Sunday, 28 October 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Joe Mantegna in House of Games

Joe Mantegna did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Mike in House of Games.

House of Games I found to be David Mamet's best film, that I've seen, despite being his first film benefiting from a more focused narrative than some of his later efforts.

Mamet mainstay, both on stage on screen, Joe Mantegna naturally is there for the first foray into the cinematic form. A film that follows a subject matter, that being the world of con artists, that seems more fitting to sort of Mamet's mametese style of dialogue. The film explores the world of con artists through the curiosity of a doctor Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) who initially comes upon the world in the belief she is helping one of her patients. Joe Mantegna appears as one of the first connections to the world seemingly as a gambler willing to help her patient wipe away a debt if she helps him play poker. Mantegna is of course a fine fit for such part fitting right into the underworld setting. Mantegna's performance though is interesting in it essentially him playing with the idea of just what type of criminal his Mike is throughout the film. At first we meet him seemingly as shady, but seemingly affable enough gambler. Mantegna captures a generalized sorta tough guy well enough that it becomes believable enough as he reveals a bit of seeming vulnerability in trying to get Margaret to help him win at poker. I will say this probably Mantegna's weakest scene as it is in general somewhat stilted, though this perhaps to show the artifice of the situation since the whole thing is revealed to be a con to try to scam Margaret.

She catches on though but rather than turning them into the police she becomes intrigued by the con men particularly Mantegna's Mike. Mantegna switches his performance accordingly to be a particularly amiable con man. Here Mantegna excels in bringing a real charm to his performance in expressing this outward warmth with an underlying attraction towards Margaret. He is particularly effective in creating the intrigue of the con by overlaying with this considerable charisma. Mantegna speaks with an energy and magnetism of a man trying not only to woo the woman but also to welcome her into the world. His whole manner delivers this eagerness to show off though in a way that captures her intrigue. Mantegna and Crouse share an earnestly sweet chemistry together even as they speak of essentially cheating other people. That mutual attraction is well realized though specifically created in the foundations of that sort of danger involving the con. Mantegna though seems to remain consistent as really her "man" even as they go along towards a more dangerous con that she invites her into. Mantegna plays these moments though with an earnest concern always towards her, almost a little too impassioned in her support to the point where one might question the loyalty based on just how selfless it appears.

The violent con ends up being yet just another con at Margaret's expense, a long con to get her money, and in this Mantegna segues towards his final turn as Mike, the real Mike. Mantegna here makes for a real proper jerk now just showing a completely callous criminal who is neither dangerous nor intriguing. Mantegna instead does well by just staying true to the nasty nature of the con and presents a man just without any scruples. Mantegna takes the approach that is pretty cold though effectively so in showing just how brutal the nature of the con is. This is as he shows not a hint of a hidden real affection showing quite bluntly instead that the Mike of all previously scenes was merely the con artist playing the part to rope her in. This made all the more evident in the final confrontation which is perhaps Mantegna's best scene. Mantegna doesn't beat around the bush brandishing the indifference of Mike right to her face with this venomous disregard in every line delivery. He leaves no moment for sentiment revealing just a small pathetic man behind all his false charm that really was just a mask. This is revealed all the more when she one ups him by resorting to violence for satisfaction. Mantegna is very good in revealing a genuine desperation while still keeping the man's vile nature intact as he captures a man clearly fearing for his life though with a pride that prevents him begging for it. It's a terrific moment as Mantegna reveals the little rat that was Mike all along. Now this though does create a structure for the character that keeps a distant type, rather than real man for much of the film. Nonetheless this is a good performance by Joe Mantegna even within that certain restriction.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather

Terry O'Quinn did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, for portraying Jerry Blake or is it Henry Morrison or is it Bill Hodgkins, well maybe you should just call him the titular Stepfather.

The Stepfather is a pretty schlocky horror film, but there is a reason I'm writing about it.

That reason should be evident enough as we have an example of a talented then relatively unknown actor in Terry O'Quinn picking up a leading role in what is a film without any higher ambitions. O'Quinn though is perhaps operating on some alternate level seeking to give this film all he's worth, even if the film itself isn't worth a lot with its often ridiculous plot, stilted dialogue, and downright hilarious choices in terms of the use of score. O'Quinn's performance is well worth watching on every front. Now on one end there is the idea of creating a proper "monster" for the film and in this sense O'Quinn is brilliant. On the main surface we have his Jerry Blake the new family man seeking to ingratiate himself as a proper stepfather. O'Quinn plays this side with a father knows best sort of voice that is just wonderful with the artifice in just how "perfect" he makes it. O'Quinn's delivery is just primed with this level of sweetness as he woos his new wife Susan, and tries to make good with his skeptical stepdaughter Stephanie. O'Quinn's whole demeanor is just of this super guy in every way, a friend to everyone with his welcoming smile, and cheerful attitude that extends both to his family and all of his customers a realtor. O'Quinn makes Jerry just everything he should be as a great friend to all especially this new family of his.

Of course from the outset of the film we know this is a thin veneer as in the opening of the film where "Jerry" cleans himself up, and marches out of a home having massacred all within. O'Quinn is great in this wholly silent scene actually by how he performs the moment. As we see the man literally naked, but also metaphorically so as he builds up his new "stepfather" after disposing of the old. O'Quinn brings the appropriate intensity within his eyes fitting for a killer yet is especially chilling by the way he so methodically plays each moment of the scene. O'Quinn brings this devotion to his performance that is what actually delivers something far more eerie to the scene. He doesn't play it so callously as though it is nothing at all for the man to do this. O'Quinn rather makes it almost this ritual in the palatable emotional undercurrent of he brings to the transformation as he shows the man remaking himself. O'Quinn fully embodies this almost as this religious experience as he goes from this demented psychopath who "reforms" himself in this state of calm as he becomes a new man.

The film then gets into its plot which is rather dull and often repetitive. O'Quinn though is consistently compelling in the role of the family who occasionally descends into a madness when alone or killing someone. Again O'Quinn is fantastic in both sides and his portrayal of the mental breakdown scenes are particularly marvelous. They would be easy moments to go way over the top with but O'Quinn delivers towards these extremes without going too far. His performance rather matches the sheer mania of it all in his way of speaking the nonsense of a man who is essentially is of multiple minds going at once. He brings this force to the mania that is chilling, but never does he become ridiculous in this approach. O'Quinn tries, and does not wholly fail to bring some depth to the character through even when he's saddled with some rather awful lines. This is especially the case in the third act when he becomes the slasher killer, and is given some one liners like "Next time Jim, Call before you drop by" after literally dropping the man by killing him. O'Quinn deserves all the credit for not becoming altogether goofy even when saying goofy things. He speaks even those words with a real conviction, and sells them as the film desires even if it isn't best for what it seems like he trying to do with the rest of his performance. That being an attempt an actual examination of the demented psyche of the man. O'Quinn is excellent in these moments where he grants more than silliness to the central idea of this man longing for a family. In a moment where we see him watching another happy father, O'Quinn is genuinely moving in granting such an honest need in "Jerry's" eyes as he looks to the thing he wants most but cannot have. His conviction to this idea even comes through in the stupid finale in his final lines. O'Quinn's last line of "I love you" to the stepdaughter who has just stabbed in the heart, is again of one of earnest need rather than a glib statement. The film isn't anything more than you'd expect it to be, but Terry O'Quinn gives a terrific performance far beyond what you'd expect in such a film. And I will give credit to the general critical examination of the film at the time for recognizing his work even when most, properly, bemoaned the film. He seems to derive everything can from the role to a give far more complete portrait of this psychopath than the film devised or even desired.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987

And the Nominees Were Not:

Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride

Joe Mantegna in House of Games

Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I

Steve Martin in Roxanne

Gaspard Manesse in Au Revoir Les Enfants

Predict those five, these five or both.

Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart

Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather

Klaus Kinski in Cobra Verde

Martin Short in Innerspace

Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1975: Results

5. Ugo Tognazzi in My Friends - Tognazzi gives a wonderful endearing turn that creates the right dynamic with the titular friends while also creating a undercurrent of pathos within the man.

Best Scene: Death bed of a friend.
4. Bruce Dern in Smile - Dern gives a hilarious yet also somehow moving portrayal of a man who has devised his own form of the American dream that he uses to live life by.

Best Scene: Talking to his friend in prison.
3. Alan Bates in In Celebration - Bates, along with all his co-stars, gives a terrific turn portraying so effectively the desperation in his portrait of a son struggling to find a way to reveal his discontent with his life and family at a reunion.

Best Scene: Can't sleep.
2. Nicol Williamson in The Wilby Conspiracy - Williamson steals his film wholesale through his dynamic and domineering portrayal of a cunning villainy fighting passionately for what he believes in.

Best Scene: Revealing the conspiracy.
1. Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws - Dreyfuss, as with his two main co-stars, gives a great performance that compliments them wonderfully through his off-beat energy while also effectively realizing his own place within the dramatic elements of the film.

Best Scene: Indianapolis reaction.
Updated Overall

Next Year: 1987 lead

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1975: Ugo Tognazzi in My Friends

Ugo Tognazzi did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Count Lello Mascetti in My Friends.

My Friends follows a group of older friends in their strange and occasionally tragic misadventures. 

Ugo Tognazzi plays one of the titular friends, not quite the leader, but perhaps the most charismatic one of the friends. Tognazzi's performance instantly establishes Mascetti as such as he brings a considerable amount of swagger to this performance. Tognazzi's approach does a bit more than that suggesting the man's background before we even learn that he is a count. Tognazzi has a certain style in his manner of a man seemingly of privilege though an exact sort. Tognazzi's manner is that specifically of a European hotshot who carries his nobility less as something dignified, but rather as something to brandish. Tognazzi's demeanor is of a man who very much believes he is a bit of "boss" for the lack of a better word. This seems to play well to the group when they are running their various schemes of somewhat dubious legality. Tognazzi walks on the scene like he is in some way above it all, bringing the appropriate charisma as he helps persuade, and really to con along with friends in their dubious enterprises.

The film though is of the surface and the interiors though as much of it appears to be madcap fun with these friends and their various oddball behaviors. In this Tognazzi is a key ingredient. This is in terms of that aforementioned ability of persuasion, which Tognazzi brandishes through that confident attitude, and often direct yet rapid fire delivery he brings. The chemistry between each party though beyond those roles they fit within their "schemes" is more of how they function as a group than each individual interaction. Tognazzi is terrific though in being part of this sort of specific type of friendly chemistry. This is very much that of boys as much of men in their interactions. These carry always this undercurrent of that camaraderie and warmth that just exudes the history of the men as they interact. This history also comes in the certain sometimes insulting manner between them, though again all the actors handle this well always saying even the most brazen insult to one another with the most sincere of affection within it.

There is that other side of the film though reveals more about the men, and each of their lives which are considerably less joyous when they are all not together. For Mascetti, despite being a count, it is being broke and needing to depend on his friends for charity. Mascetti is unable to support his own family, despite trying to still live the life of the bon vivant. There are moments of desperation that are actually quite moving in Tognazzi's performance when he has to directly either deal with his wife, or ask his friends directly for help. Tognazzi finds this hidden vulnerability within the man that reveals this deep seeded unhappiness that slowly reveals his manner the rest of the time a bit of a facade in a sense. Tognazzi puts on no show in these most personal moments of the man, just portraying a man sadly scraping by with his title being something he clings to rather than lives by. When this is revealed this changes his dynamic with his friends, however not in the way one might expect. Tognazzi's genuine desperation in those scenes creates a certain meaning within his interactions with his friends as a group suggesting these interactions as his only time of comfort. Tognazzi successfully creates this weight than into their often seemingly superfluous interactions by so effectively showing the meaning they hold to Mascetti's whose existence is so troublesome otherwise. Tognazzi naturally coverts this towards the final minutes of the film where one of the friends is on the brink of death. Tognazzi's passionate speech for his friend to be recognized by his wife is a powerful moment. It is not only through that passion Tognazzi brings that reflects their long history, but is all the more potent by that extra shading provided what his friends truly mean for his life. Tognazzi's performance delivers both this needed endearing energy to his character, who could have been insufferable in the wrong hands, and a real depth that attaches more to the friends' hi-jinks than just a bit of fun.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1975: Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws

Richard Dreyfuss did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a BAFTA, for portraying Matt Hooper in Jaws.

As with any masterpiece there is not a single factor that makes Jaws one of the best films ever made. There are several elements working in tandem to realize this achievement. As much as Jaws is a technical and directorial achievement in its creation of the horror of a shark, it goes beyond any average monster film through the characters that ground it into reality. In Jaws we have the three men who eventually become the motley crew of the boat the Orca tasked to kill the titular Jaws. I have previously reviewed Roy Scheider for his understated yet dynamic leading turn as Chief Brody, and Robert Shaw for his turn as the old haunted shark hunter Quint, which I consider the greatest supporting turn ever given. I have been remiss though to forget the third part of this triangle in Dreyfuss's Matt Hooper. The then young hotshot performer makes his presence known as a visitor to the shark terrorized island as an expert in the field from the mainland. Although Hooper has the least personally invested in the hunt for the Shark he is an essential ingredient within story.

Before the three meet up though Hooper is initially introduced as the expert sent over from the mainland to offer some insight on the shark attacks. Although all three of the men are in some form a atypical on the island of Amity  with Brody hating the water as well as not being from the island originally, and Quint being Quint, Hooper is perhaps the most obvious in this regard. This is beautifully represented in his first scene as the not particularly tall man arrives at the port, where groups of amateur shark hunters dangerously make their way out the sea. Dreyfuss is great here by very much playing into being as much of a Richard Dreyfuss as he can be. Dreyfuss in doing so perfectly embodies sort of a proper city folk who just doesn't quite fit in a setting filled with plenty of yocal locals. This is not a problem for Hooper, as evidenced by Dreyfuss's wonderful approach to really just to embrace sort of that affluent upbringing in his sunny yet rather ego driven demeanor. It would be pretty easily to make Hooper quite unlikable quickly, but Dreyfuss takes such a pitch perfect approach from the start. As like Shaw and Scheider, he simply from his first frame is Hooper.

Dreyfuss's performance is primed with this certain insatiable energy which he fashions so well. In that he makes it honest to the man who is there to do a job, and so naturally infused in his general manner as he first arrives. Dreyfuss uses this brilliantly though in the way it creates a certain passion within the character, and a humor in his interactions with others. As immediately when he arrives and asks Brody about seeing the remains of the victim his desire to do so is delivered so well by Dreyfuss's determined delivery as a man who clearly cares. This is less evident as he tries to help the chief by telling a group of men not to overload a boat, Dreyfuss's smile as he murmurs to himself "They're all going to die" with more than little bit of derisive self-satisfaction in the sentiment. Dreyfuss treads this fine line here as he is always nearly insufferable as Hooper quickly combats the townspeople, but never quite goes over it. This is through both again that passion, the humor, but also the humanity he does bring to the character. There is a great moment early on where he is performing his own autopsy on the first victim where Dreyfuss's reaction of reserved horror at the sight of it is exceptionally performed revealing a man who cares rather than just an ego.

Dreyfuss's initial dynamic actually is specifically with Scheider as Brody. The two are wonderful together in creating just this natural warmth in their interactions as each look at each other with a great mutual respect. The way the two play together in a scene though is terrific though with Dreyfuss making Hooper a firebrand of sorts against the mostly reserved Brody. Dreyfuss brings such a great enthusiasm in moments as he discusses the sharks, and his experiences. I love one moment though where he discusses his family's wealth, and Dreyfuss brings just the right touch of nearly a bit of shame on the matter against Brody's genuine curiosity. This balances so well against the moments where the two try to convince the town's mayor (Murray Hamilton) about the dangers of the shark, and that they should close the beach. Where Scheider makes Brody's disagreements passionate yet cordial, Dreyfuss provides excellent contrast, as he delivers every frustration. Dreyfuss takes it a step further than anger though with this annoyed disbelief at the stupidity, with yes a bit of an ego again, but at this point rather earned in his "I'm smarter than you" attitude at this point.

Of course all that Dreyfuss does before the film's third act is just a warm up once he and Shaw finally share the screen. The two evidently did not get along on set, and this perfectly plays into their scenes together with the young upstart against the aging vet, both in terms of the characters and the actors.  Dreyfuss is so good with Shaw, though it is perhaps in a way playing at each other than directly with each other at times in the best of ways. This is from their first great moment where Quint grabs Hooper's arms to comment on his "city hands". Dreyfuss's flustered reaction is perfection setting up the right type of antagonism, as it isn't just annoyance, but also this certain defiant spark that will help to define their relationship. This all the while with Scheider providing the perfect mid-ground as Brody. They are marvelous together in every moment by how vibrant they make every interaction as we just get to know the three men as they try to kill the blasted shark. Dreyfuss is fantastic in his part using every moment to his advantage. This is in the alliance with Quint where Dreyfuss delivers this great petulance early on always showing his bits of defiance, and competition. One moment from this is where he just makes childlike gesture insults, without Quint seeing, after being given an order, which is very funny, yet also comes so naturally within Dreyfuss's performance making just seem like something Hooper would do. One of my favorite moments though is in their competition of sorts where Quint drinks down a beer then crushes a beer, causing Hooper to do the same with his beer, the difference is it is in a paper cup. Dreyfuss's reaction is what makes this so hilarious as he stares with determination presenting Hooper's conviction to match Quint at every point. Again though this is never overdone in irreverence, as their moments of clashing over expertise or how to kill the shark, Dreyfuss again brings such a genuine passion once again. His deliveries and manner create the right color to the character, who he makes humorous yet never a cartoon. This is also found through the process of the hunt which Dreyfuss's work helps to characterize in a way by easing up the humor the more dire the situation becomes. Now one of the best acted scenes of all time is the famed Indianapolis speech by Robert Shaw, that includes what Scheider and Dreyfuss are doing. Dreyfuss is great himself first in the moment pre-speech where he and Shaw capture the right camaraderie finally as the two compare scars with the right glee. Although this is a definite shift the two make this moment of friendship feel earned as the two similair spirits come out so naturally within their interactions. Dreyfuss's best moment in the scene though is where he comments on the scar that was formerly a naval tattoo that signified the Indianapolis. Dreyfuss's shift from laughing, as Hooper makes an innocent joke about what the tattoo might have been, to seriousness is brilliantly performed. He captures so well the understanding in Hooper once he realizes what Quint's experience had been in a seconds notice with barely saying a word. Throughout the scene Dreyfuss's reactions provide all the more weight and impact to the story in his reactions that signify Hooper's own horror at hearing the first hand account as well as the right empathy as he comes to fully understand the man. After that scene the petulance of Hooper is essentially gone in Dreyfuss's performance as he shifts to a more mature presence. He also shows a greater passion in the moments of action doing so well in suggesting the man's own growing need to kill the shark, after treating it more as a curiosity at first. Dreyfuss too is great in portraying the gradual growth in desperation as they run out of options. Dreyfuss is especially powerful in his harried delivery "You got any better suggestions?" before he is going to try to poison the shark as a last resort. I also love those final moments with Shaw, as the two in the end finally exude their own respect just in the way the performers interact. Their arc to this is never spelled out in dialogue yet both Shaw and Dreyfuss wholly earn this change away from antagonism. Although Dreyfuss has perhaps the least emotional role of the three, he too gives a great performance. His chemistry with Shaw and Scheider is perfection, though in very different ways, and as they do with their characters, Dreyfuss helps to make Hooper a compelling and vivid character in his own right that goes far beyond being one of the shark hunters.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1975: Nicol Williamson in The Wilby Conspiracy

Nicol Williamson did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Major Horn in The Wilby Conspiracy.

The Wilby Conspiracy I guess you could say is a bit of a prototype for the Edward Zwick style message picture, where it takes populist style approach towards a rather serious minded subject matter. In this case it focuses on the then very real apartheid in South Africa, though through a spy/diamond hunting actioner featuring a South African Freedom Fighter (Sidney Poitier), and an English Engineer (Michael Caine) as the unlikely pair on the run together.

One of the benefits of my little endeavor here is to discover remarkable performers who have flown under the radar of a more generalized view of cinema. One such discovery is Nicol Williamson who though I had always thought was compelling as the mentor wizard in Spawn of all things, most of his work had been unseen by me. Well as I discover more of his work it is clear that besides having one of the most underrated voices of cinema, he is an especially dynamic performer. The Wilby Conspiracy, though pretty disposable overall, though does give an outlet for Williamson's talent in the form of Major Horn an operator in South African Bureau of State Security. The villain who will be chasing our fugitive heroes for the duration of the film. Not much in this really stands out past acceptable enough, with the exception of Major Horn due to Williamson. The sheer power of his presence alone makes an impact as we first meet him casually smoking in the office of superior. Williamson quickly steals the scene, and really the film, in just his perfect timing in his brush off of wishing as he could quit smoking as he dismisses his superior. Williamson simply has the force overpower in his precise yet also rather witty delivery that makes the Major instantly compelling.

Although it might be easy enough to just make the Major a devil in the flesh, given his intentions throughout the film, Williamson takes an alternate approach. He doesn't seek to grant sympathy for  the character, but what he does do is create a clear motivation within Horn. Williamson is amazing in the moment where he so sufficiently describes Horn's position which isn't as a drooling racist, but rather a man trying to lay claim to a land through his view of history, though with a strict racism within that idea. Williamson brings such conviction and strict passion in the moment showing such a forcefulness in the man's words. His delivery is particularly notable as he has it controlled the entire time, as a powerful man would, though has this fantastic way of realizing this certain pride combined with a fear mongering hate wrapped within as he speaks of his view of the fate of Afrikaners if he does not perform his perceived duty. Theoretically this could have been just a minor scene that gives us the villain, yet Williamson brings such substance to the words through his performance that both establishes the villain, but also establishes his danger by so honestly revealing the man's firm beliefs that will compel him throughout the narrative.

Williamson will give us what will be the hunter for the film as he begins to trail the two men. It is always fascinating to see performer so rise above his material, not that this is a terrible film, but Williamson makes merely scenes of exposition of things we technically already know for the most part the best scenes in the film. This again is within how strong his presence is, and how properly idiosyncratic of a performer. Williamson is brilliant as he brings attention to himself without ever for a moment seem like he's showing off. He does it with such ease as he holds such sway on screen to the point that there is something immensely fascinating about just the way he holds his cigarette. Williamson's striking ability as a performer cuts through every scene making every little threat from Horn carry such a remarkable menace. What's incredible though is that Williamson is so good, he even in way grants the character one liners just through his dynamite delivery of every one of his lines. A common line is given such gravitas, and good one given such impeccable timing that allows Williamson to become this oppressive yet charismatic force who terrorizes and interrogates with a cheerful smile.

Williamson is great as he realizes the man's technique as he switches from a false amiability with charm to a violent intensity on a dime's notice creating such a dangerous man through this. Williamson finds this confidence within the technique that makes Horn particularly imposing as again he makes every switch of intention so natural as he weaponizes his personality at every point of following the two men and their conspiracy they slowly unravel involving black revolutionaries, smuggling Indian dentists, and diamonds. Of course the man who unravels it all isn't one of our two heroes, but rather the villainous Major Horn, which is a good thing since Williamson is on call for the exposition. Williamson is amazing in the scene bringing such smug satisfaction as he mocks all of his victims, and brings such a distinct slimy joy in every venomous word as he notes how they all played right into his game. It is rather astonishing as Williamson even owns the scene when the tide turns against Major Horn. Williamson just is another level as even when Michael Caine is explaining why Horn should surrender rather than kill a rebel leader, Williamson takes the moment for himself as his reaction of Horn calculating his odds and taking in the information makes more of an impact than the information itself. This is the type of performance I love occasionally coming across as Williamson by the sheer will of his own work creates a great villain, in what is not a great film. It is a fantastic turn from an actor I look forward to uncovering more of.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1975: Bruce Dern in Smile

Bruce Dern did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Big Bob Freelander in Smile.

Smile is a fairly enjoyable satire following the ins and outs of a beauty pageant.

Bruce Dern is an actor who has had an especially long and successful career. His idiosyncratic personality has made him an indispensable part of cinema in general, as no one is quite like Bruce Dern, but Bruce Dern. Although it never has seemed like Dern suffered a true lull, unlike many actors, it is fair to say the high point of his career came in the seventies where rather atypical performers like Dern were embraced more so than usual. This allowed Dern frequently higher profiles roles, and larger parts in general. This also gave him the chance to express his rather remarkable range at an actor as even though there is only one Bruce Dern, there is not only one Bruce Dern performance. Smile from the outset an interesting role for Dern to play of Big Bob Freelander, car salesman entrepreneur, who is representative in the film of an all-American businessman, but it goes beyond that as perhaps the representation of the American dream personified.

This being a satire the nature of the American dream obviously isn't that of optimism, however I believe there is a specific choice that Dern takes with this performance. A very intelligence choice in that he chooses, with his own portrayal, to create sympathy for Big Bob, while still allowing for the satire to exist within his work. Now the satire comes from the man who is the car salesman seemingly in all of life. Dern makes use of that one of a kind grin of his as a man so brightly selling you whatever he can as a representative of so much more than just the automobile he happens to be selling. Now before we get to really know Big Bob Dern is is indeed rather amusing in presenting this ever optimistic front of the man. In the way he talks about the upcoming pageant, his business, or even the way he glides around his proper American homestead and family, is that of a walking on certain kind of air. At a cursory glance Dern presents a man just living the dream, and this becomes comical when the veneer of the "good life" is so easy to see through, however Dern keeps that titular smile of a man just so very happy in his existence it would seem.

Dern is a bit fascinating here as becomes a bit of a bright spot within the film, even though there is that level of mockery for Big Bob in the narrative. As through the film we see all the grime beneath the "glamor" of those in and around the pageant. Dern though is just trying to be the smiling face of it all, but Dern as the film progresses slowly reveals that this is more than just a surface comic turn. There's more to Big Bob, than just that smile, though that is an essential facet of who he is. A key in this is that Dern makes that smile genuine to the character, and that every moment he's smiling it's a true to who the man is. Dern doesn't wink around that, but rather shows a man who honestly wants to look at the better side of things. This becomes most evident within the relationship with his best friend Andy (Nicholas Pryor) who is unhappily married to one of the fellow heads of the pageant Brenda (Barbara Feldon). I love how much warmth Dern exudes as he tries to cheer up Andy each time. Dern does so with desperation, but not so much within himself. The desperation rather is towards Bob trying to get Andy on the same page, and he's so wonderfully earnestly desperate in this attempt.

Dern reinforces the idea consistently that Big Bob cares for his friend at every point, even as his methods to cheer him up are taking him to bizarre ritual celebration, or telling him that it is okay to be disappointed with life. In every delivery though Dern accentuates the positive, even when that is quite thin. This is even as Andy says the unthinkable with "Screw the pageant", where Dern's dejected reaction is absolutely hilarious, but also moving in a strange thing as he doesn't put a hint of venom in his retort "what am I suppose to say to that?". Although this is a man being the salesman to his own friend, Dern is terrific by reinforcing the idea at every point that the friendship is real, and his attempt to help authentic, even if problematic. What is maintained in Dern's work at every point is the devotion towards Big Bob's beliefs which includes his faith in the pageant. Again Dern is very funny, by "accident", by keeping this sincerity in the moments of judging where he brings this great seriousness actually in every question when Bob works as a judge. Dern reinforces again that Bob holds his ideals dear, and again this very funny, but also more than a little sad given the triviality of it all. The one element that Dern shows Bob completely shed his smile is after his son is caught attempt to take nude pictures of the pageant contestants. Dern is great in the moment of bringing his son to mandated therapy as he offers a strict severity in his voice reinforcing the disgust and disappointment that offers the right believable limits on Bob's hopeful attitude. Dern gives a delightful turn here as he delivers on realizing the satire at every point, however he doesn't use this to be a one note caricature. He is rather wholly convincing in making Big Bob Freelander worthy of perhaps few chuckles at his expense, but also sympathy for a man so firmly holding onto his view of the American dream.