Thursday, 11 March 2010

Performances of the Decade (Male)

Is a performance any worse because it has the all the usual things that we consider awards bait? – crying…shouting…loud shows of anger…? I think the obvious answer is no, but what else can we hold against this brilliant performance? Why should we hold anything against it? (Spoilers ahead, duh)
#9 Sean Penn in Mystic River (2003)
An actor always has a specific scene in their performance that grows into the pivotal one in the film. It’s become known as the Oscar scene and often the rest of the performance is assessed from the perspective of that scene. For Sean Penn here, that scene has his discovery of his daughter’s death. I always remember it vividly, even when I haven’t seen it in a while: the foreboding confusion as he draws near, then the tormented look of realisation and that horrifying scream of anguish. It’s easy to look at it and accuse him of overacting or of hamming it up but that’s an injudicious accusation I feel. Each of the three men, in some way, is emotionally stunted and Jimmy’s line of work demands that he be staunch and cold on the exterior but there always seem to be something at work in Sean’s head, as if something is building and the reaction here seems completely accurate.
I said in my review of it that Mystic River really is not a comfortable film, and it's hard not to come out hating many of the characters. The final scenes between Penn and Tim Robbins are some of the most harrowing scenes of the last decade and only become more morose after we've been giving all the facts. Sean Penn is no newbie at playing these difficult characters, though, so I suppose Jimmy is not really a great departure for him. He has a talent for moving line-readings. I always remember theending of the film when Sean comes up to Jimmy, he suspects what's happened. He asks: So Jimmy when was the last time you saw Jimmy? and the answer he gives: The last time I saw Dave...that was twenty five years ago, going up this street, in the back of that character. Regardless of how you feel about Jimmy's actions that line always moves me, and even though the end of the film belongs to another actor Sean makes an indelible mark on the film.
I can’t say why Sean Penn has become such a underrated actor. He gave one of the most brilliant performances of the last twenty years in Dead Man Walking and although he didn’t top that feat in Mystic River, it was still a formidable attempt. In some ways it’s as if he was born to play Jimmy – the harsh physicality juxtaposed with the unexpected bouts of emotion. It’s a difficult role to pull off and Penn does it excellently. I can’t fault his performance here.
But do you agree? Was Sean Penn excellent here?


M. Carter @ the Movies said...

I'm not sure I can rightly call any performance of Sean Penn his "best performance" because every time I do that the man tops himself. He was magnificent in "Dead Man Walking"; then "Mystic River" threatened to topple that. Then along came "Milk," which might have taken the big prize. But still I will say that he was just plain awesome in "Mystic River." Clearly Dennis Lehane agrees with him.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Such an undervalued performance. I don't know why Penn's performance has to be ripped to shreds because Johnny Depp didn't win. Can't they coexist on twin planes of amazing?

Danny King said...

Such a brilliant film and masterful performance. It's interesting that you not his "Oscar scene" as the part when he learns of his daughter's death, but for me, the climactic scene is the emotional pinnacle of the film, and I think it represents Penn's best work in the film, although to speculate such a thing is ridiculous because he's so brilliant throughout the entire thing.

Another great scene he has is the one with his father-in-law.

Back to the climax, though, there's a line that Penn delivered that made my stomach turn like nothing else I've ever felt before. When he says to Robbins' character, "One more time about the boy, and I will open you the f**k up," there's something about Penn's delivery that is just so shocking. Everytime I listen to him say that line, I feel sick.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

m. he is excellent isn't he?

walter to be honest jude law and sean penn are the frontrunners for me that year. then ewan mcgregor, then johnny d.

danny you're right he's brilliant throughout.

i have to say i love these long ass comments :)