Hugh Grant did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite receiving a BAFTA nomination, for portraying Phoenix Buchanan in Paddington 2.
This film, as was the case for Nicole Kidman in the original, calls upon an actor to have what would be described as a "blast" while playing the film's villain. Hugh Grant is that actor, who I've yet to cover in any of his romantic leading turns with all their blinks, smiles and stutters. Not that I have a problem those performances, in fact quite enjoyed him in last years Florence Foster Jenkins where he stole the show and was rather cruelly snubbed when compared to a few of his competitors. I won't bury the lead and will begin with that this is the most I've liked Grant in anything though, and it might be because it allows him to go all the way with his particular set of skills. This is not to say Grant is doing his usual thing exactly, but it is kind of the starting point except more than that. We see this in Grant's first scene in the film where he declares a carnival open while meeting out titular lovable bear voiced so well by Ben Whishaw. Grant is impeccably charming with his grandiose yet sunny delivery of his little speech. He even laughs off a couple of accidental insults by Paddington with only a few slight shakes of the head and a grand reveal of his impeccable pearled whites. Grant brings that trademark charisma he is known for and just takes it up a notch more to represent an actor of a, no offense to Grant, a grander scale more of a Laurence Olivier or Daniel Day-Lewis type.
That is the man who is Phoenix Buchanan who literally prays to old "Larry" Olivier, who after an accidental tip by Paddington becomes a thief in order to uncover a series of clues in order to unlock a treasure trove. Phoenix goes about stealing the clues he needs which leaves poor Paddington with his paw prints on the scene of a crime and sent to jail. Grant is the evil villain here, but I write that with all levity. This performance by Grant correctly understands the tone of this film which that it is all in very good fun. Grant's marvelous here in bringing to life his dastardly fellow through expressing the strongest ego possible for an actor, which obviously is rather substantial. Grant matches the task quite well portraying such a strangely endearing lack of shame in every moment of his portrayal of Phoenix. He goes grand, he goes ham, in the most delicious of ways. Every moment he plays as though Phoenix is ready to deliver some grand monologue. His delivery is always filled with bravado and his face filled with such explosive self-satisfaction and vanity. Grant will make you believe that man can accidentally expose himself to scrutiny through the sheer intensity due to how he so admires himself. Every moment there is such a powerful sense in Grant's work that Phoenix is in love with one thing, well one man, himself. This is a deeply impassioned love as Grant puts his every being into it and it couldn't more entertaining to watch.
There can be a fatal, well not fatal, but a severe mistake that some actors make when playing the villain in a film like this which is they can potentially lose out on the fun of it all. Grant makes sure he does not make that mistake at any point. I have particular affection for every one of his "creations" of the various characters that he uses to pull of his scheme as well as falls into personal conference with. Grant is most enjoyable as converses with himself with one character accent after another. I actually find that Grant is great here because he doesn't go too over the top with these voices, mind you that is a strange sacle, as Phoenix is suppose to be a good actor just a self-indulgent one, and Grant captures that with effortless style. He ensures that old Phoenix is just as entertaining as any other part of the film, and makes sure that just because he's our villain doesn't mean we cannot have agood time being around him. He even manages to do this in the final act where Phoenix's villainy becomes more overtly threatening technically speaking. How? Well that's a question Grant is more than willing to answer which is to play the part as though he's Basil Rathbone taking charge of his situation. He technically does create enough of a pseudo menace, no real menace is intended or required, as Grant so embraces the madness of the man living out his parts with such pertinacity. I especially love his tremendous pride when naming his level of fencing skill while showing it off as a proper swashbuckler should. This is a truly wonderful performance by Hugh Grant that makes the most out of his oh so agreeable fiend.
Gleeson's transformation of hardened criminal to loyal friend to Paddington couldn't be more endearing. It is rather hasty due to the nature of the film, but also still just perfect really in the few moments we get to address this. First with Gleeson's nonchalant disparaging of Paddington's aunt's advice, which leads to a most unfortunate stare to which Gleeson's reaction of sheer fear is something rather special. This though leads to the warming of old Knuckles in such a splendid way as Gleeson reveals just this overabundance of warmth in his interactions with dear Paddington. You'll believe friendship between a killer and bear, that is for sure through every little comedic gem you get in their interactions. I quite enjoy Gleeson keeping the hard edge of the man whenever it may benefit he and Paddington in their quest. This performance isn't all fun, okay it mostly is and a lot of fun it is. There is just a bit of drama that one must bring here in the few scenes where Knuckles warns poor Paddington that his family may forget about him in prison and encourages him to lead an escape. Gleeson's work though even delightful in this by making these conversations just so genuine on his side as though wasn't even talking to his mah ma lade loving bear. Gleeson interactions have this certain conviction in these moments that somehow makes everything all the more entertaining through it,even while being completely heartwarming as well. Gleeson's reactions when he hears of Paddington's troubles bring such real empathy that is comical coming from this brutish sort, yet still moving in its own way through the conviction that Gleeson brings. Gleeson also has just the right kind of fun here as well. He definitely realizes Knuckles as proper character that fits right into the life affirming substance that is Paddington 2.