Friday, 11 May 2012

Forgotten Characters 5.4

Previous Forgotten this season: Christopher Walken in Annie Hall / Stephen Dillane in The Hours / Christine Baranski in Chicago

When you’re playing a small-ish role in an larger ensemble then the chances are likely that your performance would end up being something of a shoo-in to be featured here. The chances increase when you’re a notable character actors, because often it’s those performances from character actors that – unfortunately – tend to be forgotten easily. Like

Ray Winstone in The Departed
as Mr. French

Two things amaze me, one that this performance does seem to have descended into forgotten territories. And, two, I’ve never opted to discuss it before. In a film of shady characters, the dubiousness of Mr. French seems that little bit more perverse simply because we come to learn so little of him. “Is his real name Mr. French?” is what Billy asks Frank not even half an hour into the film. “No,” he replies after a pause. But, who is Mr. French? Well, he tells you who he is early on.

 
 
 
 
 
           Mr. French: “Do you know me? Well, I’m the guy who tells you that there are guys you can hit and there are guys you can’t. Now he’s not quite a guy you can’t hit but he’s almost a guy you can hit. So, I’m gonna make a fucking ruling on this right now. You don’t fucking hit him.”

Winstone’s testy growl is my favourite French trademark (even more than his perpetual scowl). This is a far cry from the Winstone in, for example Hugo or Cold Mountain or even London Boulevard (although he’s playing a gangster in the latter, too). The growl is put to good use because as many quotable quotes that emerge from the film it depends on each performer making their dialogue sound idiosyncratic unto themselves, which Winstone succeeds at doing. And he has to because with all the arcs developing and so much going on the forefront the sideline performers need to deliver to make it all coalesce. And, when I think of haunting images from The Departed Winstone’s French is integral to one of the most unnerving shots.

In some ways French is the straight-man to Frank's Joker. Frank manoeuvres around being facetious and over-the-top and French follows him around, expressionless or palpably annoyed but doing his work with a chilling efficiency.

It's one of the great character beats for both French and Frank because we're thrust into their story from a side that's not the beginning, and we're supposed to believe in the veracity of their bond, which they do. I remember when The Departed got that SAG nod there were rumblings of it simply being a by-the-way addition for a Best Picture contender, but beats like that and performances like Winstone's Mr. French are just examples of how on board with its ensemble the film is.

In talking of his cheating wife he says glibly, “She got reliable.”

I’ll bet.

Do you remember Winstone’s gruff goodness here? Or did you have eyes for only the main performers in The Departed.

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