Thursday, 16 February 2017

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2016: Sam Neill in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Sam Neill did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Hector "Uncle Hec" in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a very enjoyable film about a juvenile delinquent and his "foster Uncle" hiding in the bush away from a particularly driven child protection service.

Sam Neill despite leading one of the biggest films of all time, Jurassic Park, kind of faded into a certain obscurity going so far as to appear as the doctor in The Escape Plan for some reason. Neill perhaps has gotten his most prominent feature film role in sometime, although it is not saying enough, this film should be more recognized if you ask me, but nevertheless still notable. Anyways it seems Neill just merely needs to take roles where his character goes through an arc involving paternal instincts. So there must be a beginning for that, and the film opens with our troubled youth Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) being brought to his new home with his "foster aunt"  Bella ready to take care of him, who is married to Neill's Hec. Hec though is not overly interested in the boy, with the initiative of taking Ricky in clearly belonging to his wife. Neill only has a scant few lines in the first twenty minutes of the film, but that in no way hinders Neill's performance. Neill is a great irascible old man in the early scenes as he mostly keeps to himself, as this old sort more comfortable hunting than interacting with someone. Neill exudes such a well placed disdain early on for essentially this initial nuisance of having Ricky around.

After a bit though Ricky becomes more comfortable with his new home and Hec seems to become a bit comfortable with Ricky. Neill's very good though in showing this as basically in reflection to his wife's appreciation of the boy. He hasn't completely taken him into his heart, but Neill shows just the right hints of a potential warmth beneath his crusty old surface. Tragedy though soon strikes though as Bella suddenly dies and even though it is not focused upon for too long Neill actually is very moving in portraying first the more overt anguish at discovering her death then later just wearing the grief within Hec. This is basically all left to Neill and he's really quite effective in internalizing the death within his work. I particularly love his completely humorless reaction towards Ricky, when he asks if he can't get a replacement wife, as Neill shows so well that it is no laughing matter to Hec. He truly has lost someone very dear to him. The film then takes its turn to the main story as Ricky, rather than returning to the child services, decides to run away into the forest, with Hec following shortly afterwards to find him.

This is when Neill's performance really comes into play with the film, and where frankly the brilliance of it becomes evident. Sam Neill essentially has to do it all in that the film needs a bridge between its various aspects, and Neill is that bridge. The film is a comedy, a very funny one at that, and much of the humor is derived from the interactions between Ricky and Hec. Dennison gives a somewhat broad performance as a wannabe gangsta type of kid, and Neill plays so well off of that set up. Neill himself never seems to unintentionally go for laughs, he technically speaking plays Hec in a very realistic fashion, but that's what makes his performance so great. He's a downright perfect as a straight man for Dennison, as his often stone cold reactions to some of his more nonsensical statements are quite hilarious. Neill knows exactly how to amplify anything that Dennison does by so honestly portraying Hec's extremely amusing befuddlement at the boys personal style. Neill is never one note in this and he's so good at keeping his timing right on point throughout the film making just about every comic setup he's given work absolutely without question.

That is not to say that Neill makes Hec some static character, despite needing to act as the straight man. One thing that is so remarkable about Neill's portrayal of Hec is the way he actually is able to build up to a couple of straight jokes himself, and he completely earns them. Neill delivery of these are flawless because he makes these moments still feel so natural to the character of Hec, he makes so it just would seem like something he would say. I have a particularly affection for his incredibly funny switch of first so dramatically saying "now we run", to his straight forward "no reason to run" after instantly facing exhaustion at the prospect. This is such entertaining performance from Neill and againn he never seems to be trying to be entertaining. That's what makes it so special. In that he works with Dennison but breaks off only at the right time and in a way that seems right for Hec. Neill never sacrifices the character for a joke, but he's consistently amusing throughout the film. Neill gives a great example of what can be done when an actor has such a grasp of his material, and crafts such an effective realization of his character.

Of course this isn't just an entertaining performance, again Neill acts as this very important bridge to making the film worth more than quite a few laughs, although that's already a worth a lot if you ask me. Neill though goes further in realizing that connection between Hec and Ricky. Early on in their adventure together Ricky actually causes Hec to lash out him in anger, when Ricky presses Hec over his inability to read. Neill doesn't hold back in making the anger pretty intense actually and again only fitting to how Hec should be. Neill though is just as believable as he makes Hec's meek little apology over his outburst soon afterwards so genuine. Neill does so much in his reactions throughout the film as he never wastes a moment to convey Hec's growing concern for the boy. Neill never rushes a moment in this absolutely taking each step as he should, and again so much of it is in his silence. Neill makes a particularly powerful moment in Hec's earnest concern as he hears about the death of one of Ricky's friends who was also in the foster home system. Neill says it all without having to say a single thing. Neill's truly impressive the way he realizes the more dramatic moments with such ease throughout the film, such as when he loses his loyal dog in a boar attack. Neill instantly makes the moment genuinely heartbreaking as he shows Hec's subtle sadness over the loss with such poignancy. It's hard boiled in its simplicity, yet there is never doubt that Hec is torn up over what he has to do. There is no transition that Neill fails to realize throughout the film. He always keeps the film grounded in the right way. When basically the moment comes for grumpy old Hec to reveal his love for the boy, again he doesn't have to say anything. Neill makes you feel it instead and it is incredibly heartwarming because of how well he does it. It wasn't from a single moment but capitalization on everything that Neill did previously in the film. There is never a conflict with Neill as this is a performance because he merely is Uncle Hec, and everything he does it exactly what Uncle Hec should do. Everything in his portrayal feels natural which is quite the achievement given the technical tonal movement in the film. Neill makes that tone work. Neill utilizes every second of his screen time to give us such a heartfelt yet incredibly amusing turn, I love this performance.

51 comments:

Robert MacFarlane said...

*whispers softly* Can you raise his score for The Piano now?

Luke Higham said...

Louis: I knew you were trolling with Dennison. Your thoughts on him please. :)

Giuseppe Fadda said...

I would only gave him a 4.5, but that's just me and I probably should give the movie a rewatch sometimes soon. Anyway, terrific movie (so well written) and terrific performance.

Luke Higham said...

Can't wait for Ineson & Scrimshaw.

Luke Higham said...

My Top 5 films for 2016.
Silence
Hell Or High Water
Hacksaw Ridge
The Witch
Hunt For The Wilderpeople.

Calvin Law said...

Uncle Hec is just the best. This is the sort of role that could have just been forgettable if played the wrong way.

Calvin Law said...

Seeing Hidden Figures tomorrow, my top 5:

Hacksaw Ridge
Silence
Moonlight
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Manchester by the Sea/La La Land

Alex Marqués said...

My top 5 (still haven't seen Moonlight, among others)

1.Arrival
2.Manchester by the Sea
3.The Witch
4.La La Land
5.Silence

Calvin Law said...

I really should research The Witch.

Calvin Law said...

*rewatch.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: It really has stuck with me these last 11 months and the possession scene is quite possibly my favourite horror scene since the turn of the century.

Calvin Law said...

Just had a bonkers idea in the shower for a film: Midnight Cowboy meets Natural Born Killers meets Nightcrawler meets a superhero film.

Lee Byung-hun and Matthias Schoenaerts play two low-level hoodlums in Boston, the former a bored and resentful Korean gangster and conman, the latter an optimistic Hollywood star who's descended into becoming a pimp to make ends meet. Their paths collide as they develop a strange sort of friendship, and gradually begin a career as vigilantes (think the concept behind Green Hornet but done better). They enjoy the newfound motivation in life in wiping crime off the streets by targeting their associates, unfortunately one person has gotten ahold of their tactics: Lou Bloom. Lou, who's become bored of living the American Dream, sees two men becoming 'heroes' and decides to use his powers to unravel their scheme.

The film ends with Lou gaining the upper hand, gaining even bigger amounts of fame and fortune, and decides to watch a film: 'Nocturnal Animals'. The smile is wiped off his face. He plans his next masterplan...

I have no idea why I'm posting this here but it seemed the best place to put an idea down.

Robert MacFarlane said...

My idea for a Nightcrawer sequel would Louis Bloom running for political office in spite of being an obvious conman. (Given the current political climate, its satire might be too tame.)

Charles Heiston said...

I love Neil's performance too. Excellent work.

Silence
Arrival
Hell Or High Water
Hacksaw Ridge
Hunt for The Wilderpeople

Charles Heiston said...

Also, i'm kinda hoping Neil takes the overall. Even though i love Kubozuka a bit more. I really don't want to see a 3rd Foster win.

Luke Higham said...

Charles: If Louis goes with Foster, don't be surprised if Louis changes it at a later date.

Luke Higham said...

Charles: Also, would you rather have Foster win initially, in case you might win a prediction.

Charles Heiston said...

Luke: Although i'm yet to win a prediction, and have some decent stuff to request, i'd prefer Neil winning initially.

Luke Higham said...

Charles: What requests do you have planned and you don't have to name them exactly.

Luke Higham said...

Charles: A hint would do.

Robert MacFarlane said...

My top 5 is:

20th Century Women
Silence
Moonlight
A Monster Calls
Arrival

Charles Heiston said...

Luke: Hmmmm....Well some stuff i have planned is mostly for fun, and mostly likely won't get a high rating. Some action-genre 80's stuff.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your Rating/Thoughts on Ben Foster in The Finest Hours.

Calvin Law said...

Saw The Age of Shadows. There were some weak stretches, but both leads were terrific, the direction was superb, and the ending was great. I'll admit I need a rewatch since my version was poorly subtitled.

Michael McCarthy said...

Calvin: I think I might be watching the same version you watched right now.

Calvin Law said...

Michael: Yeah, I think they're all like that online. Will definitely have to find a better copy online.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Given how positive Foster's, Neill's and the review of the Silence guys seem, I wouldn't be surprised if Ali didn't make Louis's top 5.
My top 5 favorite films of 2016:-
1. Silence
2. Hacksaw Ridge
3. Hell or High Water
4. La La Land
5. Sing Street (I'm serious)

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis and everyone else: What five songs would you guys have nominated for Best Original Song? Mine would be:

1.'Drive It Like You Stole It'- Sing Street
2.'Audition (The Fools Who Dream)'- La La Land
3.'City of Stars (Duet version)'- La La Land
4.'To Find You'- Sing Street
5.'A Lovely Night' - La La Land

Varun Neermul said...

Watching 11.22.63 and... It's great! James Franco can actually be charming.

Calvin Law said...

Tahmeed:

1. Drive it Like You Stole It
2. Audition
3. City of Stars (duet)
4. Brown Shoes
5. A Lovely Night

Giuseppe Fadda said...

My top 5 would be:

Moonlight
20th Century Women
La La Land
Arrival
Silence

@Tahmeed: I don't have a top 5, buy Drive It Like You Stole It should have been nominated.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Dennison - (Such an entertaining performance and Ricky Baker could easily have been very annoying. Dennison though is either very funny or very endearing in the role. He just brings such a palatable comedic energy to his role, and makes his ridiculous personal style completely work. Again though his chemistry with Neill though is something quite special and the two are incredibly funny together. Dennison is mostly comedic but he successfully earns those quieter more poignant moments as well particularly the scene where he reveals why he doesn't want to go back.)

Foster - 3(He really has nothing to do but the occasional pseudo one liner, that are not even written particularly well. Foster still makes an impact though and manages to steal his side of the film with the extremely little he has to work with.)

Tahmeed:

I'll do ten since it's a year where it actually is possible.

1. Audition - La La Land
2. Someone in the Crowd - La La Land
3. Drive It Like You Stole It - Sing Street
4. Another Day of Sun - La La Land
5. To Find You - Sing Street
6. City of Stars (Duet) - La La Land
7. You're Welcome - Moana
8. A Lovely Night - La La Land
9. Brown Shoes - Sing Street
10. Shiny - Moana

Calvin Law said...

Louis: if you'd really wanted to troll us hard you should have just written a haiku for this review and your thoughts on Dennison.

Robert MacFarlane said...

In terms of songs, I'd go with:

1. Drive It Like You Stole It from Sing Street
2. You're Welcome from Moana
3. Waving Goodbye from The Neon Demon
4. To Find You from Sing Street
5. Another Day of Sun from La La Land

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Alan Menken.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Your top ten acting scenes of the year. Mine would be-
1. Ending montage- Silence
2. The final scene- Hell or High Water
3. Audition- La La Land
4. The Police Station- Manchester by the Sea
5. Randi forgives Patrick- Manchester by the Sea
6. Garupe's "test"- Silence
7. Ferreira tries to break Rodriguez- Silence
8. Argument at dinner table- La La Land
9. "I had a vision"- Lion
10."I was a f**king jet engine"- Sing Street

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: I'd save that question for the results.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Luke: You're probably right. Louis, I'll ask that again in the results post.

Calvin Law said...

Saw Hidden Figures which I enjoyed, though it was extremely by the books. Monae, Henson and Costner were all great and Spencer is a deserving nomination, I'd say, though not all that exceptional.

Charles Heiston said...

I'd nominate
1. Audition - La La Land
2. Drive It Like You Stole It - Sing Street
3. Another Day of Sun - La La Land
4. To Find You - Sing Street
5. City of Stars (Duet) - La La Land

Alex Marqués said...

Louis: I hope you watch Certain Women before you post your nominations for the female acting categories. Gladstone is stellar.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: George 'The Animal' Steele, who starred in Ed Wood has passed away today.

Calvin Law said...

RIP. He was a perfect Tor Johnson.

Charles Heiston said...

RIP George Steele.

Psifonian said...

Dave Johns in "I, Daniel Blake" definitely deserves a look-in for a review.

Luke Higham said...

Psifonian: Louis' seen I, Daniel Blake and Johns is a 4.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Is the review coming tonight.

Luke Higham said...

Logan's getting terrific reviews. :)

Luke Higham said...

It seems to be getting Dark Knight level enthusiasm as well.

Charles Heiston said...

Keep the Logan love coming! :D

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Menken - (Perhaps a bit taken granted for as a composer, though his later work is decidedly less impressive. His work speaks for itself though crafting such unforgettable songs and scores. I always find the actual score to Beauty and the Best a bit underrated oddly enough, because it is rather incredible work. The same is true about Hunchback but even more so. He captures such grandeur and emotion with his work, yet is able just craft an entertaining little tune all the same. He was at least once a musical master of the show tune, as he simply wrote one wonderful song after another.)

On Logan, it is usually a good sign when they show it this early without an embargo.