Month: May 2017

Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies (1983)

Robert Duvall won his only Oscar to date for playing Mac Sledge, a washed-up country singer in Tender Mercies.

Tender Mercies is an okay film that I wasn’t particularly passionate or crazy about. Honestly, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, but I just wasn’t super engaged by it either. It is very quiet, and has this rustic, dreary mood that fits the story perfectly. I guess one way of describing it would be that it’s like a good old-fashioned country song. There are emotional moments, and it’s easy to watch but I’d be lying if I said it is going to stay with me in the long run. The best picture nod is fine but I didn’t think the direction was anything out of the ordinary, except for one (sortof) suspenseful scene which made me wonder if Mac had gone off drinking in the night. The actors were great in general though.

Robert Duvall is an actor whom I haven’t seen much of, although I do think he is really talented based on the few films of his I’ve seen. He kinda reminds me of Sissy Spacek with his naturalistic style of acting and his chameleonic abilities that allows him to make his performances entirely different from one another without being too mannered.

It’s amazing how quiet this performance is – or rather, it is amazing that the Academy recognised such a quiet performance. Duvall internalizes a lot of his emotions but he manages to create many layers and in turn make Mac Sledge a real and sympathetic human being. He rarely goes over-the-top except for a couple of scenes where he raises his voice by just a little, but he manages to convey a wide range of emotions and conflicts. I especially liked how he shows Mac’s desire to return to singing and composing despite his claims that he has already retired. I could always sense Mac’s disappointment and frustration when he’s told that he has “lost it”. Mac also has a somewhat rocky past with his ex-wife and daughter, and you could always sense his sadness and desire to reconnect with his daughter. Duvall does a lot of subtle acting here with his eyes and voice, and miraculously it works.

His chemistry with Tess Harper’s Rosa Lee is also surprisingly great, despite them marrying only at the 13 minutes mark. They have a very quiet but sweet relationship and it is always clear that they are each other’s emotional support. His final monologue to Rosa about the unpredictability of life and why he doesn’t place too much trust in happiness is especially amazing – his lines (imo) are pretty dramatic but he plays it in a low-key manner that is rich with weariness, resignation and yet also a forward-looking optimism.

Robert Duvall’s performance here is a brilliant case of subtle acting that I wish the Academy would recognise more. I think its strength lies in how there is never a false note and how he lets his eyes and voice do the acting, creating a moving performance. 4.5/5.

p.s. I’m going to start exploring weirder films for future posts. Looking into David Lynch,

Advertisements

Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life (1956)

I feel sorry for Kirk Douglas for several reasons. One of them is having to deal with Melissa Leo, but the other is due to the fact that he is a talented actor whom imo, should at least have one acting Oscar today. I guess this feeling also stems from my immense dislike of Yul Brynner’s win – one of my least favourite best actor winners – but my point is, Douglas has grown to become one of my favourite actors as I watch more and more of his films. I actually think he is better actor than his son even though some people will start this lengthy debate about whose acting style is better (classical vs modern blablabla). To me, it’s not just his well-known emotional intensity that captivates me as a viewer. He has this specificity in his acting choices that makes his characterizations memorable and sharp, and when combined with his emotional intensity, it’s really like watching fireworks.

I was completely mesmerised by Douglas’ performance as Vincent Van Gogh. He captures the painter’s turbulent brilliance, and his desperate desire to capture life through his paintings. Douglas portrays how Van Gogh was slowly consumed by his need to understand life and people, and how he would eventually be consumed by his own demons. His mental deterioration is ugly to watch, and in true Douglas fashion, the intense ugliness of it is disturbing and sad.

There are so many facets in Douglas’ performance that makes it stand out. Van Gogh’s selfishness, social awkwardness and bluntness can be off-putting (like the way he forced himself onto his cousin), but Douglas manages to penetrate his psyche and allow us to understand what drives the man to do what he does. Or more accurately, he allows us to understand that what goes through Van Gogh’s mind cannot be understood, even to Van Gogh himself, and this ultimately led to his tragic demise. Despite his lack of likability, Van Gogh is an extremely sympathetic and heartbreaking figure thanks to Douglas’ portrayal – I will never forget that monologue about his fear of loneliness.

This is a brilliant portrayal of a tortured artist that left me feeling as exhausted as Douglas (probably) did. Great, great work. 5/5.

P.S. Watched Alien: Covenant and thought it was utterly mediocre. Wanted to write a post about it but honestly, I can’t bring myself to cause I found it so predictable, lacking in suspense and forgettable. 2/5.

 

Anouk Aimée in A Man and a Woman (1966)

How much of chance did Anouk Aimée have in winning the Oscar back then? I was somewhat surprised to learn that she won a couple of awards, including the Golden Globe. That being said, I don’t think she had much of a chance in beating Elizabeth Taylor tour-de-force turn in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The reason why I was surprised at the number of awards picked up by this performance is simply because of how quiet the role is. First of all, A Man and a Woman is truly a beautiful film that deserved its foreign language picture win. I would even go ahead and say that it is my personal pick for best director that year. Claude Lelouch created a unique and original film that excels despite the simple premise. The editing is highly effective, especially in the flashback scenes and the score is beautiful – I will never forget that entire wordless boat sequence. That being said, I don’t think it is for everyone. If you cannot get into the really unique mood it is trying to create, chances are you will be bored out of your mind.

A Man and a Woman is really not so much of an actor’s movie. Its main focus is its portrayal of different stages of a relationship, and it does so in a captivating manner. As such, the characters end up a little thin, being nothing more than instruments to portray the various stages. We get a little backstory here and there – Anouk Aimée plays Anne Gauthier, a grieving widow who meets a widower Jean (played wonderfully by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and falls in love with him. You don’t really know much about Anne other than what you see – she’s a beautiful, reserved and elegant woman who doesn’t speak much and gradually opens up to Jean. Aimée does a lot of wonderful acting with the eyes here – you can see the longing, the hesitation, the sadness and the love in there despite how few lines she has.

It’s not that Anouk Aimée is giving a bad performance – on the contrary, she gives a well-done performance that fits the movie perfectly. She conveys the emotions naturally and has a mysterious presence that is captivating to watch. However, the thinness of the role just limits how much she can do as an actress. I felt like I was watching different states of a woman falling in love rather than a character per se. The movie finds its emotional substance in its overall style rather than its actors, who are merely pieces of a puzzle here. Still, it’s nice, fine work. 3.5/5.