Sunday, 10 February 2019

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2018: Jeff Bridges and Lewis Pullman in Bad Times At the El Royale

Jeff Bridges did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Father Daniel Flynn or is it Daniel "Dock" O'Kelly nor did Lewis Pullman for portraying Miles Miller in Bad Times At The El Royale.

Bad Times At The El Royale is a very entertaining film about a group of strangers at a rundown glamor hotel in the 1960's. Thankfully for all it isn't in reality set in the mind of man child serial killer with multiple personalities(I wish I was making up that plot point for a different film with a similar setup).

Full fledged acting veteran now, Jeff Bridges plays one of these strangers who is one of the first we are introduced to. We meet him alongside Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), whose only secret is that she's an underappreciated singer. Bridges initially appearing effectively giving us two sides of his character upon the outset. The first as he is introduced to sweet to which there is a harder look in his eyes, and a more reserved demeanor. Upon her introducing herself and recognizing his "priesthood" Bridges takes upon a much brighter disposition fitting to a priest. Bridges brings an unassuming jovial quality once this happens bringing a believable enough bright smile to his face, and eager demeanor to deflect any real interest in what he's doing beyond being a priest. Of course this is just a primer in a sense of Bridges's brilliant approach to the part from the outset that plants the seeds of the true nature of his character, well properly putting on the show of the man most would probably be convinced by. Although one can easily overlook such things initially just to be yourself taken away by very charismatic turn from Bridges, which is always a delightful thing. Bridges properly regulates though as bringing his typically endearing presence though wrapping it within the context supposedly of a priest just there to travel while living to spread the word of God.

Lewis Pullman, the son of Bill Pullman which is quite evident in his shared demeanor and voice of his old man, on the other hand is not one of the arriving strangers, but the single employee of the hotel. This is as he appears from the dark den of the maintenance closet. Pullman essentially plays the part that would be taken on by Elisha Cook Jr. in the 40's or perhaps Steve Buscemi in the 90's, that as the seemingly rather pathetic concierge who is a personification of the lost of its glory days. This is right within Pullman's performance which evokes those sort of turns, though without imitation, quite effectively in his portrayal of Miles. From the outset Pullman just exudes desperation right from his initial reaction as though even meeting the new guests is some painful exercise in holding it just long enough to do his job of presenting the hotel. The hotel presentation being a horribly purposefully poor presentation on Pullman's part, showing just the strain through every put upon smile, and just the weakness of his delivery as he attempts, and fails horribly to put a little zest in his delivery. It is perhaps the weakest of all the facades within the film as it is obvious that Miles is terrible at his job, but it goes even deeper than that. This in this 1000 yard stare that Pullman brilliantly portrays as his resting expression when not forcing himself some sort of front, immediately suggesting some terrible past before we learn a single thing about the man.

The film then becomes a clashing of secrets of many different sorts. Bridges's for one being the right texture to his work as a man with a secret, worse than some, better than others, and in turn expresses that in his work of portraying just the right sense of it even in the waiting scene. He brings in just small little glances nearly the face of another man with some weight and anxiety as he spins a coin to determine his room. Now quickly the secrets force the revelations of one another, one of the first being that each room is fitted with recording equipment including one way mirrors. This revealing one secret of Bridges's "father" looking for something beneath the floor boards with some desperation, meanwhile no one way mirror is needed to see Pullman's Miller in a state of unconsciousness as he writhes in heroine use. Soon afterwards though we see Bridges putting on the kindly act again as he invites Darlene for a meal within hotel. As now there is a bit of a task at hand, Bridges finds just the right approach in leaning as this jovial priest sort. It's a reasonably believable approach however Bridges's delivery is occasionally just a little too outgoing. This is not in a way that would alarm most, but just enough that it would alarm someone who is a little more seasoned with dealing with BS artists as Darlene is.

There is a brief moment though between Darlene and the priest where the facade completely disappears, though not to that harder look, but rather something else as the priest attempts to explain that he seems to be losing his mind and frequently loses time. Bridges is downright amazing in this moment as he captures instantly this very real unease in the man as even the explanation seems to aspire this palatable fear.. There is such a moving vulnerability in this moment that Bridges express so powerfully suggesting that even if so much else of the man may not be true, what he is speaking in this moment is unquestionably so. It is frankly one of the best acted moments of the career as there is only the most honest poignancy in his performance as he manages in the moment to show the pathos of a man facing death but wrapped with the disjointed confusion brought upon the specific disease that has befallen him. This heart to heart is cut short when the priest reveals himself to be anything but when he tries to drug Darlene, and Darlene reveals herself to be more than capable by slamming a bottle of champagne in his face. This briefly makes the switches in this review a tad easier as Miles is the one to help the priest from his injury.

Upon awakening we see again the gruffer man in Bridge's physical work that emphasizes how the real man here would react in an unknown situation. This with an internalized intensity with again this hard eyes and pointed delivery that evokes even a menace as he interrogates Miles on where he is. When he is reminded Bridges is fantastic in the moment of suddenly refashioning the facade, though almost as this halfway thing, which is enough given Miles's state. Miles's state being that he must confess his sins to a priest with perhaps as much of a need as Kichijiro's in Silence. Pullman is also great in this moment as he goes from the mild concierge to expelling this desperate need in his quietly earnest delivery of asking the father to hear his sins. Pullman is terrific in this moment by showing again that stare in his eyes as though he is looking upon those sins as he asks the priest, showing this preoccupation of thought making it believable that he in no way would pick up on the cracks Bridges reveals in the "father's" facade. Pullman expression so well internalizes this need that is just on the cusp of becoming unbearable for him, before this is silence by further inquiries about the hotel by the "priest".  This being a careful scene where Bridges shows some subtle manipulations as he allows for the priestly misconception to manipulate the young man, while showing that harder of eye of a man trying to find a way to his prize.

Unfortunately for poor Miles this is disrupted when he gets, through the peeping Tom mirrors, some accidental buck shot via another guest Emily (Dakota Johnson) due to her attempt to protect her sister Rose (Cailee Spaeny), from an interfering FBI agent and the cult Emily's trying to steal her sister from. While Miles faces that though we return to the father who we in fact learn is a career bank robber named Dock O'Kelly who is trying to find an old stash of cash that was left by his brother, who was killed by a treacherous third man in their old heist crew. Bridges again is so on point in terms of giving us this other side again to his character. As even in the brief scene of the heist he accentuates the professional man during the event in his direct delivery of the frustration towards the eventual treacherous man hurting people during the robbery. We then see him in brief series of flashbacks in his time in jail for the robbery where again Bridges is quite harrowing in showing the man lost in his mind. Bridges doesn't simplify these moments but makes them truly remarkable by portraying them so genuinely. He delivers them with the right blunt distress as the Dock finds himself lost in his thoughts within jail, and is so very moving in his subtle reaction as he is told of his diagnosis of dementia. In Bridges's hands this is not just a simple plot point to enforce substance, but brings such reality to it that makes such a notable impact due to power of his performance.

Things go less well for Miles as Emily considers his fate for witnessing her murder someone, to which his defense is he's seen all sorts of terrible things at the hotel. Pullman is amazing in this scene as he outlines the horror of his job for the past few years. Pullman grants such vividness to every detail through his reactions that evoke such misery and is especially haunting as his delivery suggests how these tales weigh upon his soul. Pullman though is also so good in just granting a necessary desperation in his plea as he so effectively portrays Miles stating his reasons for being let live in addition to them being intertwined as part of the sins that trouble him so deeply. One of the reasons though being that he knows so little about the women, which Rose purposefully screws up in her demented way by giving info on both of them. Pullman's reaction to this is incredibly moving as his face takes upon such a sad resignation of his fate, which likely be death. Dock on the other hand seeks negotiations of a different sort with Darlene as he comes clean to the point of offering her half of the money he believes he buried under her room. It is here we get more of Erivo and Bridges in their interactions, which built off their initial ones to create a wonderful chemistry between the two of them. Both actors just find the right gradual warmth in this sense of understanding, that isn't focused upon too long plot wise, yet the actors in their way of speaking and physically interacting, manage to convey a believable friendship of sorts that develops between the two of them.

All of these plot threads come to a head when the cult arrives led by Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) who brings everyone together to attempt to decide their fate. Bridges is excellent here as well in portraying the complete disregard for Lee in every unimpressed glance and disrespecting delivery towards him. He also within this has some wonderful moments Erivo in their momentary trades that again bring a real warmth even within the intense situation, as they earn the gradual connection the two slowly find during their mutual present existence. Pullman on the other hand is great by being a complete wreck the entire time as he shows the man nearly ready to scream out his heart, and then naturally does so when it appears he may be killed, through a game of life or death roulette put on by Billy. Pullman is fantastic in showing in the moment as a hysterical purge as he looks to Dock for benediction as he still believes him to be a priest. Bridges in turn is fantastic in his reactions that capture a certain embarrassment and unease that the man will not be able to find any real solace in him. The one point that Billy knocks Dock off is when he asks him his name. Bridges is down right astonishing in this moment as he is able to convey the way Dock is honestly trying to recall the name, and creates such a real sense of the anguish at being able to do so. He then is equally powerful in the tenderness he brings within his confusion as Bridges delivers the line so quietly as Dock as Darlene if he ever told him his real name. Bridges again never simplifies the state of Dock's disease, but rather so consistently reveals the tragedy of it.

Fed up nonetheless with Billy's games, Dock tries to physically overpower him leaving it up to Miles to save the day when he has a handgun in reach. Pullman again is great in revealing Miles's own anxieties as he looks upon the gun and that stare again shows up as he timidly admits to killing over a hundred people. Through flashback, and when Miles gains the courage in the present, Pullman is simply marvelous in portraying Miles the soldier. In the moment Pullman shows the man entirely in his element as he kills all the cultists with this strict precision which Pullman portrays with this eloquent form of a well oiled machine. Nonetheless the crazy Rose stabs Miles leaving him for dead, and one final chance to repent for his sins. Bridges and Pullman are both outstanding in this moment. This is with Pullman finally releasing his sins though now with a sense of comfort that he portrays as the young man losing that desperation in his stare, and with Bridges showing Dock put on his priest facade one more time. This time different though as Bridges shows the respectful earnestness within every word reflecting a man who truly does want to comfort this man in his time of need. The two are heartbreaking together as Pullman portrays this moment of loving release, against Bridges who is able to portray both the facade as pure thing now along within his eyes accentuating Dock understanding that performing this lie is the right thing to do and through his impassioned delivery of each word of forgiveness. Bridges, Pullman as well as Erivo, are each essential to the film as the heightened writing could've easily led to too much exaggeration. I love the work of all three though as each find a real humanity and weight within the scenario to deliver such remarkable portraits that go beyond mere archetypes. This is truly a magnificent break through performance by the young Pullman, and for Bridges it is one of the greatest achievements of his storied career.


Charles H said...

I'm SO glad you gave Pullman a five. His performance is possibly the most heartbreaking of 2018 in my opinion. As for Bridges, this sounds like he could take the win. I'm glad you went into detail about his characters' memory loss. It could've been a completely pointless or misdone plot point but Bridges turns it into something astonishing. Really happy to see Bridges give some of his best work so late in his career, and Pullman at the start of his.

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Would it be fair to say that your opinion of Bridges has been a bit topsy-turvy since you started the blog? I recall your opinion of him going down a bit after you saw more of his work throughout the history of the blog, but after this film and Hell or High Water...

Bryan L. said...

Louis: And do you think Dicaprio would've been a great Billy Lee in a 2000s version of this film? A combination of his Jordan Belfort and Calvin Candle, if you will

Calvin Law said...

I can see why you spent a bit more time on this review and frankly, it was more than worth it. Very entertaining read and it made me re-evaluate a lot of Pullman's performance in particular. Both would be very strong 4.5's for me.

As for the film itself, I have issues mostly from an editing standpoint - the flashbacks in particular - and the narrative switch in the third act, but I can't deny that it's a visually sumptuous feast with a cracking soundtrack and great cast. Is Erivo a 5 now? I think her verbal beatdown of Hemsworth is one of my favourite scenes in the film.

Anonymous said...

Louis: your choices for a 90’s and 2000’s version of Mandy?

Robert MacFarlane said...

Pullman was impressive, but Erivo was the one who really stuck with me from the film. Bridges was good, but I hardly agree with this being him at his top. I’m pretty middle-of-the-road on the film itself. On one hand I’m glad it wasn’t just some try-hard, “edgy” Tarantino knockoff like it was advertised. On the other hand, it didn’t give me much to chew on... or even remember months later.

Calvin Law said...

Bryan: I could definitely see that, but only if he entirely embraced his star persona. On that note, my choices for a 2000s version of this film directed by Ang Lee:

Dock/Father Flynn: Albert Finney
Darlene: Taraji P. Henson (though probably a Broadway talent would be best suited)
Emily: Brittany Murphy
Dwight/Laramie: Ethan Hawke
Rose: Amanda Seyfried
Miles: Paul Dano
Billy Lee: Heath Ledger

Matt Mustin said...

"Thankfully for all it isn't in reality set in the mind of man child serial killer with multiple personalities(I wish I was making up that plot point for a different film with a similar setup)."

What is this referring to?

Calvin Law said...


Charles H said...

Identity lol. Poor Ray Liotta.

Calvin Law said...

And since I expect Hornsby to get a strong 4.5, my prediction for the final top 10:

1. Bridges
2. Yeun
3. Pullman
4. Waits
5. Crowe
6. Nelson
7. Hoult
8. Roache
9. Nivola
10. Henry

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: Damn, Ledger would've crushed that part if he was still around today.

Here's mine:

2000s, Directed by Joe Carnahan
Father Flynn: Terence Stamp
Emily: Rachel McAdams
Darlene: Kerry Washington
Dwight/Laramie: Rob Lowe
Rose: Yeah Seyfried
Miles: Dano is too perfect
Billy Lee: Dicaprio

Emi Grant said...

After seeing Louis put the film in his top 10 and include Bridges and Pullman on the line-up I gave it a chance and man, did it live up to expectations.

So glad Pullman got a 5, he's now my supporting win and Bridges would be right up there on my top 5, too.

Calvin Law said...

Damn, forgot about Grant in which case I think:

1. Bridges
2. Yeun
3. Pullman
4. Grant
5. Waits
6. Crowe
7. Nelson
8. Hoult
9. Roache
10. Nivola

Charles H said...

Louis: What are your top 10 worst films of 2018.

Michael McCarthy said...

“He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, but he don’t deserve to hear you sing” might be my favorite movie line of 2018.
God I’d love to see him win this.

Michael McCarthy said...

Also I think it would be kind of cool to see Hornsby get a 5 tomorrow. It's a very strong performance, it would be a nice surprise since not everyone on the blog has seen him , and (I know this is arbitrary but) ten 5s is more satisfying than nine.

Charles H said...

I would be more than happy with Bridges taking the win. He's my #2 of the year.

As for Hornsby his review should be interesting. He's the most mysterious in the line for sure.

Luke Higham said...

I hope we'll get the review and results today.

Fantastic review as per usual, Louis.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your past film roles for Jeff Bridges, Don Cheadle and Willem Dafoe?

Bryan L. said...

Anonymous: He covered Dafoe here

Anonymous said...

I feel kinda disappointed that I didn't ask Louis to watch a Mann film from 1957 called Men in War. I haven't seen it, but I've heard good things about Robert Ryan's performance in that flick.

Luke Higham said...

Devil In The White City is gonna be a TV series. Great decision.

Louis Morgan said...



Maybe, if as Calvin said he played into his star swagger.


Yes she is.



Red: James Woods
Mandy: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Jeremiah: Rutger Hauer
The Chemist: Udo Kier
Caruthers: Charles Bronson


Red: Mel Gibson
Mandy: Mia Kirshner
Jeremiah: Tom Noonan
The Chemist: Jeffrey Combs
Caruthers: James Earl Jones


1. Life Itself
2. Gotti
3. Mute
4. Vice
5. Beautiful Boy
6. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
7. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
8. Venom
9. Annihilation
10. The Wife



Daniel Wesbster
Holly Martins
George Bailey


Charley Malloy
Walter Lee Younger
Chief Brody


Hornsby's review will be up tonight, the results will take a little longer.