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Archive for the ‘Viggo Mortensen’ Category

Appaloosa

13 Nov

Appaloosa – directed by Ed Harris. Western. Two gunfighters are hired to save a New Mexico town from an outlaw gang leader, when a lady of fortune enters the picture. 117 minutes Color 2008.
★★★★

What is wrong with Ed Harris as an actor?

He is good looking enough, even sexy. He is actually a real actor, not someone thrust forth into the métier. But nothing I have ever seen him do quite works. It lacks center. So I usually stay away from him. I sense a real actor-talent in him, and a ground of technical prowess, but it misses. He never gets to what lies behind it. With one exception, The Human Stain, I have never seen him succeed in bringing forth a character I could care about or get behind. It looks like he counts on his masculinity to carry him. He seems to use it as a weapon of stardom, which doesn’t work, since masculinity works only when it is not used. He looks like he has abandoned his knowledge of being a second son to play the first son, but he is not a first son, he is a second son, with the vast vulnerability inherent in that position of being superfluous.

Here again we have him in a leading role one simply can, in the end, feel nothing for. And yet one can see his real talent in the scene when Renée Zellweger comes on and Harris falls all over himself like a bashful schoolboy. Harris is a cold person. But he is playing a cold person who heats up, and he never heats. We are told he does, but he doesn’t. With Viggo Mortensen he plays not friends, but something deeper, mates, much as Astaire and Rogers were – a couple allied more deeply than marriage. They have lots of scenes together as they take on Jeremy Irons, the local nasty, who is grotesquely suave in a courtroom scene opposite a judge deftly played by Harris’ own father, Bob L. Harris. Irons can carry a film all by himself, but Harris cannot. You don’t give a rap about him at the end.

The problem here is exacerbated by the failure of the story to attend to the Zellweger character once it is clear that she and Harris are a couple. René Zellweger is never given a single scene of her own. What lies behind the fact that she chooses her survival to depend upon her sexuality, and how does this fact engage Harris more deeply when she betrays him? This whole relationship should drive the story.

But no, the story veers off into nailing the Irons character and getting him executed. Zellweger herself is an actress, like Shirley MacLaine, who cannot rise beneath her quirks, and, while she has her moments, you never see that her terror is the terror of the terrorized town, her disloyalty the town’s disloyalty, her thin culture the town’s hope for survival. In fact, the town’s survival story, once the copper mine is closed, is let flag. The ton’s survival is what is at stake, however unworthy. Cut from the film, the town lacks attraction as a place to make a home in, and therefore lacks temptation to Mortensen when the time comes for him to leave it.

Mortensen we care about, because he, as an actor, has done all of the work of creating the relationship as junior partner between himself and Harris. His playing-innocent-of-the-guilty-schoolboy in the exposition scene when he has to explain how Zellweger came onto him is a lovely unexpected choice, and so right because he is not guilty at all. There is a second son, for you. A part Harris had been better cast in than the starring role he fancied himself qualified for.

 

The Road

23 Jun

The Road – Directed by John Hillcoat. Escape Drama. A father and his 11 year-old son head for the salvation of the ocean after an apocalyptic scourge. 111 minutes Color 2009,

* * * *

Scriptwriter’s failure. The father is sentimentalized with hugs and kisses and fond looks at his son, and the language which, as him, the remarkable Viggo Mortensen is obliged to speak makes one turn away in shame. The emotion of apocalypse never needs to be spelled out verbally. We do not need to know verbally what survivors’ feelings are. We can see it for ourselves and we can imagine it for ourselves. For the task, the pleasure, and the raison d’etre of an audience is to supply 50% of what is going on. And a picture of this kind, in its desolate tracts, needs to be mute. At other times, the script is darn good. As witness by what power Charlize Theron invests with it in her key scenes, and what Robert Duval brings to it as a decrepit vagrant. The two actors are remarkable in their daring and their clarity of statement. Guy Pearce fares far less well as the deus ex macchina at the end. He appears out of nowhere, as all good D.E.M.s should, and he is abetted in his role by his adoption of yard-long locks and bad teeth, which make him look like no expected savior – a very clever strategy because of its ambiguity. But then Pearce’s family is unnecessarily dragged in, his kindly wife, his same-age children, and a fumbled finale which we, having gone along through this film’s difficulties, must stumble off with. The director should have left Pearce alone on the screen with the boy, for the boy is the thing. Pearce’s scenes lie on the cutting room floor and we can see them, and they are no better than what is included. The cast is international: Mortensen is from South America and Denmark, Theron from South Africa, Duvall from USA, Pearce and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays the boy, from Australia. Master Smit-McPhee is simply amazing throughout the film. Not only does he physically resemble Theron, who plays his mother, but he is entirely open and responsive and full – qualities any fine actor might envy. The film as a whole is beautifully produced, scored, edited, and directed. It’s a film about a very hard journey. I would embark upon it if I were you.

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