Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Best Actor 2018: Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek won his Oscar from his first Oscar nomination for portraying Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Bohemian Rhapsody is about singer Freddie Mercury who overcomes adversity to become a musical legend, it's also the feature length version of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_XKpLrXdVQ

This film opens just before the monumental performance of Freddie Mercury's career, but first we must flashback, because as we all know Mercury recounted his entire life in his head before every show. We naturally find a long haired Freddie in his twenties with our performer Rami Malek, all decked out in extravagant, hair, digs, and a mouth piece to represent ole Freddie's proclined front teeth, ready to bring this legend to life. Of course with a little trouble set up by his father disapproving of Freddie, not for chopping his little brother in half like most musical legends, but for just being seemingly a near do well with a love of the night life. This isn't anything too substantial mind you as we get our glimpse of Malek's portrayal of Freddie. Malek, who was better known for more subdued characters up until this point, does turn in a transformative performance. He doesn't look like Freddie really, but he does seek to embody him. This with his heavy and rather idiosyncratic English accent, that Malek makes a lived in element to his performance. It is merely part of it, as it is consistent, and effective approximation of the real Mercury's accent. It honestly could've been quite the distraction but Malek honestly nails the impression, while avoiding becoming just a standard impersonation.

Of course Mercury was a rather flamboyant sort in and out of the stage. Malek's performance in turn is pretty big, but he thankfully does show reserve in the states of Freddie depending on his "audience" so to speak. As a more average bloke Malek presents more as the seeds of the extreme extroversion in his whole personality that is loud. Again he does this well by pulling it back in the early scenes showing the man fully trying to be something larger than life in his very physical being, as no movement is subdued, as Malek does capture a wild energy in the man. Of course he helps to form the band of Queen as the front man to which we see the performance side of Malek's performance. This can be argued as containing both the highlights and nadirs of his performance. In that on one hand his lip syncing is not particularly good. In fact it is often rather obvious. Malek does his best to make up for this in successfully capturing the stage personality of Freddie. Again this would be easy to fall into bad parody very quickly, given just how outrageous some of Freddie's costumes, and his moves were. Malek though manages to produce them while importantly capturing this certain charisma through them. It's a shame in fact that Malek wasn't capable of singing the part, since he succeeds in becoming the on stage front man in just about every other way.

Most unfortunate though is that the film is written by the guy who writes cliff notes versions of  Wikipedia articles and calls them a screenplay, named Anthony McCarten. This means we will not get any real insight into the man that was Freddie, but rather the broadest of broad strokes. In fact for much of the film we just get sort of some Queen antics, with Freddie leading the charge. Malek is more than decent though in these horribly repetitive scenes, where he nicely plays around with sort of the ego/personality of Freddie based on the situation. In that with sort of the public/record producers, he plays it up all the more, and Malek shows him as much of a showman as he is on stage, yet perhaps a bit more cruel in his attitude. This against his scenes with the band where the flamboyance is still present, yet Malek will downplay it more often bringing in the occasional subtle moment, even though the script never has anything interesting for him to say. Malek though offers at least a bit of consistency in his performance as he attempts to find any depth by not playing every moment the same, even though they are pretty much written as such. This is with a good chunk of the film essentially being boiled down to, this song gets written, then this song, then this song.

Any darker elements involving Freddie are entirely blamed upon his EVIL road manager/partner Paul. His use of drugs doesn't even have the requisite "You don't want none of this", scene, it is in fact completely bypassed, as just a generalized idea of rough living due to a toxic one note partner. He breaks up Queen here initially, not because of any serious things like not paying for drugs even one time, but because of the mechanization of his evil partner. That troublesome Paul even keeps his real friends away (the rest of the band, and his former girlfriend Mary (Lucy Boyton)), and tries to stop Freddie from performing Live Aid. This mean keeping him from caring about people having injustices done to them ("women and midgets and such") as though he is simply a villain. Of course it helps when the film itself says he was fired for villainy just in case you missed the lack of subtlety in the screenplay beforehand. This more than anything removes sort of the burden of any of this behavior from Freddie once again limiting the character to being just trapped in toxic relationship, though actually more of as though he is being evilly manipulated. It is pure nonsense that once again limits a real exploration of who Freddie is. It just has Malek needing to play as a bit bent out of shape, and slightly angry, almost like he's under the influence of some manipulator only. It doesn't at all add up to much of anything, though Malek once again isn't the one at fault.

Of course given that depiction of Paul against the loving relationship with his former girlfriend Mary, to which Malek has a nice unassuming chemistry with, one would almost think the film was anti-homosexuality propaganda. The film tries to fix that though by depicting Freddie's later partner Jim as this perfect good. In turn neither relationship is given any real substance just two different extremes. One for Malek to depicting in a confused sulky way and the other for him to portray as loving and warm as possible. Malek hits both notes with as much depth as the film allows for so kudos there, I guess. The only real thing McCarten decides upon Freddie is that he was lonely, and was desperately seeking comfort. A potentially interesting idea if it didn't go past that sentence I just wrote there. That's all there is to it. Having said that Malek is very good in portraying the intense unease in the moments of Freddie alone, and is able to internalize this unease to an extent. This is particularly well done as he shows Freddie at his least flamboyant, as a man just looking quietly for any type of friend. Again this idea of isolation is still thin, but Malek tries by bringing an honest sense of desperation to these moments. We also of course get his AIDS diagnosis, which too is rushed through to a few moments of staring somberly in the mirror. Well again Malek hits his marks, the anxiety of his fate expressed by through his eyes of a man looking to the void, is well portrayed. Not nearly as powerful as another Oscar nominated turn with a man suffering from AIDS, but more than decent.

Every beat though is just a short thin little detail essentially to move Freddie towards his Live Aid performance after he's done living through every year of his life. Now Live Aid here is treated less as a charity concert, and more as say a boxing match at the end of a proper Rocky sequel. In that we get the odds, Queen has performed together in so long, Freddie's voice appears weak, the stakes, Africa depends on it, and then meaning of it for Freddie. It's so important, it cures Freddie's relationship with his father, he finds his good partner in Paul, and Queen will finally merge their powers again to fight for the world. This is even shown as the call center for Live Aid being downtrodden until Queen performs changing the fortunes of the event, and they only stop short of showing a LED readout showing the increase in donations as Queen performs. It is the concert of a lifetime that will make all right in the world if only Freddie can perform to his fullest, before dying like Dewey Cox three minutes after his final performance. Although the writing behind the sequence couldn't be any more absurd, Malek once again delivers, outside of the lip syncing, in fully embodying every move he made in the performance. It doesn't come off as choreography, but rather a natural expression of the man's power on stage. So again kudos to Malek for delivering as he does as the representation of the man, even in a ludicrously written scenario. This is a good performance by Rami Malek, as he manages not to be overshadowed by the subject, other than his voice, and effectively realizes a paint by numbers portrait of him.

40 comments:

Calvin Law said...

Reading these reviews back to back it seems like you actually might’ve preferred Bale.

I have no idea if he’ll hold up if I choose to re-watch the film, but I will say that part of my reason for his 4.5 for me is how much subtext Malek added to the character beyond the very surface writing. Which probably should make me bump up Bale slightly and bump down Mortensen slightly since of those two, one does a bit of that and the other I perhaps find more entertaining yet also doesn’t really grant any more depth to the character than their is.

Charles H said...

I agree with everything in this review down to the rating.

Malek has gone down with me a bit over time, ditto for the film. I still think he's fine, there's not a big flaw within his performance like i see in Mortensen and Bale.

Bryan L said...

I'd keep my 4.5 for him

Louis: Who would you have chosen to direct and write this film?

Emi Grant said...

Louis: How do you think Sacha Baron Cohen would have fared on this role, in the way it's written?

Mitchell Murray said...

I'll also keep my 4.5, and I'll say that the fact Malek didn't sing Mercury's songs didn't bother me THAT much - its an okay idea in theory - one that just falls flat due to some really obvious lip syncing.

Also in responding to Calvin's point, I've seen the movie twice, and both times my view on Malek stayed pretty much the same.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

He's a 4.5 for me, and his lip syncing wasn't too much of an issue for me.
Louis: Your thoughts on this scene from American History X?
https://youtu.be/SGnQa16uAoA

Anonymous said...

Louis: So, Norma Shearer was apparently the first choice for Mrs. Miniver, but she didn't want to play a mother, so the role was given to Garson. Would have you preferred Shearer or would have you gone for Madeleine Carroll, maybe?

Also, thoughts on Curtiz's direction in The Sea Wolf and The Unsuspected.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I think he’s a tad surface-level due to the AWFUL script, but he’s not the poison others have dismissed him as. If he wins, I’m just going to pretend it’s for The Pacific.

Mitchell Murray said...

For those that have watched "At Eternity's Gate", my review for Dafoe is currently posted, thus concluding the best actor category for myself.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: I pretty much agree with the points you've made, though I personally would go abit higher.

I really hope your dimishing appreciation for A Star Is Born hasn't extended to Cooper as well.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Luke: If Gaga's still a 4.5 for Louis, I don't see any reason why Cooper would be any lower than that at least.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Do you plan to review all of Simon Pegg's Cornetto Trilogy turns together in one review? Or will you review them separately, in the years the films released?

Bryan L said...

Mitchell: Good read. I'd give Dafoe a 4.5 as well.

Luke Higham said...

Tahmeed: He's reviewing them together, more than likely during 2004 since Pegg could potentially go up to a 5 for Shaun Of The Dead.

Calvin Law said...

Cooper will get a 5. He’s stuck with me surprisingly well even though he’s out of my top 5 now, but that’s more due to the strength of the year.

Deiner said...

Cooper is either a 4.5 or 5 for me as well. I really loved his performance and I'm extremely disappointed he's not the actual frontrunner for the Oscar. Can't say much about Malek, because my dislike for this mess of a film and its director tainted his performance for me. I hope he doesn't win.

Luke Higham said...

*I really hope your diminishing appreciation for A Star Is Born hasn't extended to Cooper as well.

Louis: See any 2018 films. I hope you've gotten around to Wildlife by now.

Bryan L said...

Luke: I saw Wildlife. Not bad, and a solid directorial debut for Dano.

Mulligan-4
Gyllenhaal-3.5
Oxenbould-3.5
Camp-3

Mitchell Murray said...

Bryan L: Thanks.

Bryan L said...

Oh and I also watched At Eternitys Gate. I actually dug it for the most part, although I think Schnabel indulges a tad too much, but not in a bad way.

Dafoe-4.5
Isaac-3.5
Mikkelsen-4
Friend-3
Amalric-3
Segnier-3

Emi Grant said...

Hopefully Pegg could go higher for The World's End. I'd say that's easily my favorite performnace from him.

Matt Mustin said...

You guys keep saying he has a "diminishing" appreciation for A Star Is Born but I don't think he really loved it that much to begin with.

Luke Higham said...

Matt: He liked it a great deal on first vìewing with minor reservations.

http://actoroscar.blogspot.com/2018/10/alternate-best-supporting-actor-1975_6.html

Louis Morgan said...

Bryan:

Written by Oren Moverman but directed by Anton Corbijn.

Emi:

Well the reason he backed out was they refused to get into the darker material, so it is hard to foresee how he would've work given he was strictly against this surface interpretation.

Tahmeed:

As written just a brutal scene of specific hate of the outsider, which is effective enough through Norton's performance/the writing. The direction of the scene is a bit over the top from the use of music, and the slow motion.

Not to scare you, but Gaga is a four for me. Full disclosure the first time I watched the film I came in about 10 minutes late, and missed her bathroom scene. I thought that was the worst kind of "I'm acting" acting from her.

Anonymous:

I think either one could have potentially delivered a stronger turn, not that I think Garson is terrible in the role or anything to begin with.

The Sea Wolf is some impeccable work from him as he directs the film as almost this sea noir, or horror film in a way. He creates a real atmosphere in the way he creates the environment on the ship which has this constant haunting quality in it, making the passengers feel as though they are the damned. There is an eerie quality to every scene that really offers an additional power beyond the already strong script.

For the Unsuspected, he and Rains are the only thing trying to make that film work. He gives the film a real shadowy atmosphere in his choices to again to really induce the fear in every setting, and every shadow being so vibrant. Although the story never comes to life due to the weakness in conception, Curtiz does everything he can to enliven it with the lurid detail he grants what is there.

Luke:

Well great deal, is different from "great". I also will admit I was probably overjoyed at the fact that it wasn't terrible.

Luke Higham said...

Ouch, Now I'm really fearful for Cooper's five hopes.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: What would be your cast for a 2000/10s Marauders film (Wizarding World). Preferably younger versions for the Marauders, Lily and Snape.

Calvin Law said...

To be honest, I don't think Sacha Baron Cohen would've been a surefire great thing either, though the film he wanted to go for did sound a lot more interesting. I could imagine him going way too broad, frankly.

I also remember Ben Whishaw was also cast for awhile. Would be weird imagining him - I actually think he could've easily nailed the mannerisms, and possibly might've given an even better performance (Freddie does seem very attuned to his sensibilities as an actor)...but he might not have clashed with Singer/the makeup might've been more distracting etc.

Charles H said...

I would still give Cooper a five although he wouldn't be top 5 anymore either.

Bryan L said...

Louis: Your reasons for Corbijn as director for a better version of this film?

Luke Higham said...

Bryan: He's got experience with Control (2007) for one thing.

Bryan L said...

Luke: Ah yes. Need to check that one out.


Also, this might sound a bit weird, but I honestly feel that this film wasn't directed by ANYONE, and not just because the producers are now trying to pretend Alan Smithee was at the helm. The direction for this film was as cookie-cutter and bland as it gets. Every beat you see in these types of films was hit in the exact way you'd expect and I think the direction actually weakened the already thinly-written screenplay. I'd be even more negative, but there's some amusement to be had in the Live Aid scenes at least.

Okay, rant over.

Calvin Law said...

Also I don't think Cooper's chances at a 5 are affected at all. Never forget in recent years, Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

I agree in regards to Cohen, it is not as though he's given this great dramatic performance somewhere else. That's a mystery and certainly far from a guarantee. I would rather have seen his vision for the film however.

Bryan:

Corbijn, even though I haven't seen Control or his numerous music videos, I think could offer the right sort of pristine emotionalism to the material. Of course I could just say I think he'd offer any real perspective on the material unlike the non-entity that exists in its current state.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: what's your top 10 for Original Score 2018?

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Nominees:

First Man
Bad Times at the El Royale
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mandy

Rest of the top ten:

6. The Old Man and the Gun
7. Mission Impossible: Fallout
8. Halloween
9. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
10. Creed II

Calvin Law said...

Interesting. I found the soundtracks to Can You Ever Forgive Me? and El Royale in particular to be more memorable than the scores, but fine choices. LOVE your nomination for Mandy and Halloween, and glad Creed II made it on.

Bryan L said...

Louis: Your Top Five for Best Original and Adapted Screenplay for 2018?

Matt Mustin said...

Calvin: The score for Can You Ever Forgive Me? is one of the things in the movie I most took notice of, to be honest.

Calvin Law said...

Matt: Well, wouldn’t mind an excuse to re-watch it if I’m honest haha

Louis Morgan said...

Bryan:

Original:

Bad Times at the El Royale
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Cold War
The Favourite
The Guilty

Adapted:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (All Gold Canyon, The Girl that Got Rattled)
Burning
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
First Man
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse