Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Alternate Best Actor 2016: Hiroshi Abe in After the Storm

Hiroshi Abe did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ryota Shinoda in After the Storm.

After the Storm is a quietly powerful tale of a semi-successful but aimless novelist dealing with the shambles of his life. 

As typical for writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda, he presents a very subdued human story within the theoretical trappings of an overt melodrama. That idea here is presented within the character of Ryota who is a whole lot of things, maybe could even be too much, however that doesn't break his character because of the nature of Hiroshi Abe's performance. Abe naturally endears one to Ryota in the early scenes of the film where we see him spending time with his doting mother (Kirin Kiki). Abe speaks with a hopeless kind of optimism around his mother as he believes in his ability to still be a novelist and a father to his family, even as he's estranged from his wife and hasn't written anything in some time. Abe's performance wins you over, against one's best judgment, because he presents a phony resilience initially in Ryota. Abe shows the right balance between outward confidence and the internalized sense in his eyes that the man isn't nearly as confident as he wishes to project himself. 

We find that Ryota has kind of a strange life as his actual day job is working for a private detective agency and often leads small investigations to uncover affairs more than anything. Abe's performance in these scenes is fascinating in creating this combination of confidence and haplessness in equal measure. There is an intelligence he coveys in the moments of figuring out how to capture the adultery when he can, there is even a smoothness to Ryota in moments. Abe though is as natural in segueing at a moment's notice to showing this less than stellar qualities of the man. Such as when we see him kind of under the thumb of his employer or going about blackmailing a target rather than doing his job. Abe brings this innate desperation that suggests greater anxiety where his confidence but covers that up. A desperation where he conveys in each word this fixation on trying to find some money and get what he believes needs. Abe's performance is convincing on both sides of this, but more importantly, is so convincing in the contradiction. Abe shows the façade he is able to put on to be the detective while it all being an act to try to find some kind of money to pay child support. 

In regards to the issue of child support is where we see the greater truths of the man that Abe delivers with a real sensitivity in his performance, a sensitivity that more than anything reveals a fool. This is as we watch him essentially stalk his wife and son, the latter of whom he may not be able to see if he doesn't pay for the support. Abe really is great because again beyond one's best judgment he does make you see the certain purity in his actions as he finds ways to sneak off to talk to his son. Abe brings a sincere warmth in his manner towards his son, even though at the same time it's his refusal to be responsible that keeps him potentially from seeing his son. Abe is able to realize the hypocrisy without making you hate Ryota almost through the specific naivety about his manner. We see this particularly when he keeps asking questions about his wife's seeming new boyfriend. Abe is able to realize the genuine concern in his voice, a more direct intense jealousy, but also a kind of boyish jealousy all at the same time. He's not quite a man and in that, there is almost a strange excuse he creates within the character in his pestering questions. The specific concern he presents is an honest concern, but also still almost not quite accepting reality making seem less possessive than the behavior might theoretically seem otherwise. Abe carefully maneuvers around the character's flaws, to present them as flaws, but specific flaws around his inability to fully mature as a person. 

Our progression of Abe in a way is not dissimilar, though far less hectic, version of Uncut Gems, as we follow our character who thinks he makes everything work if he just does that one more thing. Abe's performance is lower-key in this regard but is wholly successful in creating this sense of the forward push within the spirit of Ryota that keeps him in this state of desperation. Each time he goes to a pawn shop to acquire a bit more money Abe's eyes carry fixation and his expression the palatable need for this thing to provide him the money. The same as he works every case as the detective, even when playing the smoother operative, Abe's eyes confess a man in this need despite being able to present himself otherwise at times. Abe's performance though isn't as a man slowly falling apart and that is what is so intriguing about his work. He captures that specific juvenile spirit that differentiates him from a truly desperate man in a more expected sense. Take when he gets an easy way to make money, his novel being adapted into a Manga, with even the option to use a pen name to hide his identity for his pride's sake. Abe portrays initially at hearing the money this eagerness and brightness in his eyes in seeing a simple way out. When the full idea comes out he shows someone as immature in the as quick of frustration as he speaks as a man who refuses to accept himself as anything less than what he has constructed for himself, in his own mind at least. 

All of Ryota's schemes come to a head as he weathers a typhoon at his mother's home, while his sister is visiting, and his wife and son will eventually visit as well. His chemistry with his sister (Satomi Kobayashi) is an excellent minor bit of performance between both actors who provide a unique dynamic. This as they are both different yet similar in their way of scheming through life just Ryota might be more delusional about it. Abe and Kobayashi bring this rather likable, even technically antagonistic, interaction where both understand each other with a loving sort of brother and sister understanding, even as they don't express any love to each other. They attempt to foil each other and in that Abe and Kobayashi show it through their casual and comfortable interaction coming from a place of closeness even as it is undermining. After that interaction, he's left with seeing his mother, who to an extent enables his schemes, his wife, and his son. Here you get the best of Ryota and the worst of it, and Abe brings it to life so wonderfully at every step. And that is what makes this such an effective performance because every step, good or bad, Abe makes so distinctly honest in such a natural way. We see this in every moment with his son where in every word there is genuine love and care, just as there is always a quiet tension in his voice of someone knowing he may not get to see his son if he doesn't find the money. In turn, he creates sympathy for him, even if he doesn't deserve it, as tries to steal from his own mother, and seeing a note from his sister beating him to a hiding spot, Abe's reaction is perfection as it is frustration but also almost this certain relief and admiration while being bested. And in this, you see in a way the immaturity as it remains a certain game in Abe's performance as he realizes Ryota's specific appeal and shortcoming. With his wife, Abe realizes this dynamic so authentically as he attempts to win her back. Abe brings a real charm in these moments, as he is the people pleaser, but at the same time, you see it as a boy charming his crush than a fully realized man. He is convincing in making you see why his wife would almost consider reconciliation but is as convincing in showing how this act only goes so far, therefore is unsuccessful in the end. The moment of his wife speaks the fact that she won't take him back is amazing acting from Abe. His reaction is so small yet so powerful as he realizes in his subtle sadness a moment of true maturation as he recognizes it as truth. There is no trying to charm his way through, there is just a poignant combination of acceptance while also trying to hold in his sadness to keep this pain from his wife. Abe in this moment shows success in the failure, as in the acceptance there appears to be a final growth that had so long alluded Ryota throughout the film. Abe crafts unusual arc, yet one that feels wholly natural, and more importantly is a wholly moving portrait of a man coming to terms with his mistakes.  

Friday, 25 November 2022

Alternate Best Actor 2016: Shahab Hosseini in The Salesman

Shahab Hosseini did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning CANNES, for portraying Emad in The Salesman. 

Shahab Hosseini is one of director Ashgar Farhadi's most frequent collaborators, before this film Hosseini previously was featured in his film A Separation, a Farhardi's legal thriller in so many words. As with any good collaboration you see a variety of roles for a performer which is the circumstance for Hosseini when you compare his performance here to in A Separation, despite the characters sharing a similar plot connection. In that previous film, Hosseini exuded really traditional male overcompensation, a man defined entirely by his macho anger as he roared in an attempt to get justice for his wife in the film. Well, Hosseini seems almost a different man here as the milquetoast schoolteacher. Hosseini delivers a wonderful natural aggregability in the role. A man who really isn't of any note in a certain sense, but also in actually a good sense. The most traumatic element we see is he and his wife are in need of a new apartment after their old building collapsed, but even with this Emad and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), don't present as any great weight upon them. In fact, what we see is the two of them are more focused on the production of Death of a Salesman that both are performing in. Emad is the opposite of the play's Willy Loman, Hosseini exudes a man who has a general comfort with life, and shares a wonderful chemistry with Alidoosti. It isn't anything that is even focused upon rather the love between them is a natural given and the two have an endearing energy as really a proper pair in the best sense. We see the fun of them preparing together for their performance and even as they prepare their new apartment, it is just with a cheery disposition of two loving each other and loving life even with its little pitfalls. Where Willy also struggles with his ideas of what it means to be a man, Emad seems to have no struggle. Even in a moment, where he a woman complains about being near him in a taxi, Hosseini presents just a hint of confusion but acceptance when he must switch places. When one of his students, who was also in the taxi, vocalizes his annoyance with the situation, Emad only counters with an empathetic view towards the woman likely having been a victim of some man in a taxi at some point. Hosseini delivers this moment pitch-perfect as it isn't with some purity of sainthood, but rather just a calm understanding of human nature and an acceptance of both imperfections but also the struggles others have that may at times cause issues for others. 

Their ideal lives though are shaken when Rana, alone at home, is left injured after being attacked by a man looking for the former renter of their new apartment, a prostitute. Initially, Hosseini delivers still just a loving concern and a sense of quiet dismay over the situation. Hosseini doesn't present it as shattering just unpleasant and also a moment of utter concern for his wife. Hosseini presents Emad as certainly bothered by what happened but willing to just help his wife get through it in the best way they are able to. Unfortunately, Rana is traumatized by the incident as she shows her fear of going into the bathroom alone, where her attack took place, and it causes her to freeze when attempting to perform The Salesman again. Here is where the plot thickens and where we come to understand the nature of the film, which is where A Separation a very unique legal thriller, here it becomes an extremely unique revenge thriller. Hosseini naturally builds towards the moment in which Emad is going to essentially try to be the hero, which is not a single step. Rather we see the genuine heartbreak in his eyes as he sees the suffering his wife is going through, and there is nothing easy in his manner towards it. We see the man losing his comfort in life and struggling to just calmly accept what has come. Hosseini brings the right shortness in his delivery when he inquires from a friend who suggested the apartment why he had not told them about who the former renter was. Hosseini delivers anger that isn't like his previous performance, but rather an anger befitting a more subdued man that is Emad. We rather see the realization of the frustrations of the situation, which comes from a very real concern for his wife, however, it is turning Emad away from the more empathetic individual of before. Hosseini makes this situation natural and properly painful by showing that is honestly all coming from a decent place, the care he has for his wife, however it is starting to realize itself in less than ideal ways. 


Hosseini is powerful in just portraying so realistically the wear of the situation, and the weight upon the man as he attempts to deal with the implications of the attack. When dealing with the previously normal moments of life, like preparing to act in the play or teaching, there is a greater intensity. Hosseini's performance exudes such palatable emotions of frustrations of the man who is unable to essentially settle within his life at this point. There is a great extended scene where Emad interrogates a student for having filmed him while sleeping. Hosseini's performance is filled with bitterness towards the student and you just see the shortness of his fuse in every interaction that is stark, but so naturally, the contrast from the gently supportive teacher from before. We see the same when continually snaps at his co-star who not only gave him the apartment that led to the attack but also ended up revealing more about the attack. Hosseini's performance again is fantastic because he makes it such a normal man who is growing in this callousness towards others and ferocious discontent with those around him. And we see the motivation of this so clearly in his moments with Rana that somehow keep getting tainted by the memory of the attack, whether that is dealing with her trauma, or even strange side effects such as suddenly having their stomachs churn when they find out Rana accidentally bought food with money that had been left behind by the attacker. Hosseini's depiction of this is as a man who is suffering very much for his wife and creates the specific sense of the constant reminders that fill him with anger and despair.

What becomes Emad's solace is essentially playing "the man" who is exacting his revenge, and what Hosseini's performance becomes is a brilliant deconstruction of this very idea. We see him as he goes about his revenge procedure of setting a trap for the man by using the truck left behind by the man as bait. In these scenes, there is greater comfort in Hosseini's performance, as he shows a man suddenly in command of his space again and with some actual confidence in himself again. Emad manages to get the man to come, who at first pretends that it was his son-in-law and not him until pressing questions to reveal the truth. Hosseini's great throughout this scene by again in a way presenting the "perfect" front of the man seeking justice in every question and accusatory stare. He has a firm command of the moment and is in control, even if what that means is basically locking up and pestering a sleazy old family man with a heart condition. When Rana shows up, it is not with satisfaction as she is clearly horrified by the idea of revenge, while Hosseini keeps this specific state of the man doing what he thinks to essentially "be a man". When the man seemed almost dead this changes briefly, particularly after the man's loving family shows up, and Hosseini's great in his subtle reactions of holding in his ire and segueing to the man of before as he exhibits genuine concern for another human being. When it seems the man is fine though Emad allows the man to keep his secret, but only if he gets the evidence of his ill deeds from Emad in private. The lead-up to this is perfection from Hosseini as in his eyes there is such a specific sense of fixation of a man proving something to himself to the point of blindness. In the actual confrontation, Hosseini's great by portraying basically "the hero" as he dispenses justice by giving the materials and a slap to go with it. Hosseini's presenting within his own work a sense of catharsis, only for Emad. This is instantly cut off when this leads to a second episode for the old man as he appears to be dying. Leaving only reactions from Rana and Emad as they look on. Hosseini's performance at this moment is outstanding as the whole concept of his revenge is instantly shattered and his expression is such an eloquent realization of a man understanding the actual results of his desire for revenge. Hosseini's performance shows the decent man before seeing that his behavior to be the "heroic man" has left nothing but pain for others and distress for his wife. This is a brilliant subversive portrait of a man trying and failing to be the avenging hero. 

Thursday, 17 November 2022

Alternate Best Actor 2016: Adrian Titieni in Graduation

Adrian Titieni did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Romeo Aldea in Graduation.

Graduation follows a doctor as he attempts to ensure his daughter's success on a final exam after she suffers a traumatic attack.

In this character study, we follow Adrian Titieni as the doctor who from the off-set seems your average enough man who supposedly loves his daughter and simply wants what is best for her. Titieni's performance then is an examination of this father seemingly set in his ways as a member of the community, and how everything about what follows challenges that. Titieni carries himself in a slightly tired manner, someone who works hard, but also is set in his ways even when somewhat amorally. We see him warmly interact with his daughter as he gives her a ride to school, just establishing an innate relationship there, however kind of detached, though with history, manner towards his wife as a relationship past its due. And the first challenge to himself comes there as we see Romeo with his mistress, a school teacher, and you see a more lustful man, however, Titieni is as natural in presenting a man ruled as he might be by his sexual desires. Not as some extreme switch, but just a natural other aspect that does define the man. 

His existence is broken quickly again as his daughter is attacked with the attacker having attempted to rape her as well. What follows is the film basically as a series of unfortunate events that does nothing but shake the foundations of whoever it is that Romeo would define himself as. Titieni initially presents quietly but potently the sense of the man's initial concern but also with more once through the event he learns his daughter is no longer a virgin before this event. Titieni presents more so confusion than a complete shatter in the man, effectively presenting a man who quietly takes the information in rather than in a loud explosive way. This alludes towards in a way a man who may be an overly calculating sort, as his reactions are subdued yet feel honest with how subdued they are given how it is that we follow Romeo beyond this point. Although the man doesn't change overtly, Titieni's performance subtly adjusts as his physical manner becomes tighter and his manner less at ease. 

This only is exacerbated when it seems like her injuries may prevent her from taking her pivotal exam to ensure she is able to get into the college of her choice. A situation that Romeo tries to initially argue his way through, where Titieni brings the right calm passion about, however, things quickly spiral out of control when that seems like it might not be enough. And it is interesting for a lead character Titieni is almost always shown in profile, rare is the closeup and in a way, this defines the way we see his character as the plot thickens so to speak. A plot that is less really about all the different aspects he's trying to hold together, his failing marriage, his mistress, his change in perspective regarding his daughter, his attempt to find the truth about the potential rape, his attempt to save her academic future, and the world of corruption he gets involved into to save the former, and more so about all of them together. All together in terms of what it is that Romeo is trying to do to attempt to make it all work at once. 

What we see then in Titieni's performance beyond the initial scenes to the change is a man in constant negotiation, amplified by his positioning in most of the frames off to the side. Although this may seem like a repetitive notion it is actually rather compelling in creating this tangible state of the man as somehow retaining some basic sense of his purpose even as he really is negotiating every aspect of his life away. Titieni presents a man selling himself away with an interesting sort of ease. It isn't as a man who has suddenly lost all his morals but rather as a man who is in a constant just driven state of maintaining his daughter's path no matter what. What is remarkable is around it is we see how strange this caring father act becomes the more he attempts to apply it to every situation, whether that is coming clean to his wife, making a deal based on corruption, trying to avoid investigation by the authorities or even trying to convince his daughter of his misdeeds. Titieni's performance works in illustrating the failures of the very conceit of the man, who fails as loving father by in a way acting always on his always misguided expectation of one. 

Friday, 11 November 2022

Alternate Best Actor 2016: Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Raman Raghav 2.0

 Nawazuddin Siddiqui did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ramanna in Raman Raghav 2.0.

Raman Raghav tells the tale of a man who fashions himself as a historical serial killer and the equally duplicitous detective investigating his crimes. 

Reviewing Nawazuddin Siddiqui for the third time, and a rather different performance as an affable co-worker or a nearly defeated gangster, he now explores one of the most sinister sorts one can depict on screen that of the serial killer. Although the film has a lot of flash to it in terms of the direction, that could theoretically grant a pseudo-romanticized vision of such a figure, Siddiqui's performance eschews such notions. Siddiqui as Ramanna has a dynamic presence that dominates the screen when he is the central focus of a given scene. He has this innate intensity within his performance that carries with it the killer's intention, to the point the whole notion of it is something that he reflects as a kind of ease. When he speaks upon his personal philosophy, Siddiqui is captivating by making the demented statements wholly logical in Ramanna's own mind, he presents them as what is just a truth to him and is quite effectively disturbing by making it all something that hardly even crosses his mind as difficult. 

Siddiqui's performance is consistent in this depiction as we follow him on his route of terror where he goes and kills his sister and her family. Siddiqui's performance throughout this sequence is effectively chilling by how matter of fact he plays every moment of it. When he questions what his sister has spoken to him, Siddiqui's voice is calm and almost in a strange way satisfied as he discusses his violent nature even when he was younger. When he suddenly begins the killing Siddiqui doesn't portray it as a frenzy rather is eerie by the way he just physically performs it as this innate action from the man. He shows the man just doing something he does and that is what is so unnerving about it. There isn't a hint of hesitation or even concern, even as he speaks to his nephew before he is about to kill him. He rather has kind of a casual joy about it all as a man who just lives as he does, and murder is merely the way he expresses himself. 

The film isn't a crime thriller or a character study of this killer alone. It rather focuses on the connection between Ramanna and the equally morally onerous inspector Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal), and I'll admit this whole aspect I found less engaging. The film depicts both committing crimes with the revelation being essentially their connection in being amoral killers that we see in the climax as Ramanna speaks this to Raghavan. I will say this is compelling as performed by Siddiqui, he is not compelling in this film, more so than I think the whole scenario is as written. I'll admit it is very easy to turn me off a serial killer story when he takes a certain turn, and that was the turn here.  It is part of an overarching issue being that when it is away from Siddiqui the film in general is a whole lot less engaging. The reason for being engaging is Siddiqui's performance which is consistently so in the visceral power of his portrayal of the serial killer without a hint of scruples. To the point, I likely would've preferred if it has just committed to a character study all the way, rather than this attempting at some more profound merging that I'll admit I found a bit clunkier. Even though Siddiqui isn't always the focus, he is always striking whenever he is and is the reason to watch the film. 

Friday, 4 November 2022

Alternate Best Actor 2016: Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead

Don Cheadle did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Miles Davis in Miles Ahead. 

Miles Ahead juxtaposes two times in the famed Jazz musician's life, that of a strange singular story later in his life and a more expected tale of his difficult relationship with a dancer. 

Don Cheadle writes, directs, and acts in the film, trying to make his mark on the legacy of Miles Davis in multiple ways. A tough act to follow in more ways than one, and Cheadle tries to leave a mark for better and worse. As a director/writer, he tries to craft something off-beat, maybe even Jazz in the switches of narrative in the timelines and the choice to give episodes of Davis rather than a greater portrait. Although it is always easy to appreciate a daring approach to the often-tired musical biopic, the execution of the daring still matters and this is where Miles Ahead falls short, though it doesn't die. It is aided by Cheadle the actor who is daring himself because he must play Davis at all, who due to surgery complications had an extremely distinct raspy permanently injured voice. This is kind of an essential choice, he had to do the voice really because it is such a part of who Davis is, but it is also so aggressively distinct it is going to stick out. And to say it isn't a little disconcerting at first would be an understatement, particularly against Cheadle's typically more higher-pitched voice. Cheadle goes for it, and to his credit, it is a consistent element of his performance, even if that still raises the question does it work?

Well, it does take a while to get used to, and I'd say even longer for the younger Miles. The older is helped by Cheadle getting more elements to transform by having Davis's long hair and donning sunglasses at almost all times. The younger Miles though is just Don Cheadle as we know him and it does take more to get used to his voice, but eventually, I will say I got used to it on both sides, again it helps that Cheadle sticks to it as automatically not natural as it sounds. Cheadle makes you eventually accept it and it does help you accept him as Davis, after a fashion. The story itself is scattershot and it probably is best to look at the two tales separately because we get very different men and therefore performances from Cheadle. The younger performance is more akin to the expected biopic just in a microcosm. We get the moments as the earlier successful and more charming musician at the time. Cheadle conveys just in and around the music scene a greater exuberance in his manner. We see the youth of the man and not because he looks younger, his whole vibe conveys this idea, even with his still very raspy voice regardless. 

The younger Davis scenes are this progression of the man moving towards the man we see in the future in his relationship with his girlfriend dancer Frances Taylor. We see him charm her initially and there Cheadle has this greater ease in his manner. There is confidence in his posture and his expression of a man whose looking for love rather than feeling any kind of hurt. In the initial scenes between Davis and Taylor, Cheadle shows the sense of ease in the relationship and the comfort that we get initially. This degrades quickly though as her own success as a dancer keeps him from her and in many ways is not always there for his emotional needs. Although the nature of the film keeps it from being a more intimate progression, Cheadle is good in each stage we see of the toxicity in Davis that quickly reveals itself. Cheadle though begins by straining the need for the comfort she gives him initially and speaks each word with personal regret. This is lost quicker than it is found as Cheadle shows the end of this period as he becomes a man defined by his emotional anxieties and is effective in presenting it essentially as a lack of rational control as he spirals towards even violence in the relationship. 

The main focus of the film is the older Miles, even though it is the weirder story that is much about a strange search for stolen property, mixed around with a strange insecure journalist (Ewan McGregor) and dealing with shady record producer types. I can't say it all adds up to something that exactly works, though kudos for trying to do something unique. Cheadle though is terrific as this side of Davis because in contrast to the youth he just exudes age. His expression more constricted into a state of almost constant weariness and just exasperation. The delivery of his already raspy voice was even sharper and more aggressive. Cheadle represents a man even more worn away by life and almost seems like a nub in some ways. Cheadle's performance is in this kind of drift as he doesn't exactly interact with the people around them except with a certain hostile intensity. A random hostile intensity that is a mixture of pointed toward those who helped to create his current state, and just a generalized exasperation to the world. Cheadle makes moments of randomly threatening a DJ or telling an interviewer that he's not Walter Cronkite have the same puncturing quality of a man who is filled with a different kind of ease, the ease of disregarding everything and almost everyone around him. 

While Cheadle is entertaining in being the misanthropic Davis in the late-period scenes, it would be repetitive if there wasn't more and there is more that we see when he discusses his love of music, or even how he messes around with the piano. Cheadle is great in these moments because he shows a real passion that comes out deep within the haggard frame of the man. His eyes warm up just a bit and his voice, even as raspy as it is, speaks less of hardness towards the world. There is a sense of beauty in it and there becomes a more lyrical quality in Cheadle's delivery that denotes the man truly expressing his life's passion. Honestly, I wouldn't have minded more of these moments because they are those that most come to life in the film. Unfortunately, so much of this section gets caught up in the rigamarole of the plot, which if it was truly compelling would be fine, however that just isn't the case. Although that does limit the eventual portrait of Davis, this is more than an interesting stab at the man if we are talking specifically about Cheadle's own performance. Although his writing and directing don't quite live up to the man, his performance does deliver on the idea, even if it becomes limited to an extent because of his writing and directing falling a bit short. 

Saturday, 29 October 2022

Alternate Best Actor 2016: Paul Dano & Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe did not receive Oscar nominations for portraying Hank and Manny respectively in Swiss Army Man.

Swiss Army Man is an unorthodox film following a lonely man who discovers an unlikely friend and savior in a corpse with strange powers.

This film is all about its strangeness to a degree, and I would say partly to the film's appeal but also partly to its detriment. What it has at its center are two performances that intend to deliver on the promise of the film regardless. The more straightforward performance is that of Paul Dano's lonely man Hank who we initially find as he is about to commit suicide on a deserted island. Dano often plays oddball characters however his performance here is intended to be a bit more direct. Dano's opening moment conveys this innate anxiety about the man, sadness, and depression. Although Dano's depiction of this almost is wavering in the sense there is no conviction within Hank even with the noose around his neck. His expressions are more of a man lost with his emotions just as he is lost in this world by being on this island. His suicide is prevented by the arrival of Radcliffe's Manny, who literally is just a dead corpse, where to Radcliffe's credit delivers a proper rigor mortis, in his strange expression of someone whose not sure what caused their death even. 

The main narrative becomes then this interaction as Hank discovers a strange new life by escaping the island after he finds Manny's farts provide ample energy to ride the corpse through the water. A moment of featuring this exhilaration in Dano as it seems like Hank has some kind of second wind, and Radcliffe, well Radcliffe still has that same strange dead look on his face. What the film develops into is discovery and self-discovery within the character of Hank. The discovery is where he finds the strange abilities that Manny has and slowly finds there may be more to Manny that a corpse. Dano's performance in a way is key in that he doesn't at all bring humor into the situation. He rather plays the part with an overarching quality of desperation as he interacts with Manny. Dano shows in his eyes a man who needs much from Manny, and even when he's trying to get something from him there is a palatable need that Manny needs to be more than a dead corpse. 

This relationship expands when Manny begins to talk and Radcliffe in turn is given a little more to act with, that being part of his face. Radcliff's work is fascinating in basically he only reanimates what is reanimated within Manny. Radcliffe's initially making simple noises deep within his throat as someone without control of much else than the vibration of their vocal cords. Leading Hank and Manny to sing the Jurassic Park theme together, Dano plays the moment with a mix of fascination, but also frustration as he looks as though checking to see if this is genuine or a miming act from Manny. Radcliffe on the other hand succeeds in making the strangeness tangible. Comical in his off-beat oddity but also convincing, at least as convincing as one can be as a living corpse. The two of them together create the right dynamic as Dano gives the sense of the strangeness of the situation but also with it the sense of curiosity, while Radcliffe provides the curiosity. 

Their relationship grows naturally when Manny begins to speak and Radcliffe's performance grows a bit more in terms of what he can use, however, his vocal delivery is basically behind teeth, with the voice of a man just barely able to move his mouth naturally. The relationship though is one built on the idea of relationships in general as Hank teaches Manny, mostly by Hank revealing all his personal loneliness and insecurities. Dano is terrific by being very honest, despite the situation, in realizing this specific tone in Hank's "teaching". Dano mixes passion with anxiety in every word as it is as much these confessions of his own failings as it is trying to connect with the corpse of Hank. Dano finds the complexity in this as Hank provides some sense of warmth with his words towards Manny, even while his expressions speak towards someone whose accents are that of a constant failure.  Radcliffe on the other hand is wonderfully straightforward, as a corpse, by portraying the wonderment in Manny as he takes in Hank's "wisdom. Radcliffe brings a certain childlike discovery as though he's learning what it means to live for the first time.

Dano and Radcliffe admirably carry the film together by making this dynamic work within the weird confines, but also with genuine emotion by making this connection between the two. The progression than being this odd friendship that does develop and there is something very endearing in this wholly one-of-a-kind bond that is crafted. Dano projects a seeming growing confidence in this but never does lose the desperation is quality always nagging upon him. Contrasting that is Radcliffe's performance which has some physical brilliance as the more Manny seems to come to life, Radcliffe brings more articulation in his voice and his physical manner if ever so slightly. He never stops being a corpse fully, but the slight movement towards being living is particularly well realized in Radcliffe's performance. Where this leads is sadly probably the least interesting part of the film, as Hank gets called upon his past creepiness and Manny seemingly is just a corpse. I don't find any of this terribly interesting, even performance wise where obviously Radcliffe isn't doing much and Dano is back to the beginning, although this is writing not acting. What I do like though is the final moment of both performances where Manny comes back to life, for a triumphant fart naturally, and Radcliffe and Dano's mutual joy at the moment is a memorable sendoff, even with a bit shaky path to that point. Both actors give strong performances though, with much conviction to the concept as a reality, something that I think was missing or played more overtly comically, I'm not sure the film would've worked in the slightest. 

Sunday, 23 October 2022

Alternate Best Actor 2016: Jarkko Lahti in The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki

Jarkko Lahti did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character of The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki. 

The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki follows a true story of a Finnish boxer getting his shot at a championship belt against an American fighter. 

The film joins the long list of films following the most cinematic sport, the boxer. You have one man against one man, but really all these films tend to be one man against something else, The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki being a film right within that thematic idea. The film this most closely resembles in fact is Rocky, not just because he's a boxer, but the whole experience is similar in we get this guy, who is a workaday boxer being thrust into what seems a chance of a lifetime. Similarly, Lahti's performance is similar to Sylvester Stallone, as this rather meek guy in what is a ferocious line of work. Lahti when he comes onto screen screams neither fighter or star even, yet neither is a criticism.  Lahti's performance rather exemplifies a man, being a man, as we follow him in his hometown attending a local celebration. We see Lahti's work, and in every question, he gets about his boxing, Lahti delivers the lines not quite with annoyance, but a kind near disinterest, as someone just responding to questions about his job, not necessarily where his true passions lie in a way, or perhaps this is just the way he goes about his passion. Where we see Olli more interested is in a local woman Raija (Oona Airola). 

The chemistry between Lahti and Ariola is key to the film, and the chemistry again I'd say is similar to the famous Rocky/Adrian dynamic, in creating just an earnest emotional romantic feeling that isn't about the big more lustful overtures, it is rather two people finding a pure and absolute comfort between the two of them. Lahti just shows the purity of the joy he shares in the moments between Olli and Raija. There is a sense of discovery in every conversation, a sense of warmth in every glance between them, and the nature of the love is just the truth between them. Lahti's performance brings the needed sincerity as he explains to his manager that he thinks he's in love. The explanation again isn't with this broad statement as though to convince himself, Lahti says it is just as fundamental as the sky is blue, it is just what it is. The earnestness of the relationship is that of just profound connection that doesn't need even grand statements behind it just two people loving each other. The two of them show this in every interaction with each other and they complete each other through a simple compliment. They are wonderful together and you are fully granted the sense where Olli's happiness lies with this relationship and far less so the upcoming boxing match.

The boxing match against the romance then becomes the central conflict as his manager pushes him away from Raija and tries to get him to stay fixated on the match as the most important thing in his life. Lahti shows that the nature of Olli is seeking happiness in the simple joys of life, not the grand stakes of becoming champ. At the press conference his delivery of potentially not winning the match is basically as "if it goes that way it goes", it isn't the end of the world to him either way. When Raija leaves due to being ignored by Olli and being moved around to focus on other things, that is where we see the greatest distress in Olli. Lahti's performance realizes this naturally just as the man is in a state of discomfort though not as great anguish, but the sense of the man being out of step. In every conversation there is a low-level sense of frustration, every act preparing for the fight there is an annoyance of the man not having what he really wants, which is being in the presence of Raija. That discomfort only leaves him when she returns, making it so he can face his opponent without that frustration. The showdown itself not being the focus like Rocky though, with Olli not seemingly needing to prove anything, instead losing rather quickly to his opponent. Lahti is great though in the scene after this as he recounts the fight. I think Lahti importantly shows that it isn't meaningless as he speaks with being a bit taken aback by just how good his opponent was, some sadness even as we see there was something to the fight, even if it was not the most important thing in the world for him. Of course, we see the latter idea come back as he reunites with Raija again, and there Olli is perfectly contented. We see the man being where he wants to be, with the woman he loves, and Olli is living his happiest life. Jarkko Lahti's performance isn't one about big moments, but realizing the small moments throughout. Every small moment delivering a sincere authenticity of a man finding joy not through the big fight, but rather the quiet romance.