Friday, 24 January 2020

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2019: Sam Rockwell in Jojo Rabbit

Sam Rockwell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Captain Klezendorf in Jojo Rabbit.

Sam Rockwell plays the role of technically one of the central Nazis in the film, about the Hitler youth Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), whose imaginary friend is also Hitler (Taika Waititi). Rockwell's performance is largely a comedic one though here is an instance where it is a comic work from him that is a bit less of his manic Rockwellian work, as I expected going in. This however is essential to the realization of his character's reveal that is in plain sight throughout the film, you just don't notice it. Rockwell first enters the film in opening the Hitler youth camp, where technically Rockwell tells you everything about his Captain Klezendorf in his delivery of the scene. This as he remarks first on his eye injury that leaves him to run the camp it is with a marvelous sarcastic exasperation that Rockwell underlines each word. Rockwell does a great thing of saying almost every word in this long breath of someone just tired of the whole routine. This as he espouses the Nazi line it is as perfunctory as possible, along with a great physical manner far from the proper soldier. This with an always relaxed stance as though he is just about completely spent by the experience at this point, but is there enough just to do his job. This even allowing himself to get away with his sort of sliding German accent here, as it manages to just go along with every thing that Klezendorf does. This in only the small bit of pride in his manner as he shows off his crack shot skill, with a bit more zest from Rockwell with his way of saying he's just as good as any two eyed soldiers. There Rockwell manages to wholly accentuate in just his intro as the state of Klezendorf as a proud soldier but disenchanted with the cause of his country.

Well as much as Rockwell's work in bringing to life Klezendorf's state of being, this is also just a very funny performance where Rockwell comedic timing comes in handy just to earn some of the better laughs in the film. One being when Jojo, attempting to show off his devotion to the cause, tries to be the first to throw a grenade only to injure himself in the process. Rockwell's deadpan delivery of "don't do that" is absolutely hilarious, as is his only real anxiety shown as he comments that Jojo's mother is "going to kill him". Rockwell's a delight from there on as we see his now demoted position of trying to run Jojo's town, and give Jojo a job by the insistence of his persistent mother Rosie (Scarlet Johansson). I mean one must give proper commendation to the delivery of the crotch injury performance, which Rockwell does wonderfully in his anguish ridden, yet still so pleasant introduction of everyone to Rosie after she knees him in a man's most sensitive area. Rockwell in these scenes is pretty much always doing something, something rather entertaining. Whether this being his continued portrayal of the exhausted soldier just randomly doing things as he awaits the end of the war he know he's going to lose. Rockwell delivery with such lack of sincerity as he describes training soldiers to fight underwater, or illustrating the city's defenses. The one point of passion though is showing of Jojo his final battle uniform, that Rockwell brings a low key infantile glee as though it is one of the few things Klezendorf can find any joy in. Rockwell though is also terrific though in his reactions as sort of the straight man to both Davis's performance of childlike naivety and Rebel Wilson as a far more devoted Nazi. Rockwell finds a right balance though in his quiet warmth, yet still comical, bemusement at Jojo's various ideas he comes to him with, such as a book on Jews.  Rockwell is also considerably funnier than Wilson's broad performance, just through his great reactions of "this lady is crazy" as she comes up with a great mania than the childish Jojo. Rockwell's own work nicely mediates between these performances with his own. I would also be remiss though if I did not mention his brief interactions with Alfie Allen as his second in command, probably more, Freddie Finkel, where he portrays Klezendorf's, we'll say, very strong affection for his loyal soldier, particularly in his oh so earnest apology after he yells at Freddie for a mistake.

The key to Rockwell's performance though is with Jojo where Rockwell gradually brings a greater paternal sense of tenderness in each word towards the boy, and his eyes grants a real sense of concern for him. This coming into play when the gestapo visit Jojo's home, which is housing a Jewish girl Inga (Thomasin McKenzie). Klezendorf "happens" to also arrive. Honestly this scene is a showcase for Rockwell, even with rather sparse amount of lines total for himself, as he is doing a whole lot throughout the scene. This as when the gestapo are directly looking at him Rockwell reveals an affable, almost dumb, smile of a soldier just ready to listen and respond to this house call properly. When it looks like the Gestapo is being official, Rockwell again responds with a more serious tone towards Jojo and Inga, pretending to be Jojo's sister, suggesting a more loyal soldier than perhaps he really is. With the gestapo's harder inquiries, Rockwell subtly alludes to a greater concern, in just this faint hints in his eyes, particularly in a moment, I did not notice the first time I watched the film, of unease when he thinks the lead gestapo agent will double check Inga's papers, after he already has. Rockwell again doing this in plain sight that is rather impressive as it is not immediately noticeable at hinting the better nature of Klezendorf. The highlight of Rockwell's performance though comes in the film's climax as the allies attack the town, leading to a last stand among the Germans. This as we get the best of both worlds of Rockwell's performance, first his hilarious "the hell with it" expression and wink as we see the Captain donned in his ridiculous final battle uniform and charging through the carnage. This representing a soldier who's still a soldier, but has lost any purpose other than the fight alone. This soon is followed up by Klezendorf and Jojo being rounded up by Russians, after having been defeated. Rockwell is brilliant in this scene by delivering on that underlying warmth, as he speaks the words of comfort so tenderly for Jojo's losses. I love how Rockwell begins with that same sort of humoring tone we heard before towards the boy, but as the scene goes on this breaks away to just reveal a genuine emotion directly. This losing that exasperated tone as his voice breaks a bit to reveal his real affection and care for the boy. This as Rockwell naturally finds a real poignancy and is rather heartbreaking in the moment as he makes the concern for Jojo in the moment so honest, yet doesn't compromise the more absurd moments involving the character. This is a wonderful performance by Sam Rockwell as he manages to firstly be very funny in the absurd nature of the role, but also manages to find the right bit of humanity in it to be rather moving as well.


Robert MacFarlane said...

I’m definitely still on the detractors’ side when it comes to this film, but one criticism of it I disagreed with was that Rockwell’s character made no sense, or they didn’t find his arc believable. It was clear right from the start he stopped giving a shit about the “cause”, or maybe never did right from his first scene, both within the text of the film and the way he played it. There’s definitely problematic aspects of how the character was handled I don’t like (the gay visual gags with Allen were the exact worst way to inform the character), but I still found him to be one of the best aspects of the film along with Johansson.

Also, has anyone seen Clemency? I’m planning on it, and a friend just texted me about how great Aldos Hodge is in it, so if you see him and think he’s a 5, Louis, please review him.

Matt Mustin said...

He's great here, of course.

Mitchell Murray said...

I can't BELIEVE I haven't seen this movie yet...I wanted too dearly when it first came out, but it wasn't playing in any nearby theaters, and I just haven't had the time/chance since then. I have seen"crotch injury" scene, though, which I just found to be a hilarious interaction all together.

"Ah, Frau Betzler, your looking fetching as usual..."

(Knees him in the groin)

"Its because of you my son can't walk properly and has a messed up face."

*Cough*Cough* "Stole a hand grenade..."

(Slaps him with glove) "yah yah"

Mitchell Murray said...

In any case, nice to see another good review for Rockwell, along with what seems to be a worthy part for his talent.

It would seem that Watiti thought "You know, maybe if I give this guy the right screen time and material, he'll only help to make my film better", unlike another comedic director who we shall not name...

Louis Morgan said...


Hopefully I'll be able to see it soon. Sounds like Neon really botched Woodard's nomination chances by giving it such a late release.

Bryan L. said...

And yet, Neon is doing a great job so far with distributing/promoting Parasite in the US. Go figure.

Emi Grant said...

Robert: Late to comment on this, but glad you loved Dolor y Gloria. What did you think of Etxeandia and Sbaraglia?

Emi Grant said...

My only complaint with this review is that the picture for Rockwell isn't the one with his glorious final battle uniform.

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Speaking of, your rating and thoughts on Sbaraglia in Pain & Glory?

Louis Morgan said...

Emi Grant:

I'll admit it was my intention to use such a screenshot, but he unfortunately doesn't have any individual closeups in it.

Emi Grant said...

Louis: Oh, well. Still, always love a Rockwell review.

Anonymous said...

Very strong 2019 for Rockwell.

Louis: Your updated top 20 Rockwell acting moments.

Aidan Pittman said...

Very overlooked performance, Rockwell's been killing it lately.

Also watched Judy today, which did my day no favors at all, but at least Zellweger was good.

Zellweger - 4

Louis: Your updated Top 20 Rockwell acting moments?

Michael McCarthy said...

Any chance Johansson’s been bumped up to a 5 on rewatch?

Luke Higham said...

Any Upgrades for Johansson or McKenzie.

Calvin Law said...

He’s a highlight here for sure. I went in expecting a funny goofy performance and came out appropriately moved.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

He's excellent here, his final scene was just devastating.
I really hope Johannson and McKenzie got upgraded.

Tim said...

What did you think of Archie Yates?

Louis Morgan said...


3.5(His scene very much belongs to Banderas on the whole, although he's very good in terms of reflecting kind of a more optimistic and less past-driven sense of the conversation. This with the eagerness of someone who wishes to reconnect with whom that he loves rather than more of going through the memory of it. It's a good performance particularly as a counterpoint to what Banderas is doing.)


1. Dixon brings Mildred news - Three Billboards
2. The Assassination - The Assassination of Jesse James
3. "Do I have a name?" - Galaxy Quest
4. "Rosie was a good person" - Jojo Rabbit
5 .Stand up - Fosse/Verdon
6. Moment of clarity - Snow Angels
7. Ending - Three Billboards
8. Old Sam tells New Sam to go - Moon
9. Procuring DNA - Three Billboards
10. Night before freakout - Fosse/Verdon
11. Bashing his head - Snow Angels
12. "No Shootouts!" - Seven Psychopaths
13. "Plucky?" - Galaxy Quest
14. Police Station burning - Three Billboards
15. Fake Final Scene - Seven Psychopaths
16. Visit from the Gestapo - Jojo Rabbit
17. Suicide song - Fosse/Verdon
18. Interrogation - The Assassination of Jesse James
19. Plan from the episode he died in - Galaxy Quest
20. Battle armor - Jojo Rabbit

Luke & Michael:

Yes to Johansson.

Anonymous said...

Louis what is your top ten original scores for 2019?

Louis Morgan said...


My Nominees unranked:

A Hidden Life
The Lighthouse
Little Women

Rest of the top ten.

6. Motherless Brooklyn
7. Uncut Gems
8. Jojo Rabbit
9. Pain and Glory
10. The Aeronauts

Anonymous said...

Any more viewings, Louis.

Aidan Pittman said...

Watched Pain and Glory, which I liked well enough, but I couldn't help but feel like more could've been done by the time it ended. Not sure what to make of the ending.

Banderas - 4.5
Exteandia - 4
Sbaragila - 3.5
Cruz - 3

Mitchell Murray said...

Also saw "Pain and Glory", and I pretty much concur with Aidan. I liked the film as a whole; I liked Almodovar's direction, and I liked the story's use of flashbacks as they were handled well enough - a bit better than "The Two Popes" anyways. Perhaps more could've been done with the script, specifically Salvador's drug use which almost seems cursory in its inclusion, but overall its a decent movie.

As for Banderas, I really liked him. I appreciate that he was able to give such a naturalistic, subtly poignant turn, and make me fully believe in Salvador's struggles. There's such a weariness in his physical performance, but also a true somberness and sense of longing, which Banderas shows quite effectively. All in all, I thought he was very good and I'm happy he secured his first oscar nomination for the performance.