Thursday, 17 October 2019

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2001: James Gandolfini in The Mexican

James Gandolfini did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Winston Baldry in The Mexican.

The Mexican follows a low level criminal, Jerry (Brad Pitt), as he tracks down an ancient gun meanwhile he is being tracked by a hitman who has Jerry's girlfriend Samantha (Julia Roberts) in tow. The film actually is almost good and probably would've been far more successful if it embraced its more screwball leanings rather than its more serious ambitions, then again it could've approached the latter too however it would've required a far more assured hand. Its tonal imbalance is already found in the script but exacerbated by Gore Verbinski's equally awkward direction.

James Gandolfini plays Winston the hitman tracking Jerry via kidnapping his girlfriend. On the immediate surface this sounds like an expected role for Gandolfini best known for his portrayal of Italian American gangster Tony Soprano, and is also reminiscent of his underrated two scene wonder in True Romance, where he also shared the screen with Brad Pitt incidentally. This is as Gandolfini excels in this type carrying a striking menace with such ease. This finding this intensity he brandishes with the ease of a true career killer as he kidnaps Samantha while disposing of another potential killer. Gandolfini quickly and easily makes an impression as this killer, though the true nature of his character isn't as such. This is quickly found once Winston starts chatting with Samantha a bit about her difficult relationship with Jerry. Gandolfini's comedic chops quickly come out in his effortlessly incisive banter as he offers a bit of analysis. Gandolfini bringing the needed lack of shame in this finding the humor in it, but also managing to bring a certain honesty in the words. This is as even as he's listening Gandolfini's reactions show that Winston really is thinking about it before also delivering his own words of wisdom towards Samantha regarding his own opinion on their relationship woes.

There's quickly more than meets the eye to Winston as Samantha soon notices that he's checking out another man at a diner, figuring him successfully to be a homosexual hitman. That setup, especially in 2001, being prime for some serious overacting however Gandolfini wisely doesn't suddenly bring in any mannerisms, though he does successfully convey Winston's interest in the man in an honest way. This along with his certain shyness in admitting to the fact that he delivers with such a naturalistic mix of messy eagerness to be himself and hesitation to admit that all the same. Quite frankly I think the scene could've been terrible given exactly how the exchange is written, which skews towards the broad, however Gandolfini makes it work through his nuanced portrayal. Gandolfini doesn't trivialize the character at any point which is impressive, as the film quite frankly probably wouldn't have minded if that were the case. Gandolfini insists though on delivering a real honesty to the part worthier of a far better script. This as even as we see Winston engage with the mail man he and Samantha pick up, Gandolfini doesn't make it some camp relationship, as simplistic as it is written. Gandolfini offers a real emotional conviction within it portraying even the way Winston is swept up with this man to have this strict sincerity that grants a real tenderness and depth to the role. This is even as the script immediately says Winston found the love of his life, off screen, however the quiet joy in Ganodolfini's face does more than that as Winston explains a potential future for himself. The writing remains as thin when the mail man is soon murdered, however Gandolfini's heartbreak and anger is so real and quite frankly powerful he almost makes up for the weakness of the scenario as written. Gandolfini gives such a captivating turn as every little part of the character that feels like a lazy screenwriters short cut to creating a colorful character given to his part, he grants a real depth and vibrancy to. Sadly the truth of Gandolfini wholly stealing the film, without anyone else being aware apparently, becomes far too apparent as his character unceremoniously exits the film. I quite honestly sat there in disbelief as the film barely gave his character a second thought, and had the gall to go on without him. Thinking I suppose, that a random Gene Hackman cameo will save the day, I mean Hackman can do I lot, and is good as always, but the ending of the film feels so empty without Gandolfini. This is terrific work from him, even as the film fails to appreciate it, and makes me rather angry that this wasn't a film by say a Martin McDonagh or a Quentin Tarantino. This is as Gandolfini's work is deserving of a far greater film, but unfortunately he's stuck in The Mexican.


Matt Mustin said...

Saw Joker, really hated it, please don't ask me any follow up questions because I really don't want to talk about it beyond this.

Phoenix-4.5(I'm actually conflicted on this, and no, it's not on whether the rating should be higher.)

De Niro-3.5(Kinda surprised how much energy he brought to this honestly.)

Everyone else is either OK or bad.

Cinematography is great.

Fuck everything else about it.

Calvin Law said...

Agreed on Gandolfini here. And yeah weird he departs from the film like that eh?

Matt: Phoenix is a 4.5 for me too as well, actually.

Matt Mustin said...

Calvin: Honestly, I'm debating dropping him down to a 4.

Calvin Law said...

That's understandable Matt. I loved a great deal of his acting in the film but I don't know, there were a few I have some reservations about too. And to be honest his portrayal made me appreciate Ledger a lot more.

Louis: did you like Julia Roberts here? I have to admit I preferred her to Pitt here...though that might be because I kind of hated Pitt's character.

Mitchell Murray said...

A 4.5 is what I expected from Gandolfini's review, and personally, I'm just glad to see his talent being appreciated. He really was a terrific actor who was often was typecast in fairly similar roles, yet remained invested in every one of them. He will be missed.

You know, Louis, you mention the "dated" tropes of certain gay film characters - from the early 2000s, specifically - and I was reminded of Ed Harris' oscar nominated performance from "The Hours" the very next year. I was reminded of what an externalized, unconvincing portrayal that was on Harris' part, and how eager many awards bodies were in recognizing his work. The fact they went out of there way to nominate Harris for his overacted turn, while virtually ignoring Gandolfini the previous year despite the notable praise he received - well, that sort of says something about the changing attitudes of the time, I feel. I know "The Mexican" and "The Hours" aren't really that comparable in terms of press or even quality, but it's still intriguing to look at Gandolfini and Harris' approaches to their characters, and the differing receptions of there performances.

Mitchell Murray said...

Also, in response to Calvin and Matt's "Joker" comments, let me just say that I can understand where your both coming from. The weaker aspects of the film and the broad approach of Phoenix's turn were certainly never going to appeal to everyone..

As for myself, I'll again go on the record and say Phoenix was excellent. In my opinion, the big limb he goes out on fits the extremism of the Joker character, and I liked the choices he made in interpreting many of the villain's trademarks. I also just found it to be a striking and layered portrayal of a man slowly driven to insanity, one that allowed for me to sympathize with Arthur's situation, while still being offset by his own disturbing behaviour.

From the little I've seen, he is my favourite leading actor performance of the year thus far. I would absolutely back him for a nomination, and while I still may prefer Health Ledger's take on the clown prince of crime, there both great in my eyes.

Matt Mustin said...

Mitchell: I respect everyone's opinion, but the thing is I actually don't think it's as risky a performance as people are saying it is, in fact I think he's actually pretty one note and kind of on autopilot for a lot of it.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Could you do 1950 or 52 next.

Calvin Law said...

Saw The Peanut Butter Falcon. It’s for the most part very sweet and lovely, though I did quite hate the ending. Strong acting though and its heart is in the right place even if the execution ain’t all there.

Gottsagen - 4
LaBouef - 4 (torn between co-lead or supporting)
Johnson - 3.5
Hawkes and Yelawolf - 3/2.5
Dern - 3
Church - 3.5/4 (so glad to see him back again)

Calvin Law said...

Louis: could I have your thoughts on the Gray Ghost episode of Batman TAS and Adam West’s voice work?

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Your ratings and thoughts on the rest of the cast of The Mexican?

Louis Morgan said...

Watched the Laundromat, which given that I went in with super low expectations, I actually didn't mind. Although it is extremely disjointed, and would've made more sense as a mini-series to flesh out the vignettes. It also unsurprisingly doesn't have confidence in telling its message, finding it necessary to pound it in with an excessively heavy handed speech. Having said that, I thought it was serviceable most of the time, and occasionally enjoyable even.

Streep - 2.5(She's actually more than fine as just the grieving grandmother looking for answers. She's horrible though in her other role, which I guess is the point, however she makes Banderas and Oldman seem subtle by comparison. It doesn't help that her makeup is downright atrocious, which maybe was the point, but was a poorly realized one if that was the case.)

Oldman & Banderas - 3(The trailer actually gives a bit of a wrong idea as most of the time they're not as over the top as that. Although I actually thought both of them worked in doing an absurd euro-trash routine, filtered through an infomercial as "MONEY NOW" guys. Their non-breaking fourth wall scenes are far more measured and both are more than fine at that as well. Neither really get to do that much other than in those fourth wall breaks however.)

Anozie - 3(I mean he does sleazy smooth talking rich guy well once again.)

Chao - 3.5(Best part of the film honestly as she really brings a chilling edge to her quietly vicious character. This while maintaining the attitude of a proper government official manner.)

Schoenaerts - 3(Wasted however he does do the quick degradation of his character quite well.)


One of the best episodes of the series quite frankly in managing to tell a compelling mystery, with the early more atmospheric animation and style of the series just pulsating here. What really makes it though is the story of the Grey Ghost which is done with both a real sense of pathos but also a bit of inspiration coming from the most random source.

West - (West's work is terrific and isn't at all gimmick casting despite the initial intention possibly being as such. West though gives a real conviction to his turn beyond the more expected lines as the Grey Ghost. He grants a real honesty to conveying the frustrations of his typecast actor with a real heartbreak. His delivery of his frustrations towards Batman in particularly are well performed as he does not play it as just randomly angry, but rather a sympathetic pain about a man who has always been thought of one thing that he simply played many years before. West is mostly known for his broader work, but this offers a real nuanced turn here, wonderful work.)


Roberts - 3(One of my preferred performances of her honestly as I thought she was pretty good in her scenes with Gandolfini. This striking up a believable warmth in their chemistry together, but also the emotional desperation around the situation as well. Sadly she just goes on autopilot once she actually shares the screen with Pitt, and all the spark is gone.)

Pitt - 2.5(Pitt is stuck in such a weird spot as he is kind of playing into the goofy tone that he sometimes in, sadly the tonally messy film leaves him in such an awkward place. Goofy Pitt is fun typically, however the film just doesn't know what it is, and Pitt can't find his place in it.)

Simmons - 2.5(He's really fine if forgettable in terms of his performance, but really I'm just noting this for his weird Raoul Silva hair.)

Hackman - 3(I mean I didn't care about the film at the point in which he shows up, however he does deliver a real gravitas to the story of the gun. So kudos to him, even if it doesn't save the film.)

Lucas Saavedra said...

Louis: what are your thoughts on Gore Verbinski as a director?

Bryan L. said...

Hey Louis, do you reckon the reason that Brad Pitt received praise for Ad Astra might be because of leftover love for him in OUATIH? He's the one that received the most press for OUATIH out of the cast I feel, and he's been riding a narrative since then. I think Ad Astra got swept in that.

Bryan L. said...

Wheareas Gosling had come off a minimalist performance in BR: 2049 when First Man came out, and he was handwaved for both to boot.

Louis Morgan said...


Well I mean you want a weird career? Look no further from Mouse Hunt, to The Mexican, to The Ring, to The Pirates films and Rango. The last of those films I like quite a bit, however I think that film alludes to his problem as a director. This being that he is most comfortable with high and fun adventure. Best parts of the Pirates film is where the swashbuckling is most embraced, that's why Rando works best, because all of it is just fun. The problem though is this serious filmmaker keeps getting in the way of the fun. Verbinski seems strangely adamant to grant some undue importance to his films. This is also found in his directorial style that goes for a more generic prestige that is quite frankly ill-fitting to the types of stories he tells. He should have more vibrancy in every aspect, instead it is only here and there in most of his work. It is hard to say if it is misguided ambition or just tone deafness. The thing is there is clearly a craftsman in these grand technical elements, but self-seriousness sinks what appears to be the fun films he wants to make. I guess it's worth noting he also produced and wrote the story for Rango, perhaps he does just want to have fun.


No, I think those who loved Ad Astra really loved him there, I wish I could see the film and performance they saw, sadly I can't.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: do you have revised thoughts on Robin Wright and Mackenzie Davis in Blade Runner 2049? I know they were 2.5’s initially but I have a feeling they’ve probably been bumped up a bit.

Agreed entirely on West and the Gray Ghost episode.