Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Performances of the Decade (Male)

Some actors are just easily forgotten. It matters not whether they land a leading role or a plum supporting part; it seems that they just end up being pushed to the sidelines. It becomes even more difficult when the film you’re starring in becomes forgotten too. I’ve long been a fan of this actor. He’s a favourite of mine actually, and this performance represents the pinnacle of that appreciation.
#3 Ethan Hawke in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
I’m not sure if Hank, or anyone in the film, is as morally corrupt as the narrative suggests. Sure, after some cajoling he agrees to rob his parents’ store with his brother, and sure he’s involved in an illicit affair with said brother’s wife, and yes he does make off with quite a large sum of money while his family is destroyed. Still, I’m never moved to indict him. Ethan has a sort of naïveté that when riddled with his adult whimsies only make him more pathetic. Because, like Hank is emotionally stunted. We see it as he lets his brother rules him, as he clings – almost manically to Tomei’s Gina and as he gives in to his desires as the film ends.
Marisa Tomei may be playing Philip Seymour Hoffman’s wife (and the two do play well off each other) but I really love the scenes she shares with Ethan Hawke. In a film that’s wrought with the dubious for a few moments I’m actually willing to believe that these two could have something special. The thing is, with Hawke’s Hank (yay for my alliterative tendencies) how sure can you be if it’s love, infatuation or need? As we see the final shot of him running off with the stolen cash I wonder if he’s going to find Gina…probably not. But Hank isn’t a bad guy. The film is morally corrupted, but the characters aren’t beyond redemption. As his ex-wife (an in form Amy Ryan) harangues him for the money he owes we never turn on Hank. He really does want to be a devoted father, he just lacks the means. It’s pathetic really as we watch the expression on his face as he realises he has to disappoint his daughter – for the umpteenth time.
Still, when it all comes down to it Ethan does his best work opposite Hoffman (lower down on my list). The first scene as the older Andy cajoles him into the robbery is memorable, even as we’re disgusted by Hanks’s weakness. But it’s not one we’re motivated to condemn, it’s sad really. It’s the same weakness he brings to his final scene – also opposite Hoffman. It’s a brilliant move from screenwriter Masterson and Lumet handles it well, never making it too ludicrous. Ethan has always been able to show fear in the most precise ways and the tension here is palpable. You almost here his sigh of relief as that (lucky) shot is fired. I don’t feel any remorse for Andy really, and as despicable as his getaway is – I don’t blame Hank. What will become of him? It’s anyone’s guess. Will he reunite with his father, help his daughter, move to the Islands? I’m not sure, but I do wonder because Ethan does an excellent job in making me care about this mouse of a man.
It’s easy to forget Ethan. Did you see Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead? Were you impressed with him?


Mike Lippert said...

I feel like Hawke sometimes gets overlooked because of his lack of histrionics. He's a very natural actor. It's not everyone who can make conversation sounds both natural and engaging but that's exactly what he did in Before Sunrise/Sunset. Hawke is also good at playing characters who keep their feelings pent up inside until they slowly begin to bubble over, which is what he does so well here. It's easy to give Hoffman all the credit for Before the Devil Knows Your Dead but you are probably right in placing Hawke above him in your list. Now, if only he'd get more great roles like this one.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Glad you agree Mike. It really saddens me that so few know of this film, and what worries me is that Ethan won't be inclined to do more films like this because it's not really concerned a "success".