Monday, 8 March 2010

Performances of the Decade (Male)

It’s usually logical that the more recent we’ve seen a film; the more likely we are to remember it. But, that doesn’t usually work for me. My favourites don’t always end up being my favourites instantaneously but grow into treasures after months (sometimes years) of careful perusal. I suppose, for this reason, I should have just excised 2009 performances from being eligible for consideration but it wouldn’t be performances of the decade with nine years. And I couldn’t leave out Carey or this inclusion, which is not merely coincidental but well deserved.
#10 Ben Whishaw in Bright Star (2009)
It’s anyone’s guess what the Bright Star of the title refers to. Is it just emulating the title of Keats’ work, is Keats’ talent a bright star or does it refer to Fanny Brawne? – The bright star in Keats’ life. It’s possible for it to be indicative of each of the previous and perhaps even more. Still, Bright Star is a story of an artist, a poet. Even though Bright Star exists more as a study of John Keats through the eyes of Ms. Brawne, I think of Whishaw’s pensive stare whenever I hear the film’s title, even though Abbie’s performance is laudable. I’ve commented on Whishaw’s performance before, and it’s not the typical performance that gains laurels, and Bright Star didn’t catch on with the awards’ bodies at all so his chances of getting recognition were small. But when have I ever been swayed by the awards?
The thing is: I can understand why this performance doesn’t leap out at you. Subtlety has been remembered by critics and audiences before but the entire of Bright Star is crafted in such a low key that save for Schneider’s excellent Mr. Brown no one has the obvious eye catching roles. Of course, that makes their performances so much more treasured. I find it interesting that Ben and Carey are the two 2009 performances that make my list since they have such similarities between them – and not just the British aspect. Something I find provocative in both their performances is their use of expression – the unreadable glances that we often see in people on the streets. And he does need to make good with his expressions because he doesn’t have much time to convince us with words. When Campion does give him the strong lines they’re never thoughts aloud but more symbolic, and the story does leave him to focus on Fanny for long periods. He needs to make his impression felt immediately, and he does – even though he says little. What does Keats think of Fanny on their first meeting as he studies her with his eyes? When he stumbles while reciting his poem at the Brawne home that almost unnoticeable glance at Fanny just before tells us all we need to know. Subtlety.
But he does deliver on his spoken lines too. “The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sense of water. You do not work out the lake; it is an experience beyond thought.” It’s my favourite line reading of the film, and though it holds potency as written word it becomes so much more profound when Ben says it. He pours so much into his lines and his expressions match. When he tells Fanny towards the end I have a conscience, it is not just a trivial line or steadfastness to some religious oath. We believe that Keats wouldn’t go to bed Fanny, and we don’t doubt or disprove him because for the period before we’ve come to know him – completely – all because of the excellent portrayal of Ben Whishaw. He had an unenviable task, playing a poet that we not only love, but sometimes worship. The saintly connotations are difficult to avoid, and Whishaw delivers.
Bright Star has not been wholly loved by you bloggers? And I suppose that it’s not really the story of Keats – but that doesn’t make the performance any less laudable. It’s good regardless of what category you place it in. Right?


Nigel said...

yes, kudos to those expressive glances.

Remember the one Carey gave to Sarsgaad as they discussed sex? I just love that her glance was a mosaic of different sentiments----her curiosity of the unknown, fear, and the youthful innocence she eventually brought out as her eyes got a little teary.

Such detail.

Jose said...

You already know I love this one.
Watching the joy on his face as he climbed a tree was pure delight and made us imagine all the poems he wrote afterward.
The man was born to play poets (see also "I'm Not There").

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nigel ...and you turn ben's moment into a carey one. (hee)

jose he really was born to play poets and such - it's probably the eyes.