've seen.

Calvin Law said...

94dfk1: Those are great settings.

Also, while we're at it, a Korean In Bruges with Choi Min-Sik and Lee Byung-hun as hitmen, with Song Kang-ho as Harry; and a HOHW with Hwang Jung-min and Gong Yoo as brothers with Choi as the lawman.

Charles Heiston said...

Hacksaw for film editing was my favorite award given out tonight. All the others were kind of expected. Patel winning was something i was not pleased with.

Michael McCarthy said...

So apparently there's gonna be an English language remake of Toni Erdmann starring Jack Nicholson...how do people feel about that?

Calvin Law said...

Honestly, as interesting it is to see Jack coming out of retirement, if they had to do this is keep thinking Gene Hackman fits the role far better.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael:

As someone who didn't really love the original, I don't mind the remake since I do think they could improve upon it. I also am just glad Nicholson's doing another movie at this point.

Calvin:

Apparently Nicholson himself championed the remake, I wish the old Hack Man would do that for a film as well.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: Same, though unlikely because it seems like he's not too fussed.

Michael McCarthy said...

So I watched Collateral Beauty the other night (and may or may not have made a drinking game out of it) and I though I'd share a few of the highlights:

-A freaking four minute long dramatic monologue from a character who's not even part of the plot, solely to establish that "this scene takes place in a support group."

-Will Smith saying "I FELT YOU EVERY TIME SHE CALLED ME DADDY!"


And my personal favorite.

Helen Mirren: You're dying, aren't you?

Michael Peña: Everybody's dying.

Helen Mirren: But you're doing it now!

Charles Heiston said...

Michael: Worst dialogue of the year. Garbage.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your ranking of the Sam Rockwell performances you've given fives.

Alex Marqués said...

I kind of love that Collateral Beauty is something that exists.

Michael McCarthy said...

I'm not sure I've ever made so many shifts from intense frustration to amusement in the same 95 minute period.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

1. Galaxy Quest
2. Moon
3. The Assassination of Jesse James
4. Seven Psychopaths

Michael:

And to think it only got a single Razzie nomination.

Well Michael I might know what you're going through. "About a week after watching the film, something started to happen to me, you know, I would be walking or on the subway or whatever and just burst out laughing. But these weren't laughs for any of the jokes in the film, these were laughs born of something else, from this profound connection to every terrible thing in the movie, and I realized it was the Collateral hilarity."

Robert MacFarlane said...

In the Facebook film group I'm in, we spent the majority of December posting passages of the Colatteral Beauty screenplay like memes.

Calvin Law said...

Saw John Wick 2. I liked it, though obviously not nearly as taut, emotionally driven as the first. It was fun though. Though I have to wonder why they opted to introduce so many new characters while not really expanding some of the interesting returnees (I.e. Lance Reddick)

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Sounds like we had a similair reaction, and I agree about the returns, aside from McShane. For example I did not even notice when David Patrick Kelly appeared. I do have to ask though do you agree that we need to see Alain Delon as the manager for the Paris continental in the third one?

Calvin Law said...

Wait David Patrick Kelly was in this? Which scene? And yeah, Delon would be a superb choice. Add in maybe Sonny Chiba for the Japanese continental. And I find it off people dislike Fishburne's cameo as I like it the more I think about it. I know you're not a huge fan of The Matrix but it was fun to see them on-screen, and Fishburne hasn't had that much fun for a while.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Supposedly he was, I didn't see him.

I enjoyed Fishburne, particularly the way he said "Get this man a gun" but I do imagine his whole appearance was table setting for the third film.

Chiba's perfect. A few more managers: Chow-Yun Fat(China), Choi Min-sik (South Korea), and Donald Sutherland (Canada, because we need more Donald Sutherland and a Canadian Continental).

Calvin Law said...

Damn that'd be an amazing lineup. Might even get Donald that Oscar nom.

I hear. Anyway, out of the three films I've seen this year it's probably my favourite. T2 was also good but like John Wick 2, too disordered. I actually thought Split was a bad film...though McAvoy's fun.

Calvin Law said...

Also, more John Leguizamo is something I thought I'd never say, but I really wouldn't mind more of Aurelio.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: You wrote thoughts on All Quiet On The Western Front twice.

http://deservingperformances.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/all-quiet-on-western-front.html

http://deservingperformances.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/all-quiet-on-western-front.html

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Agreed on Leguizamo.

Luke:

Well that'll happen, hopefully in the future everyone will check to make sure I haven't done it before, before requesting.

Calvin Law said...

I can imagine it's impossible to keep check of everything you've written. Now if you recall Louis, you never actually wrote a (performance I want to get bumped up).

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Speaking of awards shows to miss, I also completely forgot about the Grammys taking place a few days ago. Adele winning everything again was completely expected.

Varun Neermul said...

I don't understand the hate for 'Nocturnal Animals'...

Robert MacFarlane said...

@Varun: That's okay. I can't understand how anyone can like it.

Varun Neermul said...

Robert: Lol

Varun Neermul said...

But i really want to watch 'Collateral Beauty'. My friends and I are planning a drinking game (Thanks for the Idea Michael) and we are also gonna use some herb. I hope it's as funny as you guys think!

L Rime said...

Finally got to see John Wick: Chapter 2. It's better than the first one, surprisingly.