Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Performances of the Decade (Male)

If I had labelled this list “the most iconic” performances of the last decade, there’s a possibility that this could have found its way at the very top. The word iconic is not one that I use lightly, but when a mere image – a stick, a beard, a horse can signify so much and when a believed character is so potently created on screen it can’t help but become iconic, and though he’s not at the very top on the list of my favourites – he’s close.
    
#13 Ian McKellen in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001)
I never was one to lump all three Lord of the Rings films together. Still, it does have its benefits – I’m never certain where one begins and one ends and sometimes I end up choosing one or the other on the strength of the story (Tolkien’s) more than on the strength of Jackson’s filmmaking – which is consistently strong throughout. Even if I’m to judge McKellen’s Gandalf sometimes I wonder if his arguments with Worm Tongue (The Two Towers) or those with Ian Holm (The Return of the King) aren’t all equal, sometimes superiror to his work in the first instalment. It is a quandary; I’ll single out his work in The Fellowship as the key even if his work in the other two is in no way less.
The essence of Gandalf – Tolkien’s creation and McKellen’s incarnation – is his trustworthiness. How does one create someone so amicable, the youngest child would not hesitate to approach but formidable enough that the greatest entities would doubt (if only momentarily) before crossing. It’s a bit of an incongruity perhaps, but it’s one that is not apparent when McKellen is at the helm. One thing I constantly appreciate about his Gandalf throughout is his subtlety even while painting a character than exists in such broad strokes. It’s the eternal difficulty of creating such a character; Gandalf is the emblematic fatherly figure, the wise one but McKellen’s Gandalf is neither too wise nor too paternal. The moment where I always get drawn to his brilliance occurs when Bilbo shows him that fateful ring. One can almost hear the very words forming in his head – he’s shocked, confused, aroused, and anxious all at once and that brief, but significant burst of anger always surprises me. Gandalf is written in broad strokes, but McKellen doesn’t play him likewise.
              
He is consistent though. Each member of the fellowship, all at the Council of Elrond, even – know of the danger that lies ahead, but sometimes it seems Gandalf alone truly realises the gravity of the journey ahead, or perhaps its McKellen alone with so little screen-time signifies how worried he is. His simple act of closing his eyes as Frodo volunteers to be the ring bearer is possibly the most significant sigh of the film; in fact all the moments of extremely subtle facial acting can be accounted to McKellen. I always am impressed by his talent, even those moments that could become clichéd or cyclical are never thus with him: like his irritated look at Pippin when he wakes the Orcs in the cave (a look that is mirrored in The Return of the King with that ball…).
              
One thing that continues to puzzle me is Gandalf’s exit in The Fellowship of the Rings. His final line – fly you fools – more than being a significant line always piques my interest. Certainly, Gandalf is not immortal or omniscient – perhaps it’s that wry look on McKellen’s face as he delivers the line, but I always think that Gandalf knew he’d be getting out of that cave, by hook or by crook. It’s a question I can debate forever; it can’t be proved - for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, it’s these provocative moments that I return to each time I see The Fellowship. Only few actors could boast of such moments. Unlike the majority, when we return to McKellen’s performance new things arise each time. His Gandalf is not just a literary character, but an iconic person.
             
What are your thoughts on Gandalf the Grey?
           
Previously...
James McAvoy in Atonement
Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading

8 comments:

CrazyCris said...

I can't wait for The Hobbit to come out just so I can walk the lands of Middle Earth with Gandalf the Grey once more!!!

He's always been my LOTR favourite character, along with Strider. And McKellen just nails him! Jovial and wise and terrifying all rolled into one. :o)

MrJeffery said...

not a LOTR fan at all. I found the first film pretty boring but McKellen was a highlight.

Heather said...

I agree with Cris that he and Strider were the highlights of all the films. McKellen and Viggo were incredible, but The Fellowship was really Gandalf's show. I think it's awesome you highlighted this performance in spite of it being a commercially successful film, and a fantasy film.

anahita said...

love him in it :) I also thought aragorn was really good, or rather the actor playing him, but ian mckellen - and I know it sounds weird to say this about such a classic shakespeare-y actor - found a role of a life time in gandalf :) xx

Castor said...

Gandalf was the most appealing character of LOTR, just for the fact that he is a fatherly figure

Caz (Lets Go To The Movies) said...

Brilliant choice, Ian McKellen was just amazing as Gandalf. As its already been mentioned Gandalf and Aragorn were the best two characters.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

mr. jeffery i really can't understand why you don't like LOtR. watch it again :)

crazy cris, caz i like all the characters, but i found boyd's pippins and bean's boromir (or was it faramir...) more appealing than strider. but i love viggo, so no worries.

anahita i know right? he's easily the best macbeth i've seen - opposite judi dench...but he's just sensational here.

castor the father figure appeal is one of the reasons i like him.

m0vie said...

I love McKellen, he just has a wonderful capacity to bring gravitas to his roles, and is amazing when he gets the chance to ham it us (seriously, him saying the word "Charles" was quite possible the highpoint of the whole X-Men franchise).

Incidentally, have you seen him on Extras, where he discusses how he played Gandalf so well?

"I said, Peter - you do know I'm not actually a wizard?"