Sunday, 28 February 2010

Performances of the Decade (Male)

Julianne Moore is often singled out as an unfortunate actress. The woman has been nominated four times and lost each. What's interesting though is that on each occasion Moore was probably not even the top 3 when it came to the voters. I'd have easily voted for her in 1997 and probably 2002 and she was a close runner up in 1999. The reason I mention Julianne, is that if I had to think about a male counterpart to Julianne the person that I'd immediately refer to is Ed Harris. Like Julianne, he too has had four losing nominations with never a chance at winning; and like Julianne he gave a performance of a lifetime - as far as I'm concerned anyway - in 2002. This performance is often regarded as the ultimate hambone, but I don't agree. Obviously. It's a performance I persist should have won an Oscar.
#12 Ed Harris in The Hours (2003)
The Hours is a woman's story, we know that: yet I really love it. The men never really get the chance to shine as the ought - even though John C. Reilly is fine and Stephen Dillane is subtly moving. Still, with all the crutches thrown his way Ed Harris carves an outstanding performance, in my opinion at least. Richard is Clarissa's friend - though I hesitate at the connotations of the word. They once had a relationship - a tenuous one by the looks of it - and though he has changed his preference the two remain friends, lovers even (without sex). The time of the film is indeterminate, mid nineties we can assume; and Richard is an AIDS victim collecting a prestigious award. 
It's difficult to write about Ed without mentioning Meryl because his performance is in some ways a subset of hers, which I've mentioned recently. I mentioned that each segment has its similarities, but it's all really pronounced - saturated almost - in Clarissa's arc. Richard represents the husband figure the two previous woman share, but Harris' Richard is just a bit smarter the rest. Perhaps it's his illness, but the strange clairvoyance he possesses never fails to unnerve me. It is he after all who gave Clarissa her title of Mrs. Dalloway. Richard loves to tease Clarissa, it's obvious, and in that first scene it's difficult to feel any sympathy for Ed - despite his plight. But no one can do line readings like Ed. I love when Clarissa asks him if he's eaten: Well can you see it? Is it here? Do you see any breakfast lying around? I must have eaten it, mustn't I? Ed is appropriately macabre, almost comical as Richard.
But then, I think about how difficult a role to pull of this is - which makes me love it even more. It's not difficult to write this off as the typical histrionic diva-esque role. Richard exists almost as a character in a Greek tragedy, and in some ways he's similar to Kidman's Virginia. He just doesn't fit in his surroundings, and it's obvious. He's almost ridiculous opposite the subtlety of Meryl's Clarissa, but that's why I respect Ed so much. He makes it work. That clairvoyance is a key to Clarissa and to the entire film, since The Hours really is all about diving Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway over and over. He has the power lines and he doesn't undersell them, but he doesn't over sell them either. Oh, Mrs. Dalloway...always giving cover the silence... It's not a line to take for granted.
Ed has it hard because he's an important character with little screen time and he needs to make the little screen time work for him. That longing look as he looks at a photo of his mother is is his suicide. Isn't it strange that he and Streep shine in reading a line that's almost the same. She tells Louis Don't touch me. He tells her Don't come near me. We know what's coming, but we can't look away. But I still have to face the hours... It's not my favourite arc, but that moment is one of the most striking for me. Streep's harrowed face and Ed's expressionless one. Absolute perfection.
But what do you think? Yay or nay for Harris' Richard?


Twister said...

Ed's fine, but Cooper fully deserved his Oscar.

The Hours belongs to Julianne Moore, and hers is a performance that holds the film together; Kidman's shrill and false, and was miscast to play such a complex character. Moore's perf is a crowning achievement that stands above the rest of the cast.

Mike Lippert said...

Ed Harris is such a great actor that you could have almost chosen any of his performances from the decade and there would be little to argue with. I could never really get into The Hours myself. It's a very well made and well acted film but Michael Cunningham's book on which the film is based is one of my favourites and the movie doesn't even beging to do it justice. Cunningham is the kind of guy who isn't so much concerned with story as making thrid party, philosphical observations about his characters and about life in general as he watches his characters go through the motions of a plot. The Hours the film makes the plot literal and therefore we lose much of what makes Cunningham's prose so beautiful and insightful in the first place. Regardless, I can't fault the movie for not being the book, I just feel it's a little more uninvolving for me to outright love and I can't really argue with anything you have said here other than to mention that Jeff Daniels also has a great male character scene as well.

Robert said...

Yay to Harris. Such a moving performance.

Castor said...

I love me some Ed Harris, he really is an underrated performer.

Jose said...

He's everything I imagined reading the book if that means anything.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

twister well you know how i feel about adaptation. and harsh words for nicole...but you know how i love that too. sigh.

mike jeff is good. i didn't mention him because the performance is so small (and reactionary). but harris really is good, his pollock almost made it on to the top 15.

robert yay indeed.

castor so underrated, i'm hoping the way back is worthy of his talents.

jose that means a lot actually. i'm wondering why i never read the book since i've read almost all of woold's major works.

Michele Emrath said...

Ed Harris, yay.


Caz - Lets Go To The Movies said...

This performance really affected me when I first saw the film, haunted me for days afterwards. It so powerful and pretty much amazing,