Thursday, 29 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart

Mickey Rourke did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Harry Angel in Angel Heart.

Mickey Rourke's career is perhaps one of the great cautionary tales of stardom. Starting a meteoric rise that fell into obscurity of the direct to DVD bin. This unfortunately perhaps overshadows his talent particularly in regards to his place among the young actors of the 1980's. Rourke, sometimes literally, taking over roles that were meant for the premiere 70's actors like Pacino, De Niro or Nicholson. Harry Angel, a private investigator in the 50's, is one such role, and perhaps was the perfect vessel for Rourke as well. Angel Heart is a neo noir in style of course, but naturally classic noir in its setup. This is where a strange man, Louis Cypher (Robert De Niro), hires Angel to track down a crooner named Johnny Favorite who has disappeared without paying some "debt" to Cypher. In that it does not appear that the role will be immediately an overtly emotional, as the P.I. is often used as the audience surrogate. In this way we open with Rourke's Angel merely taking upon the case by the strange Cypher and his rather vague intentions for the elusive target. Rourke makes up for any potential space using his considerable charisma to add to Harry's personal style. A particularly notable success on Rourke's part, as even as Harry looks a bit spent, if not even a little smelly, Rourke just maneuvers within a scene with such remarkable ease.

Rourke is a proper noir lead in these early scenes where we see Rourke just working the case. In particular he brings an essential levity of sorts to his performance. This isn't to say that this is at all a comedic performance, it's not. It's rather though just finding that sort of charm within the detective that seems is one step in front of the competition. Rourke excels with this, that again falls right within that charisma he delivers to the role. Rourke empowers the role of Angel in itself because of this showing a man seemingly well within his powers. Now this is in even his earliest scene in taking the case as Rourke exudes a natural confidence through a casual demeanor as a man who has caught more than one man performing a disappearing act in his time. This is backed up though by his moments of actually tracking Favorite, starting with a hospital that supposedly housed him. Rourke's way with the nurse is quite marvelous in just bringing just the right slyness in the slick smile of his bringing out the right quality of persuasiveness as he tricks her into giving too much information. We see a similar thing as he tracks down the drug addict doctor who helped to hide Favorite's escape. Despite breaking and entering, Angel controls the situation, and Rourke makes every second of this utterly convincing in his near grace of his delivery and physical disposition as he breaks the doctor down to give him the information he wants. This without a single threat of violence.

The confident detective, while quite compelling already, is but a warm up act for Rourke's performance. Not that this is wholly eliminated, not at all. In fact Rourke maintain just a bit of that classical noir lead presence helps the film from becoming too dour right away. He allows one to believe properly that this is just one strange mystery, of course things shift rather quickly when he finds the doctor has been brutally murdered. Rourke is exceptional in the moment of discovery of the crime portraying so effectively the immediate fear, properly losing any of that ease. This is fitting to a man who tries to quickly back out of the case in his next meeting with Cypher, only kept on by the promise of a greater financial reward. Rourke's performance though expresses the greater weight of the situation immediately, but goes further than that. In he slowly develops this subtle anxiety that becomes a constant. An internalized intensity that initially creates this sense of unease not only in Angel, but we are the witnesses of the mystery. There is simply something off about it all and Rourke embodies this brilliantly. What is most remarkable though perhaps is how effectively Rourke tempers this all the same, as with the material it would've been easy to become too much too quickly, yet Rourke takes the right approach making the sinister nature slowly get under your skin, as it does Harry's.

There is some less gut wrenching thrills to be had at first as Angel still is working the case, and Rourke is still so terrific in playing into the noir style so effortlessly. He's great though in the way that any scene that is even a bit of exposition, or even looking over a less extreme clue, Rourke makes all the more fascinating. His performance is never vacant in its expression, as he grants such nuanced detail to every scene. Rourke is never simply there in creating such a captivating presence that is both dynamic and reflective in a given scene. Rourke again has that way with words, and just manner that makes every moment stand out to at least a certain regard. That is in the way he always brings a bit more of an overt charm when interviewing any of the women, while channeling a more incisive intensity of inquiry when questioning potentially duplicitous men. Both qualities though Rourke finds that similar ease. He though doesn't stop there though as the plot thickens, and the idea of the supernatural slowly seems to become far more present. Rourke's work conveys this and carefully grounds it in a certain reality. This is he portrays the reaction to these revelations as a normal man within the situation would, avoiding an overtly stylistic approach that wouldn't have suited the role.

Now this connection to the plot is initially presented more as that fear and anxiety that Rourke gradually builds within the film, that creates an all the greater tension in the film. It slowly becomes more than that as Rourke exudes so effectively this as the body count piles up. This fear he conveys less as only an exact shock, but also with almost this certain underlying near guilt as he looks upon the murder scenes. Rourke physically loses that ease creating this decay of self as Angel struggles to comprehend what he is finding, and begins to see all the more horrifying visions besetting him. Rourke's work makes the film's atmosphere all the more palatable by so powerfully humanizing this shock, and paranoia of a man who seems to be descending into some personal hell. Rourke's eyes deliver this chilling uncertainty, that is all the more pointed as he loses all nearly all of that charisma. He no longer has that ease, or even the charisma, as he loses himself physically and mentally with Rourke portraying a man seemingly decaying. This is as Angel reaches closer to the conclusion of the mystery which spoilers finds that he is in fact Johnny Favorite, in at least some sense. As Harry Angel had his soul stolen from the man in a satanic ritual. The moment of this revelation is perhaps the greatest acting of Rourke's career in the sheer intensity and emotional devastation he grants the revelation. Although it deals with the supernatural it is made heart wrenching through Rourke's portrayal of a man who's entire reality is torn asunder. Rourke delivery is strained of man drained of all capacity of understanding, and at an edge of his mental capacity as he relives the murders of the witnesses of Favorite, that he in fact committed. Rourke's exasperated cries of "I know who I am" are absolutely haunting as a man at the end of two lives. Rourke creates the sense of man struggling to keep the truth of his mind, while accepting the devastation it inflicts upon his psyche. Rourke is equally powerful though in his near final moment of acceptance as he looks upon the final murder. Rourke conveys such raw despair as Angel/Favorite fully understands what he is and what he has done. This is an amazing performance by Mickey Rourke as he utilizes his star charisma so naturally in tandem with his emotional range, to craft an unforgettable portrait of a man discovering his own sins on his path towards Hell.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Steve Martin in Roxanne

Steve Martin did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, winning NSFC and LAFCA, for portraying C. D. "Charlie" Bales in Roxanne.

Roxanne is an enjoyable enough modern re-telling of Cyrano de Bergerac re envisioned about a long nosed firemen and tennis racket fencer searching for his titular love.

I have previously covered Cyranos in the form of the Oscar winning and Oscar nominated performances of Jose Ferrer and Gerard Depardieu respectively. The comedic performer Martin, who also wrote this film, one would assume would have a different intention overall for Cyrano which is less comedic and much more tragic than in its original form. Martin though actually doesn't fully subvert the idea of the character and in many ways embraces the traditional part even beyond the character's extended facial non conformity. This is right within the character's profession as a firemen that lends itself naturally to heroic sort, and Martin very much plays into the heroic nature of the character, though perhaps with a certain cheekiness. This from the outset where he helps the titular Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) get back into her house after being locked out...naked of course. Martin doesn't creep it up exactly though delivers a certain sly smile when telling the rest of the firemen there isn't anything too exciting about the job.

The way Martin portrays Charlie going about the job though is with this very straight forward confidant demeanor. The same is even true for when he battles some hecklers with his tennis racket, which while ridiculous as a concept Martin does present it with this strange sincerity in a way. This actually adds to the comedy since Martin plays it like an actual duel rather just a few guys goofing around. In an interesting way Martin clearly holds the role of Cyrano in great esteem since he never makes fun of the character or the idea of it. Although this is a comedy Martin doesn't ever insult the nature of the original story. This is within moments of strict earnestness within his performance such as a scene of helping kids on a roof. Martin delivers a natural warmth within that confidence of a man who wishes to do the right thing. The same is with the central romance with the titular woman where the long nosed Charlie, just as Cyrano finds himself in dangerous territory in the friend zone. Martin though in these early interactions delivers his lines without sarcasm presenting a man genuinely smitten, even if it is not returned to him.

Oddly enough the parts where he is least Cyrano are also the parts that are most traditionally Steve Martin as a comic performer. This being the famous moment of Cyrano taking down one of his nose heckler by delivery proper nose insults. This is reworked as Charlie rattles off insults based on different subjects, and Martin kind of falls upon his more traditional comedic presence. His timing is of course good, and he delivers the scene well in a comedic sense. I don't think it necessarily is entirely true to the rest of the presentation of the character. Martin isn't bad in this scene at all, in fact he rather funny, but his portrayal of Charlie's Bravado feels a touch standard. This is especially when compared to the rest of his performance that seeks to be much more the real Cyrano, even with that modern bent. This isn't to say I expected Martin to fully replicate what Ferrer did so well, I mean he did even bother to get the really bland main two co-stars, but rather his other scenes feel like a proper riff on that where that scene is more just Martin the comic. This perhaps falls more into the film not really being overly ambitious. It mostly just a loving tribute to the original, and that is Martin's performance. It seeks to lovingly allude to the Cyrano that came before as Charlie, with a bit more comedy, but not much more than that. It never quite reaches this greater grandiose styling it occasionally seems to try to achieve.  This even in the more earnest moments that slowly feel more traditional romantic comedy with Martin as the hapless romantic, though still with that undercurrent of the poet at times. It's a fun performance, even a delightful one at times. It however isn't even Martin's best performance from 1987 with his straight man turn in Planes, Trains and Automobiles leaving a greater impression.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Klaus Kinski in Cobra Verde

Klaus Kinski did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Francisco Manoel da Silva aka the titular character of Cobra Verde.

Cobra Verde, as per usual with Werner Herzog film, frequently has compelling and unique visual imagery, though dramatically it doesn't feel quite fully realized in the story of a bandit being sent to African to attempt to reopen the slave trade.

With this film I come to the fifth and final collaboration between the German mad men of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, though I shall return to this for the two I've missed. In the matching of this pair though you have something most unusual as the two are as noted for their off screen conflict as they are known for their onscreen success. Kinski as an actor is a fascinating force all on his lonesome, but with Herzog he seems an essential element in part of his tapestries relating to the chaos and cruelty of nature. Of course Kinski plays a man, but a man inflicted with a madness to somehow break the bonds of that to reach perhaps resulting in an even greater insanity in the attempt. Of course this results in a not particularly sympathetic figure, in fact so far the most sympathetic role I've covered for Kinski was as the blood sucking vampire in Nosferatu. It is then a testament though to the natural power of the performer that there is something inherently transfixing about our central character even as despicable as he may be.

Kinski portrays many evil men here just in the form of one man. In the film's opening we see an vicious bandit who terrorizes those around him, though only after having suffered some tragedy alluded by the opening of the film. It is with this that Kinski works his magic in a sense as there is such an emotional intensity inherent within his portrayal of Silva that it makes him captivating even as we know little of him other than the terrors he inflicts. Of course what he initially inflicts is quite random as he interacts with other despicable exploiters initially. Kinski of course is compelling and even perhaps too convincing in portraying such a deranged sort. Although the act he commits seem random there is an internal logic through Kinski's performance that creates this sense of chaos within the man demeanor and eyes that makes him this force that refuses to conform to the norm, even when the norms themselves are hopelessly deranged as well. This inability for Silva to to even exist in this world leads him to an exile of sorts, by being sent to African to attempt to reopen the slave trade with a local African king.

Once Silva arrives to Africa the film becomes even more distant towards Silva who is rather reactionary for much of it. Kinski is effective in terms of capturing this certain attitude in Silva as he begrudgingly shows off the firearms, and attempts to posture as a proper colonial. Kinski does this with certain reserve, which notable for him, representing a man who is doing his act very much as an obligation for his life than a real passion. This changes though when he comes afoul of the king and becomes his prisoner. We get a proper Kinski intensity represented in his fear and anger as he remains the King's prisoner, being prepared for execution. Kinski captures really the brunt of this torture in only the way he can. This is in terms of his full physical and mental exhaustion of it all. Eventually Silva is released where he works with the King's rivals to stage a revolt and complete his mission. His training of the local women is quite easily the highlight of his performance. Kinski is outstanding in the moment in throwing himself fully into this warriors ferocity as he displays lunging with a spear. He shows more than just the technique but the requirement to properly deliver the determination to find victory on the battlefield. This leads to his victory, and to some rather horrible moments of Silva showing his "success" via the slaves from the king. Eventually the slave trade ends and Silva is essentially exiled. This leaves a moment of pondering and sadness, however well performed they are distant as is the character. This is not on Kinski's front who does provide something through the sheer will of his ability as a performer, the character's personal journey remains a little too vague even within Herzog's typical style. As it seems to assume we know who Cobra Verde is, even though we don't and what his story even meant to him beyond the clues garnered by Kinski's work. It is still a compelling turn as to be expected but the character is a little too nebulous even for the mad German.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride

Cary Elwes did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Westley in The Princess Bride.

As I have written before The Princess Bride is an effortless delight of a film, however its success is an unusual one. In that it manages to both subvert the idea of the heroic fairy tale while also wholly embracing all the same. These contradictions in a way should not add up yet they do, and one key element of this is the pitch perfect casting throughout the film. A central thread in this tapestry is Cary Elwes himself as our hero Westley who goes from stable boy to heroic pirate of sorts. Now Elwes doesn't have as emotional of a part as Mandy Patinkin as Ingio Montoya, nor is he as comedic as the villains of Chris Sarandon as Humperdink or Wallace Shawn Vizzini, nor is he the idiosyncratic wonder that is Andre the Giant as Fezzik. His role actually is that of a typical adventure film, not at unlike the role Errol Flynn played in the 30's and 40's. Elwes even bares at least a minor passing resemblance to Flynn as a type. Elwes though is given a harder task that Flynn had in that he must be almost the embodiment of the tone of the film itself, which though light is actually quite tricky.

Now on the outset Elwes is there for a visual establishing point, as the "as you wish" exclaiming stable boy who does anything old Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) commands. That visual being, for the lack of a better word, and I mean that!, a dreamboat. There is more to this than meets the eye though as even his method of saying "as you wish" needs to be more than it is. What I mean by that is that this could be a overdose of corn, it really should be, however Elwes even in this line develops something, something key to his overall performance, that is this sort sly earnestness. As even as he says "as you wish" there is a sincerity in it absolutely, yet also in his little glance he almost seems to say to the audience "yeah this could be little much, but it's also just right". Of course that is only the introduction as Westley disappears, supposedly killed by pirates, leaving Buttercup to be married off to the evil Humperdink, but only first to be kidnapped by the schemer Vizzini and his two good natured henchmen Ingio and Fezzik. The one man who comes to the rescue is dressed all in black, and if anyone has a particular good eye sight, or even hearing they'll notice this dashing young hero is of course the long lost Westley.

This leads to another of Elwes's challenges as he portrays the unknown hero initially facing off three challenges in order to save his one true love. Now here he is no longer the unassuming stable boy, but rather the assured hero. This brings the challenge to be both effortlessly confident and charming, while also doing that whole sly earnestness. Elwes indeed captures a natural confidence that makes Westley a most endearing hero. He however never comes off as smug despite this supreme confidence, balancing it so beautifully with this certain purity of manner that he delivers that allows this confidence to be as brimming as it is. This goes in the tone of the film that Elwes's work is an essentially part of. This being both wholly embracing the fairy tale yet also making fun of it. Elwes has this certain knowing quality in his work, particularly in his overtly comedic moments such as his showdown with Vizzini, yet even then still Elwes never goes so far as to truly mock. He nearly winks but never mocks. More importantly he provides that strict sincerity within his work particularly in regards to the central romance with buttercup, which Elwes supports with his every fiber.

Of course in a way we get a beautiful turn on this though in the film's third act, when Westley is mostly dead via a torture device and along with Ingio and Fezzik must save Buttercup from the fiendish Humperdink. The turn being that Westley is dead essentially in body yet still has his mind to contend with the evil Prince. This leaves Elwes to physically play the part of dead weight physically, along with few hilarious moments of wailing anguish, while maintaining that brimming confidence in his eyes and expert delivery. Again it creates this fantastic combination between both making fun of this sort of hero, while also wholly being such a hero all the same. It plays with the idea brilliantly as Elwes is indeed both playing with the ideas of the romantic swashbuckler, yet never disregarding them. He's flopping around like a dead body, but still exuding that charisma of a proper a hero. The best moment of this being when he directly confronts Humperdink without drawing blood. Elwes is sitting the whole time yet his persuasive eyes, and assured manner as he describes the "pain" he will bring to Elwes grants such a conviction. When he finally lifts himself to deliver the most dramatic "Drop your sword" moment, in that moment Elwes truly is the magnificent hero, and wholly earns the moment both as a fully earnest one, but also convincing in terms of Westley's victory. Of course he's also hilarious in his near collapse a moment after that victory, which in a single scene shows how wonderful this performance is. Elwes is perfectly cast, however his work goes beyond that. His performance walks this tightrope without fail to make Westley both an essential comedic element in the subversion of a high fantasy, but also purely realizing that fantasy for all its worth.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Martin Short in Innerspace

Martin Short did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jack Putter in Innerspace.

Innerspace is an enjoyable comedic adventure about a pilot shrunk down into a tiny machine who happens to end up in the body of a random nervous man. The two then work together to try to save each other from corporate espionage.

Martin Short is someone I'd describe as very funny, however his film work is more typically within the frame of limited vaudevillian style turns as cartoonish side characters. Innerspace is a notable departure of sorts, in that he is the comedic foil to are more traditional leading man in Dennis Quaid's test pilot Lt. Tuck Pendleton. Although the film is a comedy, the role actually is a bit more dramatic than one might expect from a quick glance at the synopsis. A part of this comes from Short's performance which is rather well tempered within the film. In that he does not make Jack this over the top figure in the film, in fact one could easily argue Quaid's Tuck is far more overt. Instead Short's performance seeks to make Jack a proper average, well more of a proper average nervous schmoe I suppose. That is in the opening of the film we see Jack just dealing with his life of normal store employee, which is perhaps even more than he can take. Short though is delight though in the role in he allows his natural comedic timing to be evident, but actually plays the anxiety of the character we an earnest conviction. There is a particular hilarious moment early where Jack has his own "man behind Winkies" moment involving a customer with miniature gun, where a nightmare becomes reality. Short's great in this scene as his little breaths, and darting expressions, are so well placed in each moments, yet he is also convincing in showing this poor man having a bit of nervous breakdown.

That is of course are basis for the character with what Short runs with once Jack gets involved with the plot, by being injected with Quaid's micronaut as a last resort. Here we get a most unusual duo between Short, and Quaid as the man in a tiny ship within his body. We have though the two men one hard drinker braggart, and Short's Jack. Short is terrific in finding this effortless balance in the role though in creating comedy within these interactions of fear at his situation, while also making it easy to genuinely empathize with Jack in his predicament. One the initial shock wears off though we get the two's interplay which is simply wonderful. Short is great in creating this slowly growing sense of curiosity in his reactions to Quaid, though always underlined with a proper degree of fear that takes a very long time to let up. They go beyond that though as they even develop a certain level of warmth in their interactions that creates a genuine friendship. These are just small, yet pivotal moments in their performances where they both just bring the right humanity to this bizarre situation. This is of course also is bolstered by Short's realization of the concept through his physical performance. Short is a proper hoot throughout the film in mastery every little awkward physical tic that becomes a series of comical reflections of what is going on Jack's outside as Tuck messes with his insides.

Short's performance is something that helps this film stand out, particularly as he makes such a most unusual lead for an action picture, even one with a great deal of comedy. A lot of this comedy comes with the unlikely hero, which is welcomed though as any typical action scene is a touch different with Short at the center of it. One scene in particular involving a high speed chase with a truck, and a convertible, we get the typical thrills of such a scene though with far more laughs granted by Short presenting a man in the scene who should never be. His scared witless reactions at every point are comic gold and give the action scenes something unique they would probably lack otherwise. Now we also get something surprising though in Short's overall performance that is also far more dynamic that you'd expect. This comes in Short's portrayal of Jack needing to essentially be Tuck to save the day. Short wholly earns the gradual transition of scenes in creating this brewing confidence. He never leans too much one way, and is particularly good in capturing this certain thrill in his eyes as he shows Jack getting caught up in the adventure. This highlight of this idea though is in Jack's relationship with Tuck's former girlfriend as well as investigative reporter Lydia Maxwell (Meg Ryan), that forms a most unusual love triangle. We get some classic Short fits and starts in their initial interactions, however Short is fantastic in creating the growth in a clear affection for his "co-pilot's" love. Short manages to naturally build this to a moment that is the highlight of his performance for me, even though it is a purely dramatic one. That is when Jack insists on wholly taking over the situation and talking to Lydia alone. Short is honestly incredible in the scene in he brings such a sweetness to the romantic moment, and even shows this strength within Jack's modest nature in the moment. Short delivers such an earnest scene that makes this transition to a more confident man natural by showing it to almost reveal itself through the strengths of his former weaknesses. The arc of the character is earned by Short's work which never hand waves it, or just plays it for laughs. He captures so much more with Jack and in turn makes the film so much richer for it. It is a marvelous turn from Short as he creates a more fully realized character by balancing the comedy with a surprising degree of depth within the man's journey. 

Monday, 5 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Gaspard Manesse in Au Revoir Les Enfants

Gaspard Manesse did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Julien Quentin in Au Revoir Les Enfants.

Au Revoir Les Enfants is an effective film following a schoolboy in Nazi occupied France during World War II.

 In 1987 there were three films that featured the child's perspective during World War II, obviously I just reviewed Christian Bale as the British boy in Japanese occupied China in Empire of the Sun, then there was a British boy in the blitz in John Boorman's Hope and Glory, and then finally we have Louis Malle's semi-autobiographical here. Although all three feature that perspective the latter two have a more distant approach in terms of how the central performance is utilized. Of course this does not speak to the quality of the films, I believe the latter two films to be superior than Spielberg's film. The two though are not strictly of innocence breaking rather the idea of innocence is reflected in the boy's interactions with their situation. This is what we have here in Gaspard Manesse as the schoolboy simply attending a catholic boarding school. There is a bit of fear but even this is portrayed in a pretty low key way by Manesse as Julien says goodbye to his mother. Not in an underwhelming way mind you, Manesse delivers it as the slight hesitations of a well adjusted boy, and it isn't anything that one would need to dwell upon.

The film then is mostly of Julien attending his school. Now far more is going on around it with the Nazi soldiers prowling around, an anti-Jewish sentiment being pervasive in some, the priest principal at the head of the school seeming as though the weight of the world on his shoulders and one fellow school boy who just doesn't seem to quite fit in. In the middle of this is Julien who isn't blissfully ignorant, but rather Manesse's portrays the ignorance of a boy not really at an age where that would press unto his mind. Manesse's performance rather realizes the state of Julien as simply a boy who wants to do well in school and perhaps make a few friends. This eventually is the boy who doesn't quite fit in named Jean. Manesse's portrayal of interactions with the boy though is that of boy's being boys. That being a bit of jealousy at first, at his mutual academic performance, that slowly transforms into camaraderie and friendship. None of this is particularly intense in nature, nor should it be, rather both young actors just realize the friendship of two boys as though they were of any time. There are hints of the boy's situation of course, and this is perhaps where Manesse's greatest challenge in terms of his performance is realized.

This being in Julien's slow realization that the boy Jean is in fact Jewish and is being hidden to escape persecution by the Nazis. Manesse manages to handle this largely in reactionary moments throughout the film. This being in granting a particular focus to certain moments where Jean's background is questioned. Again though Manesse's handling of these moments is still just a boy who is quietly discovering something, not of some investigator of any sort. Julien is not in some quest of any kind he's just a friend to the boy, and exists in a world of just trying to live his life. Eventually the Nazis do come for the Jews being hidden in the school, and Julien accidentally telegraphs Jean's location. This is a good moment as played by Manesse as just a most genuine fear of a boy for his friend. He handles the whole "purging" sequence well by conveying the growing anxiety in the boy with this certain sense of disbelief as though his whole world is crashing down. This too is reserved, though effectively so, as Julien is not the one being arrested, and he really can't do much about it. Manesse's depiction is that of a nearly being petrified which is an honest portrayal given that Julien is not any more than just a boy who hasn't experienced much hardship in his life. Manesse's performance is still rather moving in its final moments of portraying the overwhelming sadness in the boy as he watches those being taken away. Manesse's whole performance is one that works well for the film however it is limited. It is distant, though detached, as this straight forward representation of a young student simply living a young's student life, until suddenly the horrible outside world tears that simplicity from him.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun

Christian Bale did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jamie "Jim" Graham in Empire of the Sun.

Empire of the Sun is a somewhat curious attempt by Steven Spielberg into straight drama as his love of adventure and whimsy seems to muddle his intention of a loss of innocence through the story of a English boy in Japanese occupied China during World War II. The film is not without merit, however.

One of those merits is perhaps in the partial discovery of the talented Christian Bale. Obviously an actor who went onto acclaim in adulthood through his intense portrayals with a particularly extreme physical commitment to his roles. It is interesting then to look at Bale here who we see in the early scenes of the film as a soft spoiled school boy blissfully unaware in initially British controlled China. Although Bale is playing a bit of a brat this strangely enough is probably one of his most charismatic performances. He manages to not become excessively petulant in the portrayal of the character's attitude. Instead he makes it rather a natural curiosity within the character that includes seeing what he can "abuse" within his power he has in his initial privilege. Bale though establishes it well though with a more sympathetic child like wonder in the boy as he watches the culture around him, and becomes fascinated by aircraft. Bale brings the right specifically childlike wonder that sets up Jamie as very much interested in what surrounds him even if initially detached from it.

The film shifts itself quickly when the war directly hits China and Jamie is soon disposed from his world of luxury. He is separated from his parents and left to fend for himself within the war torn setting. Bale is excellent in these scenes in capturing the less focused intensity of the fear of the boy as he goes around looking for help. To the point he goes to a random self-centered ex-patriot named Basie (a kind of a miscast John Malkovich), whom he immediately looks up to. Bale plays this fascination with Basie well making the boy's loyalty to the obviously morally questionable man believable. He makes that fascination just so earnest and even heartfelt showing this innocence in his attitude suggesting the boy just simply must believe the man will help him. Of course the two quickly end up in a prison camp, and Basie nearly leaves Jim behind when they are about to be transferred to an internment camp. Bale has a great moment where he begs and pleas to go with him. Bale makes properly so messy of just this boy breaking down. He is decidedly not calculated in this which allows the moment to find the right naturalism as he shows it to still be Jamie as a boy just pleading for help from his new "father".

In the internment camp is where the problems in tone really arrive as Spielberg can't decide what film he is trying to tell with a strange mix of scenes. Spielberg himself seems to innocent to allow the innocence to go. In that we get Jamie, now Jim far more worldly as he survives in the camp. He only goes so far with this though still keeping it a boy playing a game of survival more than maturing to a survivalist. Bale's performance frankly conveys the themes little better as he fashions those softer side to bring a more inherent intensity, and even toughness in his portrayal. He brings a confidence within the tempering of emotions that effectively shows the boy beginning to understand the world he exists in. The film though shifts this with still those moments of wonderment in his moments of scrounging, and anything involving planes in the war. In these moments Jim is still fascinated by them, in nearly a childlike way, but with that greater intensity. The message Spielberg is trying to imply is perhaps a touch too vague, but Bale's portrayal of Jim's sincere devotion to aviation almost as a religion is remarkable. The passion is only more intense now, and Bale carries these moments to the point that they do have power even when their purpose is somewhat questionable. Is the idea that he's using these to hide his anguish, the film kind tries this but doesn't really pull off the idea very well. This is not a knock against Bale's work though as his moment of fully breaking down after a moment of jubilation is brilliantly performed. Again he excels in making it feel so authentic in the moment of Jim's painful realization of what he's lost, as this emotional turmoil, though the film fails to fully utilize this properly.

The film's ending is a particularly muddled element as Spielberg refuses to "grow up" despite wanting to tell a story of the loss of innocence. We see this through the whiplash in his direction that leaves Bale in a bit of strange place as Jim. In that we will have one scene of extreme horror in the sudden shooting of a young Japanese man that Jim desperately tries to resuscitate. Extremely well performed by Bale as he captures something childlike in his manic delivery that has this painful hope in it, wishing it like a child would. We then will get a strange moment of whimsy when he uncovers Basie's scrounged supplies and uses the old internment camp as a pseudo playground. The scene posits Jim fully as just a boy, and is out of place. There is nothing wrong with the way Bale captures the excitement however it is not natural by design. Spielberg kind of wants to make Come and See, but seems to timid to commit to the proposition. This becomes far more evident in the final scene which switches again where we meet Jim in an orphanage. There the loss of innocence is shown and Bale is terrific in bringing the intensity in thousand yard stare, almost an indicator of the nature of his future performances. Bale does capture that loss of that innocence of the boy's curiosity, however the power of that is lost because Spielberg frankly bungles it. None of this is Bale's fault, as he gives a very good performance here that actually illustrates the central conceit better than the film does, to the point the film gets kind of in the way of his performance.