Friday, 16 March 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Josh Brolin in W.

Josh Brolin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying George W. Bush in W.

W., though semi entertaining, stumbles in its attempt to make any statement or just any real insight into George W. Bush's presidency probably because Oliver Stone made the film before his final term was even over.

W. is Oliver Stone's third film to directly reference a U.S. president by name however it is only his second direct biography of one along with his Nixon. The two films are rather extreme in their differing tones with Nixon being a rather stark portrait of the man as well as American in general whereas W. is more of a comedic satire. Both though feature what is really Stone's way as a director, which I've mentioned before, which is there is a particular challenge it seems when an actor performs in a Stone film. In that he seems to allow, if not encourage, heavily caricatured performances, which was seen in the usually reliable Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Nixon as this sweaty beetle humanoid. That seemed a potential idea here with Josh Brolin in the title role that could have easily been an SNL impression, the material certainly pushes towards that way at times, and a few of his fellow performers fall into this particularly Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice. Now Josh Brolin does do an impression however he carefully maneuvers it to grant some honesty to his portrayal rather than to simply make a cartoon. Brolin does go to embody the man and effectively so. He captures that right Texan twang, without overdoing it, he also captures even the same sort of rhythm in his speech patterns and even portrays very specific physical mannerisms of the man from the way he walks to even certain mouth gestures featured in his press conferences. Brolin effectively interweaves these within his performance in a natural way though so they just seem part of who the character is rather than creating this hollow front as a representation of the man.

The film jumps back and forth between Bush's early life and rise to power along with the development of the plan for the Iraq war. The actual history of Bush is not made particularly interesting by the film particularly due to the repetitive portrayal of his relationship with his father which is scene after scene of a longing Bush waiting for approval only to be denied it again and again. Brolin though to his credit makes the most of what is there. He manages to actually find the right sort of tone within his own work to grant some honesty to the character while still hitting the more comedic elements needed for the tone of the film. Brolin is terrific in the way he takes the right approach to portray the Bush of the film in as earnest of way as a possible. Brolin's take is to make him comical in an indirect fashion towards his realization of him as this man with very specific values, and a very specific head space. This is a particularly wise approach as it is another factor in his work that keeps him from falling into caricature, but also he is able to move the idea of the character to an endearing fool rather than a malevolent figure. Brolin does that by keeping a fundamental truth within his portrayal which is the man is trying to do what he thinks is the right thing, even if it is far from it. He presents this both in terms of that longing to find approval with his father, but also in his very attitude we see as the president who believes he has some personal mission to save America.

Brolin's work keeps Bush a far more compelling figure than he likely would have been with more of say a Stone caricature had been centered instead. Brolin thankfully tries to explore the idea of the character beyond the main path of the story whenever there is possible. Now some of this is just in some entertaining moments in which he delivers such a hapless attitude so well in every moment we see in his early days filled with drinking and failure. Brolin's especially good in these scenes though is because he always brings this little twinkle in his eye of a man who is just very sloppily making it through life but creates the sense in the early scenes that he's just more confused than anything by the very prospect of success. Brolin manages to make this stumbling around properly entertaining again by creating the right sort of simplicity in his every moment of this as even in the way he delivers his few moments of direct outrage against his father Brolin infuses it with the simple need for approval. The need not being conveyed as this egotistical desire, but rather just a son seeking affection through Brolin's quietly somber approach to the idea. In the same period we also see perhaps Bush's best moment, within the film, where he briefly courts his eventual wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks). Brolin and Banks are great together, even though there is not a great deal of time spent on it. Brolin though brings such an infectious charm in these moments, and along with Banks create a real chemistry that creates the love between the two as a given.

Brolin is very good in the rise to power of Bush scenes as he once again finds an honesty within the simplicity of the character. In that he makes the simplicity almost a virtue in a sense as every action Brolin in a way effectively sugar coats by showing it coming from a place of such a genuine, if at times misplaced, concern. Brolin keeps the earnest nature of the character as a constant and in turn is able to find a certain charisma even the appeal of Bush as a politician. Brolin's very good in creating the "growth" of the character's success very much intertwined with in terms of his balance of the comedic and technically straight forward moments of his performance. Brolin is able to naturally find both within the same work and without unneeded tonal shifts within his own performance. Brolin captures the right balance by keeping the state of Bush so consistent no matter the situation making it so when he's just trying to bring across a down home, have a beer with the guy, type style he is charming, however when he tries to speak about policy in this context it becomes rather funny by how ill-fitting it all is. Brolin never tries to reinforce the comedy but rather makes it work in a far better fashion by leaving it as this effortless quality interwoven into his portrayal. This comes as particularly needed in the presidential scenes which are more Dr. Strangelove than say Lincoln. Brolin's performance is the best in terms of deriving the humor from the situation by acting as this standing ground, of almost a comical man that the other strong personalities bounce off of.

Brolin is very interesting in that he acts as the straight man in a way but only in that his straight is curved into comedy the whole time. The straightness being the consistency of character which is found in Brolin's passionate delivery of every single one of Bush's platitudes regarding America or his own duties. Brolin makes this a constant fierce belief that ends up being funny though by how blind Brolin portrays this conviction to be against everyone else who is either conning in some way, or more down to earth. Brolin reveals almost a danger in the purity of the state which is effective in showing how the man could blindly into the act of war because Brolin shows only the utmost support of the man's own mind behind every step. When things start to go poorly associated with it, especially when the intelligence comes short surrounding it, Brolin again does so well by remaining consistent to his choice of the character. In that he depicts frustrations not of a shrewd politician whose mechanizations are falling apart, but the sadness of crusader for justice whose crusade has turned out to be faulty. One of Brolin's best scenes comes near the end of the film where he stumbles around a press conference attempting to describe mistakes of his administration. Brolin is great in the scene in his delivery that is this messy tapestry of a man trying to remain with this certain confidence while at the same not exuding a single bit of it. Brolin in the moment is terrific in finding this hollowness and confusion of the statements of a man broken by his conception of himself leaving him only this generalized husk of the passionate fighter of before. Now this exact journey in this film is in no way a truly compelling one, as this is not a great film. Brolin though amplifies or rises above the material through his portrait of Bush which is entertaining while finding enough substance within the little bit of complexity offered to the role. It's a strong performance as it stands and likely would have been a truly great one with material that wholly matched the quality of his own work.

53 comments:

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Glad you liked him :).
Ratings and thoughts on the rest of the cast.

Robert: Could I have your thoughts on FMA Brotherhood's ending. While I enjoy 2003 and Brotherhood quite a bit, I must say I prefer the latter largely because of the ending.

John Smith said...

Very surprised by the rating.

Psifonian said...

Really hope that Dreyfuss makes the grade in Best Supporting Actor. I'd much rather see him in a Cheney biopic than Bale.

Michael McCarthy said...

This is pretty much what I was expecting for Brolin. As for the rest of the cast, Cromwell was definitely the best for me, though I also liked Wright and Banks. Burstyn and Jones were fine, Dreyfus was quite good in the first half but went way over the top in the second half. I have no idea what Newton was doing.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the voices of William Powell, Herbert Powell, George Sanders Edward Arnold and Walter Huston.

Anonymous said...

*Herbert Marshall

Calvin Law said...

Louis: when you end up seeing You Were Never Really There, I hope you'll end up saving Phoenix's performance for a future review.

Calvin Law said...

As for W, I wasn't a fan, though I'd agree with most of Louis' points.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your cast and director for:
The Pledge (1960's version)
The Town (1970's version)
American Hustle (1980's version)

Robert MacFarlane said...

Tahmeed: I mean, I can't really deny Brotherhood had a stronger finale in terms of wrapping up loose ends, but I don't really feel it earned any of its big emotional beats or epiphanies. Edward's final revelation and victory over The Truth is great on paper, but... where's the actual buildup to it? If that was the 2003 series ended, I would have bought it since Edward's growing maturity was far more visible, but with Brotherhood it just felt out of the blue.

Plus I really felt rubbed wrong by how easy Brotherhood lets almost every character off. It lets Scar walk away scott free. All of that lip service about Roy taking responsibility for his war crimes ends with him attaining his big goal AND getting magical healing on his eyes for no actual price. At least the 2003 series ends with him virtually without a career and with one eye.

Yes, the 2003 series fumbles in the home stretch. I won't defend the cliffhangers, I won't defend the rushed pacing of the final episode, and I sure as hell won't defend that fucking movie they dared to call a finale. But the ride to it was still a far richer, intimate, and character-driven tale than Brotherhood's generic Shonen storytelling. (I could really go all day with what bothers me so much about Brotherhood's versions of Scar, Lust, and Roy.)

Also, we spent, what, seven episodes doing nothing at that fucking snow fort until Anime Tyler Durden showed up and started blowing shit up?

Robert MacFarlane said...

(Yes, I know Kilmblee was just a generic psycho in the 2003 version, but I could not stand his Brotherhood counterpart's constant nihilistic ramblings. Nice suit, though.)

Bryan L said...

Louis: Your past film roles for Josh Brolin and Jeremy Renner? And thoughts on the latter as an actor?

Matt Montada said...

Your top 10 favorite Acting Performances of all time?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your top ten scenes where the silence in acting contributes to the meaning or emotion?

Plus, your top five performers who excel in quiet or introvert roles, and some examples of their notable performances?

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Robert: I will admit that in terms of the stories and plot that the two shows share, 2003 does it better.

However, after the divergence point (after Brotherhood's 12th episode), I felt like it finally hit its stride. And I will defend Briggs largely because of just how awesome Olivier Armstrong, Buccaneer and Miles are.
Also, in regards to most of the Homunculi, I felt Brotherhood handled them better, particularly Wrath, Pride and Envy.

I sort of understand your points about Scar and Roy, but I will say their development is earned in both shows. Both of their arcs about the futility of revenge, was powerfully handled, and I think it was implied that Roy would stand trial at the end for some of his crimes.
That being said, 2003 and Brotherhood should both be viewed in their entirety, with the former first to get the best of both stories.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Dunaway wanted Mitchum for Holden's part in Network, but Lumet felt that Mitchum was too "urban". How do you think he would have fared in the role?

Also, who would have you chosen for Beatty's role?

Calvin Law said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rANwBGXt7v8

Louis, your thoughts on this deleted scene from In Bruges.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I saw the scene a long while back and I'm glad it didn't make the final cut.

Louis Morgan said...

Tahmeed:

Cromwell - 4(Watching this film again, and just Cromwell in general again I have to say he is such an underutilized actor these days. Although his H. Bush voice takes a little getting use to, partially because Cromwell has such a strong voice to begin with, this is a very effective performance. Cromwell exudes such powerful command in his performance in the right way is not charming, yet still distinctive in terms of this form charisma of such a man. He makes the certain power of him rather remarkable. In turn he's very good in playing around the idea of his feelings towards his son later on in the film in giving just the most minor hints of any real warmth.)

Banks - 3.5(She's very much underutilized in this film however she's really quite good here in creating an honest figure in what could have been a one note caricature in the wrong hands. She's terrific though in again finding that genuine chemistry with Brolin, but also in honestly finding the state of the woman who supports her husband in emotion however is not blind in her own judgments.)

Burstyn - 3(She certainly delivers in her fairly minor role particularly compared to Cromwell.)

Wright - 3(He overdoes his Powell mannerisms just a touch however I do think he is quite good in provide the right directness in his work that realizes the straight forward honesty of the character quite well and work particularly well in contrast to what Dreyfuss is doing.)

Glenn - 3.5(I rather like his performance here even if it is very much only in some small margins. He brings this slightly daffy quality though in what otherwise is a straight forward guy in power presence that alludes to his treatment of it all as this certain type of game.)

Newton - 1.5(Yeah this doesn't even work as a over the top cartoon because she's not funny despite being completely ridiculous in her excessively mannered approach.)

Jones - 3(Extremely well cast however Rove is only slightly touched upon. Jones is just fine in providing sort of that incisiveness within a sort of false presentation of just the go-getter. He doesn't get to explore the character though past a certain point though.)

McGill - 3(I believe Bruce McGill is on every film's presidential cabinet, and really he should be.)

Anonymous:

Powell - (Well this is just proper 30's voice to be sure, and unlike most of the time there's real ease in Powell voice that is oh so refreshing particularly for the time.)

Marshall - (Properly distinct and refined voice of the early era.)

Sanders - (Like Jeremy Irons later on, Sanders is such a perfect personification of the feline purr in such wonderfully distinctive way.)

Arnold - (An effortlessly commanding and powerful voice of Arnold that could so effectively push this in a cold or warm fashion.)

Huston - (Early on his voice could occasionally be a little stuffy however in his later years he really let loose, and his voice in turn had this endearing wily quality to it.)

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

The Pledge 1960's directed by Richard Fleischer:

Jerry Black: Edward G. Robinson
Toby: Joe Turkel
Stan: Stuart Whitman
Gary: Sidney Blackmer
Lori: Mary Astor
Jim: Eli Wallach

The Town 1970's directed by Peter Yates:

Doug: Steve McQueen
Claire: Faye Dunaway
Agent Frawley: Gene Hackman
Jem: James Caan
Kris: Susan Sarandon
Stephen: Lee J. Cobb
Fergus: Cyril Cusack

American Hustle 1980's directed by Martin Scorsese:

Irving Rosenfeld: Robert De Niro
Sydney Prosser: Lesley Ann Warren
Richie DiMaso: James Woods
Rosalyn Rosenfeld: Valerie Perrine
Mayor Polito: Harvey Keitel
Stoddard Thorsen: M. Emmet Walsh
Victor Tellegio: Anthony Quinn

Bryan:

Renner's a funny one as an actor in that immediately after the Hurt Locker there was that brief attempt to turn him into a more traditional leading man, as these junior versions in already established spy genres, which did not seem to work out in a public perception sense. I would say, even if he wasn't bad, it did not play to his strengths which is that Renner should play somehow rather than trying to be "Jeremy Renner" action star so to speak. It's interesting when that doesn't work out, but that goes all into the star presence thing that is always tricky idea. Renner doesn't have that but what he does have is immense talent. Talent that includes an incredible dramatic range, and the funny thing is he can even be extremely charming when he sets his mind to it. The truth is it just seems Renner needs to play someone, which can seemingly be anyone, which much of limit to be honest.

Brolin:

Agent Anderson (Mississippi Burning)
Joker Jackson (The Defiant Ones)
U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (All of Tommy Lee Jones's roles honestly after Men in Black 3)

Renner:

Bugsy Siegel
Frank Serpico
Jim Fuller (The Mark)

Matt:

You can find my top five here: http://actoroscar.blogspot.com/2014/11/alternate-best-actor-1998-jeff-bridges.html

Anonymous:

I think Mitchum probably would have been great, though I understand Lumet's choice as Holden is more naturally fitting to that sort of type, however that is forgetting Mitchum's considerable range which was far greater than he perhaps was given credit for.

Stacy Keach.

Calvin:

Yes....that scene. McDonagh made the right decision to cut it and all the deleted scenes to be honest(Which helped to conceive the masterpiece the film is). That scene was the most unneeded though as it would have weakened the impact of when we first see Harry, it delivers information that is more powerfully handled through Ray's statement, but it also just isn't well executed, even past the unfinished effect.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I aw Love, Simon. It's cute. Nothing Earth-shattering, but at the same time maybe it is? I mean, as safe as it plays it, the fact that we've got a gay romance film so normalized in the mainstream is pretty satisfying. Nick Robinson is sort of like if Ansel Elgort was charming.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Have you played any video games in game consoles or your PC? If so, could I have your top 5 favorite games?

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: I doubt he would ever have the time nowadays to play video games since the last one he played was Arkham City.

Mitchell Murray said...

Lucas Hedges is set to play Shia Labeouf in a biopic.. not sure how I feel about that, to be honest.

Calvin Law said...

I'm looking forward to it, particularly Labeouf playing his own father. I'm probably in the minority but Hedges is for me the most promising actor in his age group.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I'd probably go with Tom Holland.

John Smith said...

Chamlet according to me is the most promising.

Calvin Law said...

Loui: are you a fan of SNL/have you watched any of it? I'm a huge fan of Cecily Strong, Mikey Day, Kate McKinnon, and Keenan Thompson personally.

Calvin Law said...

Of the current lot that is.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your top 5 most promising actors in the 16-25 age group and your reasons why.

Louis Morgan said...

Tahmeed:

1. Shining Force 3
2. Resident Evil 4
3. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
4. The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker
5. Shadow of the Colossus

Calvin:

I've never been that much of a fan in general. I do enjoy a sketch here or there however the live format I think generally leads to most sketches living well past their welcome and sometimes they aren't welcome at all.

Luke:

1. Tom Holland - (The most consistent so far in my book in that he's been a dynamic engaging performer even in his smaller roles. His career highlight so far, The Impossible, showed quite the considerable dramatic range. His work as Spider-man, even though I didn't love the character as written, as shown he perhaps has that star spark and charisma needed for long lasting appeal.)

2. John Boyega - (Boyega's interesting in that he's kind of starting out as a star, and he certainly has the charisma to keep going in that direction. In terms of his more overtly dramatic work though he has proven himself as well though I'll be interested to see him explore that side more as he goes along.)

3. Tye Sheridan - (Although I'm not sure the blockbuster is the right direction for him his work in Mud and Joe cements him as one of the most talented of his age group. His natural ability I would say is unparalleled, however he hasn't fully convinced in terms of a more generalized range yet though which is what he seems to be currently exploring.)

4. Timothee Chalamet - (I think everyone should perhaps cool their jets a bit on him, in that one good performances does not make a great actor. Although he wasn't bad at all in Hostiles, Interstellar and Lady Bird he didn't exactly stand out either. I'm interested to see where he goes, and his Oscar nominated turn signals that he's certainly good actor at any rate.)

5. Will Poulter - (Has the highest height out of anyone on my list here with his recent work, though he has perhaps had the shakiest start till this point with far more inconsistency previously. If he continues to do work like what he did last year though he'll be quickly moving to the top of this list.)

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Have you seen Son Of Rambow yet.

Bryan L said...

Calvin: I am. I watch every episode live when I can. My favorites are Strong, Day, Bennett, Mooney, Gardner and Thompson. I like McKinnon but I'm not big on her as much as everyone else.

Calvin Law said...

Bryan: Oh yeah, Bennett and Mooney are great too.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Who would have you chosen instead of Basinger for Lynn Bracken?

Bryan L said...

Anonymous: He mentioned Isabella Rossellini for Lynn Bracken instead of Basinger once.

http://actoroscar.blogspot.com/2014/08/alternate-best-supporting-actor-1997_11.html

Bryan L said...

Anonymous: My mistake. He mentioned Naomi Watts instead.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

No.

Bryan:

Although Rossellini would have also worked as an Ingrid Bergman look alike.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Is Two Lovers 2008 or 2009 by your rules?

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Two Lovers had a theatrical release in France & Belgium in 2008.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on The Punisher and The Masque of Black Death as missed opportunities.

Mitchell Murray said...

(Calvin) Well heres my thing with it..

I genuinely liked Hedges in "Manchester By The Sea" - as much crap as I've given him for his breakdowns I don't at all think he's terrible at them. Patrick was a perfect role for him at this point, in that not only was he able to be a normal teenager but he himself wasn't carrying the movie. He proved with that movie to be a fine young actor, and I'll admit much of my appreciation for that performance comes from me seeing a lot of myself in that character. With that said though I'm not sure Hedges has gained enough experience for the parts he's being offered. From what I've seen so far he works best when he's aloud to relax, and Labeouf has never been known for being understated, either on screen or off. As of right now I doubt Hedges could pull off such a demanding and eccentric personality, even when I consider he will be playing a younger Labeouf. Like I said.. I can certainly see the appeal with Hedges, but I've yet to fully jump on the bandwagon.

Bryan L said...

Louis: How do you think Mifune would do as each of the Japanese characters from Silence? And in what decade? I see him most as The Interpreter.

Bryan L said...

Everyone: Thoughts on this all-female remake cast for The Departed if it were made in the 2010s?

Costigan- Emily Blunt
Sullivan- Anne Hathaway
Costello- Sigourney Weaver
Dignam- Jessica Chastain
Queenan- Frances McDormand
Ellerby- Robin Wright
Barrigan- Evan Rachel Wood

Michael McCarthy said...

Bryan: Coming from someone who didn’t LOVE Kubozuka in Silence, I think Mifune would have been an absolutely devastating Kichijiro.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Takashi Shimura would have been downright amazing as Mokichi.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the final scenes in Bullhead (Jacky tries to talk to Lucia/Jacky gets taken by police)

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Will you be watching Fantastic Mr. Fox this week before seeing Isle Of Dogs.

Bryan L said...

French- Lena Headey

Michael McCarthy said...

Hathaway would be perfect for Sullivan. I’d also go with Margo Martindale for Frenchy.

Calvin Law said...

I'd swap McDormand and Wright but otherwise pretty airtight cast. I'd thunk up a seperate cast the other day for a 2010s version:

Costigan equivalent: Hayden Szeto
Sullivan equivalent: Steven Yeun
Costello equivalent: Benedict Wong
Dignam: Randall Park
Frenchy equivalent: Song Kang-ho
Queenan: William H. Macy
Ellerby: Ethan Hawke
Barrigan: Caleb Landry Jones

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

The Punisher just doesn't seem that hard of an idea to get to at least be a decent thriller, which that film was not, it was even a waste of Jane (In the role even), and Foster as well as the source material. It also came from the time of bizarre choices for comic films like lets make the mousey woman a super model, or even better lets set a comic based so firmly around New York and set it in Miami. The film is just a series of baffling choices, though I don't think it is terrible its major mistakes could have easily been avoided.

In terms of The Masque of Black Death any Kurosawa film unmade was a missed opportunity, and that could have potentially been a great role for Mifune or Nakadai.

Bryan:

40's/50's Mifune as Kichijiro, Tatsuya Nakadai would have been a perfect interpreter.

Anonymous:

Just a incredible powerful sequence built around Schoenaerts's heartbreaking performance. It's brilliant though as it sort of dissects the idea of the brute into this vulnerable lost soul making what could just be a moment of violence, incredible poignant.

Luke:

Maybe.

Criddic said...

I think Anthony Hopkins gave one of his best, most compelling acting jobs in "Nixon." I don't think it was a caricature at all. He gave a well-rounded, emotionally affecting performances. Incidentally, I think "Nixon" was Oliver Stone's last great film, although I thought "World Trade Center" was a fine effort as well. He's kind of lost his touch overall, similarly to the once-reliable Rob Reiner ("Stand By Me," "When Harry Met Sally...," "Misery," "A Few Good Men").