Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2016: Stellan Skarsgård and Damian Lewis in Our Kind of Traitor

Stellan Skarsgård did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dima in Our Kind Of Traitor.

Our Kind of Traitor is somewhat effective though standard John Le Carré adaptation about an English School Teacher and his wife being caught up in the dark world of illegal finances after accepting to do a favor for a strange man. 

Our Kind of Traitor seems kind of strange in that the two actual leads of the English teacher Perry MacKendrick (Ewan McGregor) and his wife Gail (Naomie Harris) are the most bland characters in the film. There are two supporting characters though who seem like they should be the leads the first being Stellan Skarsgård's as the strange man with information. Stellan Skarsgård is an actor probably best known for his long list of shady supporting roles from one despicable man to the another. This seems like that may be the case again as his character of Dima randomly appears in a bar and approaches McGregor's Perry. Skarsgård is an actor who you just can't naturally trust. Skarsgård even sets up his Dima a little differently than usual, playing essentially a bro-russian, as he insists that Perry come to a party with him. Skarsgård's always has that certain sinister glimpse in his eye though, that suggests there's gotta be something up. Intentional or not, I'd say intentional, Skarsgård's very presence crafts a certain tension early on in these scenes as it seems like there's something afoot even if it is hard to know what.

Dima seems harmless enough, and a funny thing is Skarsgård wins you over a bit too just as he does Perry. His whole larger than life enjoyment of life becomes a little endearing after you've spent enough time with him. After he gets to know Perry a bit better though he reveals himself to be more than meets the eye, though not in the way a Stellan Skarsgård character generally is. Suddenly Skarsgård changes gears severely as Dima explains his dire situation, where he will be forced to transfer all of his funds to his old boss's son before he and his family will be killed. Skarsgård manages this switch incredibly effectively as he brings that fear in his voice and eyes as he pleads with Perry for help. Skarsgård in doing so also explains a bit of just how big he is the rest of the time, showing that Dima is very much putting on an act as though he blissfully unaware what is going to happen to him very soon. Skarsgård manages in just a few moments to grant a very real urgency to the film by managing to make Dima surprisingly sympathetic in such short order.

Again the film does seem just slightly curious in that Skarsgård should be the lead of the film, it is his character who is the most important, yet he is indeed "supporting" the far less interesting Perry. Skarsgård though is still essentially required to do everything a lead must do just in far more limited screen time and perspective. In that we get a quick snippet of Dima's past when he was recruited into the Russian mob, now this is perhaps one of the easier elements to provide as Skarsgård does always have that duplicitous look about him. This continues further though as we are only given a slight sense of Dima's relationship with the man who intends to kill him and his family. This is basically all given to a single scene where Dima mocks the man with a story about when the man was as a boy. Now Skarsgård is great in the scene doing so well to portray the vicious hatred Dima has for the man while coating with just enough of a still semi-pleasant facade on the surface. Again just a snippet yet Skarsgård in that snippet conveys wholly the sense of disdain and betrayal Dima has suffered given that he was a real friend to the man's father. Skarsgard heavy lifting continues also to establish a real sort of connection between Dima and Perry as well. He pulls it off though, again through so little, but in his direct interactions Skarsgård conveys so effectively the man's gratitude to him, bringing a real warmth as he thanks him again and again for his help. The main crux of the story though is Dima attempting to save his family by trading inside information to the British government. It is with this that Skarsgård is the beating heart of the film. The whole sense of real desperation and concern is realized so powerfully by Skarsgård's performance. He handles it well by showing the internalization of it when Dima is attempting to keep his facade up, but is incredibly moving when he reveals just the increasingly fearful man who who will do whatever it takes to save his family. It may be a little odd how Skarsgård has to fulfill so many aspect of the role so swiftly, yet he does so brilliantly. This is a great performance. If we did not believe Dima and his struggle the film would have faltered entirely. Skarsgård elevates it through his honest emotional performance.
Damian Lewis did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Hector in Our Kind of Traitor.

The second supporting character who seems like he should be lead is Damian Lewis's Hector. Lewis comes into the film after Perry attempts to deliver Dima's request to the British government. Lewis is the MI6 agent in charge of the investigation. Though his name is Hector this seems to perhaps give Lewis a chance to give his own take on Le Carré's longtime lead, George Smiley. Hector too is a bi-spectacled spy with a very exact sort of personal style. I will say now Lewis is becoming an actor I'm eager to see more of, as he often brings something special to his roles. That is the case here as his whole presentation of Hector is rather engaging. He goes about crafting his own sort of Smiley with his excessively refined English accent, and his whole manner. Lewis projects the right sort of cool confidence that seems a requirement for a man of his position within the more modern world of espionage. This is a performance though that just is magnetic, the moment he steps in to question McGregor, Lewis is instantly compelling to watch.

In the early scenes it appears as though Hector is very much a man with just a plan of action that he intends initiate with cold efficiency. Lewis's performance is rather marvelous in just making this style of Hector quite charismatic in sort of strange way reminiscent even of Gary Oldman as Smiley in Tinker Tailor, in that there is just something so remarkable about watching the man work. Hector though isn't quite that powerful though as he goes about some risky maneuvers in order to get the information he needs. Lewis's performances is very astute in the way he plays within this sort of stricture that he has set up with Hector. Lewis manages to play just within the margins of this, in just a slight turn of the mouth or a just a small movement  in his eyes. In these early scenes there is the hint of the smallest desperation in voice, covered up by his usual assurance, as Hector decides to go with the mission despite not receiving proper clearance for it. It is rather fascinating to watch Lewis work here because he never does break out of the refinement of the character, yet as soon as conveys the frustrations in Hector towards his boss at not being able to pursue the case he doesn't seem cold after all. Lewis's work in itself has this efficiency in emotion, since you always understand how Hector is feeling even though he technically never raises his voice beyond a certain point nor does he really lose his composure.

He has this precision that it so captivating to watch. So many of the highlights belong to Lewis. Even in some exposition particularly in the scene where Hector lashes out against the amorality of the business he is trying to prevent, Lewis makes it absolutely engrossing through his dynamic delivering. He infuses with such a real intensity, a real outrage, yet still so calm all the same. There is just a bit of explanation to further motivations, really just one scene, where Hector explains how he believes his own son was targeted by one of the corrupt officials he's trying to take down. Again just in the margins does Lewis reveals the sadness, only in them does he, his Hector is never emotional yet you always understand him. There is a scene at the end of the film where Lewis is just examining and object and finds something important. Silent scene that could be nothing in the wrong hands. Lewis reveals all of Hector's thoughts just through the slightest glimpse of joy, making a far more satisfying scene than it would have been otherwise. As with Skarsgård Lewis does so much heavy lifting within the film to elevate past just a very routine thriller. Although I won't say the film quite completely escapes that qualifier, their work far surpasses it.  

72 comments:

Charles Heiston said...

Thoughts and ratings on the rest of the cast?

Robert MacFarlane said...

Skarsgärd's performance is probably the single most underrated of the year.

Anonymous said...

Very surprising to hear the words Ewan McGregor and bland in the same sentence.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your Damian Lewis ranking.

Calvin Law said...

Two very underrated performances.

Louis Morgan said...

Charles:

You can find them in my review for Tom Hiddleston in Thor.

Anonymous:

It's the character more than him, although it's not one of his best performances.

Luke:

1. Wolf Hall
2. Keane
3. Our Kind of Traitor
4. The Escapist

Robert MacFarlane said...

Has anyone watched the first episode of Legion yet? Because holy hell Dan Stevens is great in it.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: What rating would you give him for The Escapist.

I'll take it, that he's a five for Wolf Hall.

Also, he's great in Band Of Brothers and Homeland.

Luke Higham said...

Robert: I've always thought Dan Stevens was talented. He's one of the few things I really liked about Downton Abbey and thought he was very good in The Guest. Hope he'll deliver as The Beast.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Not sure just because I don't remember the film all that well, but I do remember he was good.

Robert:

I have, and I agree.

Giuseppe Fadda said...

I'm probably the only one here, but I actually preferred Lewis to Skarsgard. Anyway, they're both 5s for me and by far the highlights of the movie, which is fine but never becomes quite as compelling as it should.

Charles Heiston said...

Giuseppe: I will agree with you. I also think Lewis was the MVP of the film.

Calvin Law said...

Giuseppe: I think he's Michael M's 2nd place in supporting so I don't think you're the only one. I liked both of them a lot but Skarsgard stuck with me more over time.

Calvin Law said...

And Charles now :)

Charles Heiston said...

Calvin: I've been going through your blog and i can't find your lead actor ranking for 2016. Did you not get to it yet?

Calvin Law said...

Charles: Still working on it, it's a bit one and it'll have to wait for a week, minimum.

Giuseppe Fadda said...

I've just seen Queen of Katwe and, as someone who didn't really care for her performance in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong'o was amazing.

Calvin Law said...

I saw Passengers. It wasn't awful, the central conceit is problematic but I thought Pratt and Lawrence were both decent, the nominated aspects were okay and serviceable (though definitely not worthy of nominations).

Luke Higham said...

Louis: What do you look forward to the most from Beauty And The Beast.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: And which 5 or 10 animated films are you most eager to see.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Luke Evans

Studio Ghibli's catalog.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: What about Aardman.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Sure, but Ghibli intrigues me more, since I haven't seen any.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Fair enough. :)

I think Chicken Run will make your top 5-7 for 2000.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: And I'll be surprised if you don't love Grave Of The Fireflies.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your top 10 episodes of Batman TAS and Superman TAS.

Charles Heiston said...

Louis: Awhile ago, you said some years winners could change. How safe is Javier Bardem's 2012 win for Skyfall?

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Batman TAS:

1. Heart of Ice
2. Two-Face
3. Joker's Favor
4. Almost Got Im
5. Beware the Gray Ghost
6. Legends of the Dark Knight
7. Trial
8. Over the Edge
9. Never Fear
10. The Man Who Killed the Batman

Superman TAS:

1. The Late Mr. Kent
2. Apokolips....Now
3. Legacy
4. Stolen Memories
5. Mxyzpixilated
6. The Last Son of Krypton
7. The Main Man
8. Knight Time
9. Fun and Games
10. Speed Demons

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Have you watched 20th Century Women.

Louis Morgan said...

Charles:

Not entirely because Walken is a very close second.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Yes.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts and Ratings & thoughts on the cast.

And have you re-watched Love & Friendship yet.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your overall thoughts on Jackie Earle Haley as an actor.

Louis Morgan said...

The film itself I did like, I'll say that upfront in order to prevent Robert's head from exploding. I was surprised though to see that Mills chose to use the exact same images in time technique he used in Beginners. I found it far more effective here than in that film, which almost felt like filler at times in that film. In this one it is used more intelligently though in terms of setting up the characters and establishing cohesion within the various threads of the film. I thought he shirked the usual "indie"(if you know what I mean) tricks enough, not entirely, but compare it to a film like Other People and it's a godsend. I did not love everything within the film, I'll get to that in a moment, yet I found it an engaging rumination on the very idea of "coming of age".

Bening - 4.5(I have to say I was pleasantly surprised altogether considering I don't usually like her performances, this seems like a role that could have easily gone very wrong if she went all American Beauty on it. She doesn't and I felt she succeeded in not making the certain quirks of her character define her. In fact I like that she downplayed those moments a bit, and instead used them to actually allude to the loneliness of her character. Her work does something very effectively in that every slightly strange behavior is given substance by showing where it comes from. She makes her a believable woman and mother by emphasizing the way she's always just trying. Even the sort of set up where she asks the other women to help raise her son, it's as some free spirit instead there's a certain confusion. She further subverts in the particularly hard boiled way she later directly refutes their attempts which Bening delivers without compassion. She manages to go further than any of the other cast members to really convey a real person far beyond the possible trappings of caricature.)

Zumann - 3.5(Reminded a bit of Lou Pucci in Thumbsucker in that he just makes a natural enough teenager carefully never overdoing any aspect of the character. He can be unlikable but in doing so successfully fulfills the needs of the "teenage angst" without overdoing that element.)

Fanning - 4(Again takes a role that could fall into simplicity easily enough but keeps enough nuance within the purposeful repetition of behavior. She is technically a little intolerable at times yet again Fanning carefully explains that through her performance that takes her beyond just her behavior.)

Gerwig - 2(Now I saw her and this and Jackie. There was something curious in that I felt absolutely nothing watching her. It was a curious thing I have to admit, and that she was onscreen yet she some how conveyed nothing to me, anyways. I don't know, something about her presence left me completely involved.)

Crudup - 3.5(An enjoyable performance as he just is good at being the "handy man" type. Crudup though is particularly effective in creating the sense of lack of empathy in the character. He does this not a sociopath but just as someone who just doesn't quite know how to interact. The awkwardness he brings feels very natural as he has this charm that also covers up a certain hollowness.)

No.

Anonymous:

Haley - (A great actor who I hope can get a few more plumb roles. A great actor, and child actor to boot. It's a shame he went away to begin with given he gave consistently strong work in his early performances as well. Anyways his atypical return was certainly welcome one with just being a screen presence that is his own. Haley brings something truly unique to begin with but he's also more than capable having quite the range as an actor that goes far past just "creep".)

Robert MacFarlane said...

You're breaking my heart with Gerwig, she gave my single favorite performance of the year.

Michael McCarthy said...

Wish you'd liked Damian Lewis before, his performance hasn't dulled on me in the slightest.

Varun: If you need suggestions for roles, I got you.

Also I'm watching Tropic Thunder for the first time in years, and I'm starting to think that as good as McConaughey was in his role, I think he might have been brilliant in the role of Tugg Speedman. Like seriously, I think that might've elevated it to all-time great comedy status. What do you think Louis (or whoever else wants to answer)?

Luke Higham said...

Michael: I could imagine the irony, if he was Tugg Speedman.

Calvin Law said...

An inspired choice, Michael, I'd personally always thought Keanu Reeves would've been a swell choice but Matty M? Even better.

Seeing 20th Century Women tomorrow, can't wait.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Have you re-watched Arrival and Green Room, if so, have Adams and Poots gone up.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael:

I could see it, plus he'd be much more fitting to the action hero type than Stiller. I'd like to see McConaughey do another comedy (a good one) sometime soon.

On a side note I think it's a real shame that he's working with these hit or miss directors and he just keeps having the bad luck of falling on the miss side of things.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Have you seen Free State Of Jones and Gold then.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

I'll have the full proper actress list in the supporting results, trust me.

I have.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings and thoughts on McConaughey (in Both), Ali, Mbatha-Raw and Ramirez.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

McConaughey - 3.5(Neither film offers him much to work with and it is unfortunate that both films are rather lifeless despite a potentially fascinating story with each. Although I suppose I shouldn't have referred to Stephen Gaghan as hit or miss since for me he's miss miss. McConaughey in Jones does his absolute best to bring some gravitas, some substance to the proceedings, despite the film's strange choices (those time jumps were truly perplexing). He's good though and any good moments basically come from his devoted performance. Gold is a messier film attempting some sort of Wolf of Wall Street tone, I think. McConaughey though does bring some real energy in his off-beat performance and the little fun that is to be had comes from him. He even handles the poor tonal shifts well. Again he can't make it amount to too much, but he is good.)

Ali & Mbatha-Raw - 3(Both are underused but both are good within the tight limits of their roles.)

Ramirez - 3(He's more than fine but the turns that his character takes are barely focused upon. It's not his fault for not really conveying his character's true intentions because the film doesn't really care about him except when the plot needs to move forward.)

Charles Heiston said...

Robert: I'm rather in shock to hear you think Gerwig gave the best performance of the year. You're quite in the minority. As i personally found Gerwig to be the weakest in the cast of 20th Century Women.

Robert MacFarlane said...

@Charles: No, you obviously don't visit Film!Twitter. Anyway, what makes the performance works for me were all the little moving parts of how she plays the role. Her reaction to finding out she can't have kids, her big sister chemistry with Zumann, her crushing expression during her "role play" with Crudup. Abbey was for me a fascinating, weird character and she knocked it out of the park for me.

Robert MacFarlane said...

And I should mention: I usually don't like Gerwig. I usually find her annoying Lena Dunham lite, but her style felt so much different in 20th Century Women than in her other efforts.

Charles Heiston said...

Robert: Oh, well i don't visit little Twitter. As i prefer Facebook and Blogspot. But to clear up why i was shocked is because a year of Silence, Arrival, Hell or Highwater and plenty more, it's been quite a strong year for performances. And i find it very difficult to rank Gerwig within my top 10 of the year. But nonetheless the rest of the cast for 20th Century Women i find strong.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Yeah, well I've mentioned it before that I wasn't really that impressed with the cast of Hell or High Water of Pine, so I'm generally in a minority. The 2000+ member Facebook group might be rubbing off on me, I don't know.

Giuseppe Fadda said...

I'm with Robert on Gerwig' performance. I thought she was terrific.

Giuseppe Fadda said...

Oh, and I totally loved Fanning too. They both would get a perfect 5 from me.

94dfk1 said...

Calvin: Keanu Reeves actually was considered for Tugg Speedman in Tropic Thunder haha, according to an article titled The Lost Roles of Tropic Thunder on Splitsider.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your top ten leading performances of the century so far.

Calvin Law said...

Well I saw 20th Century Women, liked it a great deal, and I think it'll stay with me even more if I watch it in a few years' time. Not sure who I'd pick as MVP since I thought the whole cast was pretty even on the whole, but I thought Crudup had the funniest moments, and Bening the most poignant. Definitely would not have minded her or Gerwig getting in.

Calvin Law said...

Also, if all goes well with Hidden Figures, I'd say this is the best year for Best Supporting Actress for quite some time, overall.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I personally, think it is. I've got about 8 or 9 performances that would get a 4.5 or higher.

I also think Lead Actress was superior to last year.

Supporting Actor was a bit weaker than last year, though understandable.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Lastly, the only disappointment I had from Leading Actress in 2016 was Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals.

Calvin Law said...

Lead Actress I'd say is about the same for me, my top 5 and last year's are about on par with one another. Lead Actor is probably stronger in terms of my top 5.

Agreed about Adams, I was actually expecting to like her more there in that than Arrival.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your most disappointing performances of 2016.

Anonymous said...

Louis: So, who would you have chosen for Silk Spectre instead of Akerman?

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Rating and thoughts on Madina Nalwanga in Queen Of Katwe.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Do you think Matthias Schoenaerts would make a great beast.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: My dream Belle & Beast casting is Mulligan/Schoenaerts.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Nalwanga - 3(She gives a natural enough performance on her own but she really does defer to her adult co-stars in terms of really brings home the drama. She's fine on her own, but only just that.)

Yes in regards to Schoenaerts, though I'd say a different Beauty then, even though he's only a few years older than Dan Stevens he projects much older than him.

Most Disappointing Performances:

Jake Gyllenhaal - Nocturnal Animals
Forest Whitaker - Rogue One
Keith David - The Nice Guys

Anonymous:

Anyone, but to be more specific Mia Kirshner.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: I see that Brolin's gone up for Hail, Caesar!. Have Fiennes, Clooney and Swinton gone up as well.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the poster and shot of Michael Fassbender in The Snowman, very exciting.

Luke Higham said...

Mel Gibson's been approached to direct Suicide Squad 2. It ain't gonna happen. :)

Calvin Law said...

Robert would probably despise the hell out of that if it happened.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Fiennes and Swinton are fours now.

Charles Heiston said...

If Gibson accepts that offer it could possibly be his worst film, and one of the the worst superhero films of the past 25 years.

Louis Morgan said...

Charles:

I'd be surprised, he criticized Batman v Superman, since Gibson only seems to choose projects he's passionate about.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Are we getting the Ehrenreich review shortly.