Spotlight Reviews #1 – Better Supporting Actors

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Welcome to our latest semi-recurring feature: Spotlight Reviews! Over on Twitter, we asked our followers to vote for one of four topics suggested by our writers, who would then have to give their best answer to that chosen topic! This week’s topic: Better Supporting Actors.

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Various Jurors – 12 Angry Men

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Lead actors have it tough. Not only does most of the movie rest on their frail shoulders but, for the most part, they have some of the least interesting characters to play. Think Frodo in Lord of the Rings, Luke in Star Wars or even Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption. These characters are our leads, they drive the plot and the story focuses on them but they are by their very nature the boring characters. Thrust into a situation that they must overcome. They are audience surrogates.

Nobody wants to be Frodo; they want to be Legolas or Han Solo or Red.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are better actors, just that they have a lot more character to sink their teeth into; they have more of an input and exposure to who they are. With this in mind, it’s no wonder many veteran actors love to play a good villain, something a lot more complex than the morally upright hero that we all wish we were but secretly, deep in our hearts, we all have that dark side that we want to give in to. Just look at how much people love Darth Vader.

This is the supporting actors I want to talk about. This is when the supporting actor or actors are better than our leads.

This is Twelve Angry Men.

For those of you who don’t know, Twelve Angry Men is a 1957 film about twelve jurors deciding on a case. Locked in a room until they all come to a unanimous decision about the defendant’s guilt, one man votes against the rest and tries to convince them of his thoughts.

That’s the movie in very broad strokes, and I don’t want to spoil it for those who may not have seen this absolutely wonderful film. Henry Fonda is our Lead; our Atticus Finch or Jefferson Smith, in a way. He is a typical morally upright hero who wants a fair trial.

The entirety of the cast have no names, being only known as their juror numbers. Meaning that their identity and positioning lies entirely on their character and on their acting ability. This is a story wholly reliant on those aspects, of character and dialogue. Nothing leaves the single room that the work is set in and each of our actors feeds off the other, creating a great dramatic tension. Every scene is charged with a kind of energy that resonates throughout, every word and opposition crackles with it.

While most of the cast are fantastic, I want to focus on the villains. The three men who out-act Henry Fonda every step of the way; Juror Three, Juror Four and Juror Seven.

Each of them has an uphill struggle in this work. They all have to present who they are quickly but assuredly, revealing aspects of themselves and their thoughts in subtle and quick ways. But more than that, they have to do so believably; the crux of the characters is that they are believable, that they are real human beings with thoughts and feelings. They are all human.

To me, each of these characters represents more than that. If Fonda’s Juror Number Eight is our stalwart hero, unencumbered by immoral, human thoughts and deeds then our villains are the embodiment of that.

Juror Seven is apathy and self-interest. Over the course of the movie we learn that he is a door to door salesman, he is extremely sociable and likeable, even funny at times. But it’s all for his benefit, none of it is more than an act he puts on to get what he wants, whether it’s to shut someone up or to leave and go to a ball game.

Juror Four is intelligence without compassion. He is ruthless and efficient and above all else, proper. He isn’t mean or angry, per se, but in his quest for a logical answer he overlooks human needs and emotions. To him, people are the machines that do orderly predictable things and that Occam’s razor applies.

Juror Three is the main antagonist, the shadow of our hero. Unbridled passion and a thirst for vengeance towards the unseen defendant, he is the driving force behind the movie, knocking back argument after argument, fiercely accusing the defendant and butting heads against Juror Eight. But beyond that, he is a working man, a family man who loves his son with a fierce but complicated love. He has no real words for what he feels nor any way to show them in a healthy manner.

Each of these characters is intriguing and deep, with no name for them but titles arbitrarily assigned to them, you get to know them through sheer acting ability. And this is why the movie is perfect for the topic “better Actors”. Because it has such a wide breadth of characters and so many in-depth characters that it lives and dies solely on that merit.

While actors and audiences love a good villain, such as the three above, there is one thing I think we love more. Redemption. Because, like the three Jurors, none of us are truly villains nor are we truly heroes either. We are infinitely more complex than that.

We may do things we consider bad sometimes because we hurt or are sad or more simply because we are angry. But we want to be better, we strive to be better. We aren’t evil. We’re human.

Because at the end of it, aren’t we all just men?

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Alicia Vikander in both The Danish Girl and Ex Machina

‘Supporting’ actor/actress is a strange term isn’t it? I wonder why Hollywood and beyond needs to define which person in a particular film is the ‘main actor/star’ and who is just there to hold the star up in all their glory?

Yes, I get that it’s a good excuse to throw Oscars at Christoph Waltz for appearing alongside any other character ever but if it was only about trying to show that it takes more than one chef to bake an omelet [Citation Needed], then why give the title such a condescending name? Why ‘supporting’? Why not Companion actor or Consociate Actor?

Well, my point is if it is possible for a supporting actor or actress to outshine the person they’re ‘supporting’, then the term is quite irrelevant. So, the first ever Academy Award for Best Consociate Actor/Actress goes to… Alicia Vikander for her role in everything she’s done that I have watched.

Alicia Vikander made The Danish Girl refer to her role. Yes, I’m aware that the title was ambiguous so that it could refer to either Gerda (Vikander) or Lili (Eddie Redmayne), but it quite obviously refers to Lili.

Redmayne’s definitely played Lili’s part well, sure it had a little too much of that old English charm that actually made sense in The Theory of Everything, but it was well played all the same. The problem with the movie is that Vikander’s performance was so strong I couldn’t help but sympathise more with Gerda than with Lili.

Vikander came across as so endlessly trying and genuinely supportive of her husband’s transition no matter how much it hurt her to do so. Redmayne’s Oscar-baiting performance was a fantastic insight into the self-conflict that arises from deciding to be who you truly are rather than what society forces upon you, but it was just that; a performance.

That very clear display of self-conflict was inescapably self-interested. The very fact that the movie was justifiably pinned as ‘Oscar-bait’ for Redmayne’s role epitomizes the narrow field of view that the movie tries to place on Lili’s struggle, yet the greatest aspect of the film was the sometimes-blurred-over loss felt by Gerda and the strength she showed in coming to terms with her pain.

Was that a little too convoluted to effectively make my point? Okay, Vikander was the only character used in the poster for Ex Machina and for good reason, saying that she was a supporting role in that movie is kind of like saying that the sun has a supporting role in making daytime.

Thanks to Maria for the interesting poll idea, unfortunately along with the steadfast performances of many supporting roles, my poll suggestion will fade into thankless obscurity.

[ed-: His choice was “Isolation”]

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Hugh Jackman, sort of – Eddie the Eagle

I am writing this while very tired and unenthused, quietly begrudging the fact that my suggestion won for ‘Better Supporting Actors’  when I hadn’t actually thought of what I’d pick. So, if you can ignore my dead-inside tone, I am going to ramble until I come to a point to make. Originally the Hunger Games came to mind (30 seconds ago) because Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman were all so memorable in their roles. I won’t pick it though because I still don’t know if they are better because they deserve it, or whether Jennifer Lawrence was so astoundingly awful that they looked like the greatest actors ever to grace us with their presence. 20 seconds later I thought of Lord of the Rings, but I’m just going to rule that out on the fact that every character is perfection for their individual role, even if Frodo is a little lacking in comparison. Not Elijah’s fault, he just got the short end of the interesting character stick.

Ok I can’t think of anything. I’m going to ask Lee. One sec.

Ok Lee says ‘What about Eddie the Eagle?’

Well folks, that was a damn good suggestion and here why.

Hugh Jackman is the king of supporting actors in this film. Taron Egerton is class, yes, but the entire feel of the film changed when Hugh Jackman appeared. For once he wasn’t Wolverine stuck for work between X-Men films, but a real life acting actor. Good on you Hugh Jackman. I am not a very good writer or incredibly skilled in explaining my opinions. But there you go. You get the vibe that he was better than Taron Egerton. 80% because he was acting, 20% because he wasn’t Wolverine. Also +1 for the orgasm scene. You go Jackman.

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William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo (1996)

Look, this is not a piece to knock Frances McDormand’s wonderful turn as Marge Gunderson; she’s the heart and soul of the story, an extra-ordinary person caught up extraordinary circumstances. She’s a super lady, and she is portrayed pitch perfectly by Frances McDormand, let’s just be clear on that.

That in mind; this movie belongs to Macy.

Consider the potential to fuck up alone. Jerry walks a particularly fine line in being utterly detestable with no redeeming qualities and being just desperate, slick and pathetic enough to be convincingly supportable, if for all the wrong reasons. The character’s concept does get helped along by some convincingly goofy dialogue by the Coens, granted, but a sour read or a sour take of the character and he moves past just loveably inept to deranged and ridiculous. For example; here’s an excerpt of the dialogue from the opening scene in which Jerry explains the job to the henchmen:

 

JERRY

Okay, it’s – see, it’s not me

payin’ the ransom.  The thing is,

my wife, she’s wealthy – her dad,

he’s real well off.  Now, I’m in

a bit of trouble –

 

CARL

What kind of trouble are you in,

Jerry?

 

JERRY

Well, that’s, that’s, I’m not go

inta, inta – see, I just need

money.  Now, her dad’s real

wealthy –

 

CARL

So why don’t you just ask him

for the money?

 

Grimsrud, the dour man who has not yet spoken, now softly

puts in with a Swedish-accented voice:

 

GRIMSRUD

Or your fucking wife, you know.

 

CARL

Or your fucking wife, Jerry.

 

JERRY

Well, it’s all just part of this –

they don’t know I need it, see.

Okay, so there’s that.  And even

if they did, I wouldn’t get it.

So there’s that on top, then.  See,

these’re personal matters.

 

Now, if you’ve seen the movie, you’re probably reading that in Macy’s accent in the movie, and fair enough. But imagine another actor takes it and makes it a little more gruff, and little more threatening. Maybe give it a Mafiosa-twist, or an undercurrent of despair; it’s all wrong.

Macy takes what’s on the page and delivers it exactly how it needed to be handled; he’s incapable, overthinking his abilities and certainly overestimating his intelligence. He’s bitter, but polite, and he’s in over his head but he’s not ready to back down just yet. He’s the biggest crook the small towns can offer, which needs to be endearing and the audiences needs to be on his side no matter how horrible the plan, especially as the plan unfolds and the toll on those involved racks up.

Around the middle of the film, Jerry takes a backseat to the plan he set in motion and, by the third act, we see him in maybe two short scenes as we focus more on Marge shutting down the kidnapping. Yet we’re always thinking about him, always wondering whether he’ll get away with it, and that support comes down simply to the sheer charm and nerve of the performance.

 

And that’s it folks! Make sure to follow us on Twitter to take part in the next poll!

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4 thoughts on “Spotlight Reviews #1 – Better Supporting Actors

  1. “So, the first ever Academy Award for Best Consociate Actor/Actress goes to… Alicia Vikander for her role in everything she’s done that I have watched.”

    Truest statement I’ve ever read. Alicia Vikander is possibly the best young actor (And yes, I’m calling her young, it’s ridiculously sexist a 35 year old man actor can be called ‘young’ and a 28 year old women usually isn’t) of the present day. She’s absolutely incredible and is definitely a scene-stealer in The Danish Girl. And that’s saying a lot for me, because I REALLY loved Redmayne in that movie.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I agree with the above! Alicia Vikander quietly evokes so much emotion in every movie I have seen her in thus far. She was definitely more than a supporting actress in The Danish Girl.

    William H. Macy was incredible in Fargo. You got it right on when you said that he would overthink his abilities and overestimate his intelligence. I recently wrote a post on Fargo if you would like to read. Thanks! https://charsmoviereviews.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/fargo-1996/

    Liked by 1 person

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