Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Masaharu Fukuyama in Like Father, Like Son

Masaharu Fukuyama did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ryōta Nonomiya in Like Father, Like Son.

Like Father, Like Son is a terrific film that follows a wealthy couple as they learn that their son was switched at birth, and must contemplate switching him with their biological son.

Masaharu Fukuyama has a very difficult role here as it is not nearly as straight forward as one might expect just from the brief synopsis I provided above. This is as the film itself takes a very naturalistic approach to the story, despite the potentially melodramatic central element. The film takes a very calm and very honest approach, that is evident right within Fukuyama's performance as a Ryōta. This is as we see him interact with his wife and apparent son as they live their life. Ryōta spending much of his time working, in fact far more time than with his wife and son. I love that Fukuyama portrays this without stereotype within the idea of such a man, though while wholly fulfilling the reality of such a man. In that we see him in his life and there is not an excessive unhappiness. Instead Fukuyama portrays a contentment within Ryōta's life, not a fulfilling contentment perhaps, but there is no sense of loss or desperation within this. Fukuyama rather portrays a man just naturally living his life, which for him means spending very little time with his actual family. Fukuyama is effective though by doing so in such a believable way by also accentuating a natural decency within the man, by simply never turning this into a one-dimensional caricature of the stern businessman.

Fukuyama is great in that he realizes so naturally what should seem like artifice, however Fukuyama finds the truth of the matter given that the man's experience has crafted him in this traditional expectation. This is as his physical performance, and general manner carries the weight of expectation so well. He doesn't overplay but finds the right authentic stilted quality in the man caused by this overt formality as required to be a proper man that has been gilded within him. Again, Fukuyama still shows the general sense of an affection with his wife and son, though always with a certain level of disconnectedness. This is as his eyes often drift as though he is looking elsewhere and seems tethered to some other requirement of life. Fukuyama is terrific in the way he shows a certain type of coldness that isn't intense, but still notable. Fukuyama portrays well as this assumed burden int he way the man so carefully speaks his emotions and always presents his strongest drive within his professionalism as opposed to his family. Fukuyama does a fantastic job of finding such a humanity within essentially the realization of a man. Fukuyama does not bring us some standard stiff Japanese businessman, but rather shows us a real man, who happens to technically be a stiff Japanese businessman.

Things must change a bit though when Ryōta is faced with a different reality for himself and his wife Midori (Machiko Onon), when they discover their son is technically not their own. In fact, their son technically belongs to the people who have been raising their biological son. The couple being a rather affable and outgoing pair named the Saiki family (the apparently always delightful Lily Franky and Yoko Maki). Fukuyama is essential in a fascinating way in these series of scenes where the couples meet, try to come with a solution, and deal with the strangeness of the situation. This is as Fukuyama's work, though certainly the central focus, is often of the observer. This falls right in the man's life where family has come second, and now he is forced a bit more interaction. Fukuyama is marvelous in creating certainly the sense of discomfort in these moments particularly as he sees the contrast in his parenting style to the far more engaged Saiki's. Fukuyama is amazing though as in his subtle glances he is able to convey an uncertainty in observation, of a man trying to determine his own thoughts, both as this state of being critical towards what he is seeing while also being unable to processes it within himself. Fukuyama creates this essential conflict within the man that so importantly defines Ryōta's journey.

Fukuyama again is great at portraying the complexity of the situation within the mind of Ryōta as it is not this simple thing. As there are these moments of this unease alluding to a discomfort within his own distance. These then though are followed by statements of cruelty such as when he criticizes his "adopted" son's lack of ambition or suggests, by virtue of his financial circumstances, that he takes all of the Saiki children. Fukuyama's delivery of these moments is great as he makes them feel so honest, even as he does not portray Ryōta as some evil man. Fukuyama though finds so effectively this formality in this delivery of a moment as it represents a man who has learned a certain expectation. This being a certain expectation of success as painted even in parenthood, which is more financially oriented that emotionally so. Fukuyama again makes this a natural reaction within the learned state of the man. Fukuyama making this almost required. This is supplemented though through the real humanity, so quietly portrayed, minimally but not mute, as the man contemplates this situation. This in seeing the loving family but also dealing with the cruelty that they learn had been purposefully inflicted upon them by a nurse. Fukuyama shows that at every point it is not a hollow thought within the man, as his eyes show the real concerns within Ryōta even as he is unsure if to express them.

Ryōta coldly chooses to switch children. This of course goes as well as to be expected as their son, accustomed to the ever-present father, reacts poorly to Ryōta's parenting style. Fukuyama's performance though is excellent in these moments as he is able to express the difficulty of the situation, that we see him attempt to apply his business approach, though this falls away by the boy's reactions. Fukuyama's small concession are made so authentic by making the fall of the business this reversion to that humanity that has never been absent, yet only hesitated to express. Fukuyama in these moments still shows this to be quiet, yet the small loss of the more reserved attitude brings such a power to it as the man tries to provide a more open affection. This is only a small realization though as he comes across more directly his failings towards the son he raised, first in visual proof via pictures the boy took of his "father", always sleeping. Fukuyama is heartbreaking in his reaction that is so expressive. It is an anguish that is defined by the real affection he did have for his son that he failed to show when he had him. This is followed by when the families reunite again though Ryōta's raised son runs from him. Fukuyama is outstanding in the scene of talking his son back to him. This is as he so powerfully loses any of that professional distance. He doesn't overplay it, as his words are still quiet, yet the love is expressed so deeply in his eyes and still within his voice as he now directly speaks to his son like a father should. I loved this performance as Fukuyama offers such an atypical journey. This is as this character typically would be a villain, and the film would probably be about Lily Franky's character. We are granted a different perspective though and through that Fukuyama offers a most poignant and human portrait of a man coming to terms with his life and family.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Sol Kyung-gu in Hope

Sol Kyung-gu did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Im Dong-hoon in Hope.

Hope tells the harrowing story of an 8-year-old and her family trying to recover from her brutal rape. 

Now with that description I suppose it may seem obvious why this film might not have been the easiest to take in. Of course, I'm not really one who is too shy to more extreme subject matter. I will say though the film itself rubbed me the wrong way, and it was not the subject matter itself that did. This was rather than matter in which it was realized with, what I felt to be, an unfortunate blend of the most unsettling blended together with the style of a more cloying light hearted feel good feel, where even the characters dress up in outrageous costumes. Although I will say the film's heart does seem to be in the right place. I'll admit there is a purpose for that here, this was an instance where this approach didn't blend appropriately, for my own view anyways, and made the experience of watching the film especially unpleasant, while not in the fashion as intended by the filmmakers. What I'm here for though is to look at Sol Kyung-gu's performance, which in a certain sense is separate from the overarching narrative of the film. This is as Sol's performance very much stays within the reality of the situation and at least in terms of his own work avoids the sort of tonal tricks the film uses to try to alleviate the intensity of the central horror.
Sol's performance is a consistency of reality within the film and provides this truth from the outset of the film. This is where we just see Dong-hoon as the working dad. Sol doesn’t have a great deal of focus in these scenes however Sol's performance is consistently effective in these moments, by essentially not exactly standing out. He just exudes the right naturalism as this workaday father. Sol does something well in these early scenes in suggesting sort of an assumed love for his daughter, even when portraying the early moments with almost a casual distance. This is not Sol portraying an actual coldness or anything, but rather just the state of measured affection of a family just living their life without a thing to worry about. That is instantly thrown out of the window most horribly though when Hope is raped and brutally beaten leaving her in a hospital. Sol's performance matches this trauma in conveying the sheer devastation of the act, in his often silent face, that nonetheless exudes the sheer anguish in the man. Sol's work is powerful in itself as he is able to realizes the severity of the terrible act without becoming overwrought.

The film then breaks into its separate stories one of the recovery of Hope, and the other the attempt to get justice for her by arresting the horrible man. Sol is great in realizing the weight of the situation within his performance essentially for the rest of the film. Rightfully, Sol shows that this is a changed man who likely will never be able to achieve that blissful indifference ever again when it comes to his family. Every moment he is onscreen Sol reveals at least some level of the strain of the knowledge of what happened to his daughter and keeps it as this consistent element as this hole in the man's soul. Sol's work though carefully does find the nuance within this and does not portray a single note even with being the focus of the character. There are of course the most extreme moments where we see the vicious hate, that Sol wraps within this always palatable grief, at the man who has committed this crime that also transfers against the police who do not instantly arrest the man. Sol brings the right intensity in these moments by in his face creating it always as being inspired by his sorrow.

Sol provides the right contrast then in his scenes with his family and his daughter. Here to he finds the right difference depending on the moment, the grief a constant. In this we see the moments just in proximity of his daughter, where Sol shows the man as essentially this shell of a person much of the time with his anger as one of his few outlets of existence. The moments directly with his daughter Sol is terrific in bringing this desperate warmth as he tries to show his love to daughter. He captures a very real sense of affection though even this is portraying it as this distraught act as it is still intertwined with his personal anguish. The film then takes its approach which often leaves Sol as adjacent to what is going as people try to help Hope to recover from all over the community. This technically includes Dong-hoon as he even dresses up as one of her favorite children's show characters. The man though is essentially petrified within his state and Sol is very moving in the moment of the still grieving father, even within his suit, as a man in this endless suffering. The only real change, which Sol does gradually realize effectively, is the internalization of grief as the man says less and less, though the heartbreak is always evident in his defeated physicality of depression along with the eyes filled with the endless tragedy. This is a very good performance even as it is often pushed to the side within the narrative. Although I do wish there had been time to grant more within Dong-hoon's personal story, what we do see is well realized by Sol's work. This is as even though I felt at times a dishonesty within the overall choices within the film, Sol’s performance consistently offered a strict honesty within his powerful portrayal of the man’s painful journey.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2013: Christian Bale in Out of The Furnace

Christian Bale did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Russell Baze in Out of the Furnace.

Out of the Furnace is a particularly frustrating watch as there is so much potential within it, however its missteps leads it to fall short of greatness, even goodness quite honestly.

Christian Bale's performance stands perhaps as the greatest testament to the potential of the film, in his portrayal of a Pennsylvania industrial worker Russell Baze. Bale's work here from the outset is fascinating as he's known for his transformative turns, often in a way that brandishes that idea. Now technically this is that, in his wiry frame, southern accent and general demeanor. Not a moment of Bale's work, however feels like a facade. The entirety of it has this deeply lived in quality within his work, a performance that just evokes years of a hard life in every harried breath and exasperated words. Bale's portrayal isn't that of a man who is tired of life, but rather evokes the idea of a man who has lived this hard life, and will continue to live this to do. The history he bares on his brow from the second we see him here, in his richly textured work that just makes Russell Baze evoke this place, and even poverty of its setting, far more so than is even achieved within the film's writing or direction. Bale is locked in within this character, and the depth of this performance is quite frankly this consistently compelling element, within a story that may not be worthy of it.

Well in that we have Bale here who just lives within this character in such a remarkable fashion, as Bale does play so close to the chest, fitting of a man of few words and even fewer prospects. One of the essential elements of Bale's performance though is that he doesn't portray a dismay over this, though does not hide the wear of this either. It is a particularly powerful juxtaposition all just within Bale's performance. In that we do see a man living his life with a real essentially stability, even within the hardship of dealing with his dying father, and generally poor means of existence. Bale's work is though with a contentment of the existence that in itself carries with it a definite power. He is able to convey a man who not only has settled rather has never even minded the idea of anything other than this place and time for himself. This is in Bale's performance that carries the weight of the life, but not with a shame within it. This is a carefully realized work that is downright marvelous, as he does express a certain, I wouldn't quite say joy, but there is a warmth even within the harshness that exists within the presence of Russell as portrayed by Bale.

Russell's life quickly becomes worse however through the first bit of unfortunate luck as he accidentally kills two people in an auto crash after having been drinking. This scene of this discovery is a testament of the strength of Bale's performance in the moment. This is as his reaction to the moment is not this big cry of anguish, but rather this beautifully internalized distress as in the scene he slowly conducts this slow realizes building in the man's painful realization of what has transpired. This lands Russell in jail, a plot point almost brushed by in the film, essentially to fulfill a plot point. Bale though does not treat it as a plot point, and is again terrific in portraying Russell's state of being in the prison. Again the restraint is so important in his performance portraying the man as again living it, with a bit more understated concern, however mostly with the same understanding of a man whose life hasn't exactly been anything life affirming to begin with. When Russell explains to his brother (Casey Affleck) that he barely even considers it a hardship, the hope in his voice Bale brings such a truth within it fitting to a man whose always known a similar state.

Russell is eventually released from prison which after he gets out he has more losses the protagonist of an old fashioned country song, as his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) has left him, his brother has been traumatized by war and his father has died. That's a whole lot, and quite frankly the pace of how each of these is handled should have little to no effect. Bale's work however grants a weight to each and every one of these moments no matter how rushed they are. Bale's portrayal though intends to find the detail within it, even when the material itself rams it through within the narrative. Again Bale's work carries such a conviction of this person, that he manages to brings into the intimacy of the man's mind and the way he deals with the tragedy of his life. Bale brings such a calm nuance in his moment of hearing of his father's death that reveals the real heartbreak, but with also the resigned expectation of a man who has long sense known it was coming. Bale delivers this even with the far more superfluous element of the girlfriend who has left him for the local police chief (a laughably bad Forest Whitaker).

That is essentially made in a single scene of him randomly running into her. Bale's outstanding however he in bringing this hesitant energy, an excitement that he shows Russell almost doesn't know what to do with as he essentially pledges his love for her. Bale brings such an almost endearing unease by making this so genuinely disjointed as this quieter man where such an experience is almost against his nature. Bale in this moments reveals all the greater vulnerability of such sincere love, which is quickly stopped when she reveals she's pregnant from her new relationship. Bale's breakdown is absolutely heartbreaking, in one moment of more overt anguish, that Bale makes natural given his state of vulnerability. He plays it brilliantly though showing how all his losses hit him in this time of realization, granting in this breakdown as a moment of Russell essentially giving into all those feelings that lay dormant within him. I'll admit there is no reason I should've cared at all about this relationship based on the direction and editing of the film, however Bale made me care by offering such a sincere portrayal of what the relationship meant to Russell that he is able to overcome the shortcomings of the film.

The final loss though is in his brother whose experiences in war, a particularly poorly realized element overall, has left him traumatized and searching for a strange relief through bare knuckle fighting/gambling. Bale nonetheless grants a gravity to this situation through his effortless portrayal of his chemistry with Affleck. Bale has never been known as the warmest performer, and nor is Russell what one might say is a cheery character to say the least. It is then so very notable how Bale in these interactions is able to emphasize, in his eyes, and the absolute concern in his voice how much Russell loves and cares for his brother, as his brother goes to the void. There is a moment where his brother reveals all his pains, and though it theoretically should be Affleck's scene, Bale is the who leaves the lasting impression through nearly silent yet oh so poignant portrayal of Russell taking in each word while not knowing what to say. Eventually this leads to yet another loss when a series of events leads to his brother's death by the hand of essentially an evil hillbilly drug dealer by the name of Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).

When initially told of the news, Bale's performance again is excellent as these circumstances are not of the personal space, as manages to essentially tell it all within his subdued expression. Bale's work though again expresses wholly the anguish even as he does not shed a single tear at the news. His face though just carries that little bit more of wear as there is yet another burden placed upon the man. What follows is a rather typical revenge plot as Russell goes about first seeking out his brother, who he doesn't know is dead initially, then seeking revenge against DeGroat. Bale delivers the needed substance within his own performance, regardless of the material. Bale doesn't portray this as a typical anger, but rather with an intense, yet all the same, subdued conviction. Bale depicts the vendetta less as a personal need, but rather as this duty to his brother. Bale through this, finds a real emotional potency within this attachment to his brother at every point, and a real pathos within the act of violence as he goes to kill DeGroat. In the final moments of the film when he finally confronts DeGroat, Bale's eyes do nearly all of the speaking in his moment. There isn't an overt hate, but rather this incredible calm that evokes the remembrance for his brother more than any other emotion. It is extraordinary as Bale manages to bring the emotional turmoil within the moment of being this avenging angel, and finding a power in it, even with Forrest Whittaker being in the background of the scene and nearly sabotaging through his unintentionally hilarious delivery. This is an outstanding performance by Christian Bale as he delivers such a vivid work that exists beyond the trappings of the plot. His portrait of this man has a life and depth to it that exists beyond the confines of the film, He is able to realize Russell in a way that alludes to a greater potential of the material that is not realized within the film itself. Bale manages though to bring that potential to life within his own work, to the extent it overcomes those weaknesses through one of his most subdued and strongest turns.