Sunday, 21 March 2010

Performances of the Decade (Male)

One of the best ways for us to take notice of an actor is when they play two characters simultaneously, or perhaps that’s an inaccurate summation. But let’s look at performances like Baxter in All About Eve or Streisand in Funny Girl. After pivotal character changes it’s as if both women begin playing different people. Still, neither of them has it as difficult as this next entry.
#4 Viggo Mortenson in A History of Violence (2005)

2005 was my least favourite year of the decade for many reasons. It was a weak year for films and the consensus of the Award Ceremonies that year was (for the most part) quite generic. I still am glad that Philip Seymour Hoffman won for his Capote since I think the performance is incredible. But he plays second fiddle to Mortenson in Cronenberg’s polarising film. Tom Stall is a local restaurant owner and with his quiet, polite, unassuming manner he’s the epitome of sagely goodness in his Millbrook community. This all changes when two gangsters attempt to rob their store and with a precision that’s almost chilling Tom kills them. It’s a given that Tom is not who he pretends to be, and A History of Violence is a film that functions excellently as a top-notch thriller as well as a heightened character study – Viggo Mortenson has much to do with this.

Viggo Mortenson is an actor who can be charismatic without being overwhelming. There’s a quietness to his charm and he uses this to great effect in A History of Violence. He is a man who is caught between two worlds – his past and his present and unease in Mortenson’s face is palpable as he moves through the middle of the film. It’s the quieter moments of Viggo’s performance that impress me more. The effusive devotion to his family is piercing and Mortenson is a particularly subtle actor using his eyes as much as he uses his body to establish his point. He works excellently against Bello and the moments where he must confess to his sins is excellently done. That’s not to say that when he returns to the world of Joey Cusack he isn’t as good. There is the constant hint of something more sinister below, but even as he returns to his brother we never see Viggo go completely assassin like, Tom Stall remains as a part of him and Viggo stresses this in his movements as we sense the reluctance to become Joey again.

It’s weird about this performance, because it’s essentially about the physicality of Tom/Joey. Viggo must convinces us of his agility and his skill in killing people but it’s his facial expressions that work the most. That final dinner scene is excellently played as Viggo reacts superbly to his surroundings. I’m glad Seymour Hoffman won because he was second choice but it’s a crime that Viggo Mortenson went snubbed in 2005 since none of the nominees that year (not even Capote) displayed this level of skill.
Did you catch Cronenberg’s A History of Violece? Did Viggo impress you?


Anonymous said...

Well said, while I don't think Viggo's performance here measures up to his performance in Eastern Promises from a few years later, it's still a great performance.

Dreher Bear (...Where The Buffalo Roam) said...

Couldn't agree with you more. Viggo's performance in a History of Violence was amazing. I'm looking forward on how Viggo will attack the role of Sigmund Freud in Cronenberg's upcoming film, The Talking Cure.

CrazyCris said...

I discovered Viggo with most of the rest of world as Aragorn (and thought him one of the best of that cast along with the two wizards), but I've come to admire him even more with each subsequent role. I don't think I'd been more disappointed with Oscars for this snub since the Gwyneth win over Cate several years before.

Have you seen Alatriste? He excels there as well! :o)

Danny King said...

I wasn't crazy about this film, but Viggo was certainly the best part of it. Ed Harris was also chilling in his role; I wish he'd have been in it more.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

bill i probably should rewatch eastern promises i remember it vaguely and i didn't LOVE viggo in it.

dreher bear thanks for that tip. i hadn't even heard about that project.

crazy cris that was a harsh snub, but i've got some snubs that hurt more down the list (jolie's snub two years later hurt me as much, too)

danny ed was brilliant. but when is he not, eh?

Luke said...

Is it awful that Viggo was the only thing I liked about this movie? I mean, I haven't seen it since theaters, but I seem to remember being awfully annoyed with Maria Bello. Thank goodness she's made up for it since.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

luke you're not the only one who hates it, but what has maria bello done since to make up for it (although i liked her here)...only the private lives of pippa lee comes to mind, and that was almost a cameo.

Burning Reels said...

Even though he'd been around for a good decade or two, I never really thought much of Mortensen but now, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, The Road - he's becoming one of the most consistent lead actors working today. Look forward to his next Cronenberg colloboration.