Saturday, May 31, 2008

Oscar Winners

Posted in a forum a couple of months ago:

I finally caught up with the Best Actor and Actress of 2006, Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker, who won every statuette and critic's award out there. I have the greatest respect for both actors, but although their award-winning performances were quite good, the movies that featured them were less than exciting.

The Queen is smooth and watchable, but despite good efforts from the entire cast -- Michael Sheen is delightful as Tony Blair -- it doesn't amount to much finally; it doesn't seem to have a point of view. Peter Morgan's screenplay hedges its bets so you can't tell whether the movie is meant to be pro-monarchy or anti-monarchy; and it needs to be one or the other, since it doesn't have the artistic distinction to be interesting and, simultaneously, neutral. This feeling of being nowhere in particular plays out awkwardly in a couple of ways: there is a symbolic sub-plot about a stag that is frankly embarassing in a first-year play-writing class kind of way (and Morgan is an acclaimed playwright, so shame on him); and late in the film Sheen is saddled with a little outburst defending the Queen that comes out of the blue and should have stayed there.

Elizabeth II is not the most difficult role that the marvelously accomplished Helen Mirren will ever play. Take a stiff character, apply a little shading, a little subtlety -- any A-list actor had better be able to do that. Mirren's praise for this role is disproportionate to that for the more challenging roles she has played, but goes along with the recent tendency for the Academy Awards to reward the best impersonation of a famous person (Philip Seymour Hoffman's Truman Capote, Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles, Cate Blanchett's Katharine Hepburn).

As does the acclaim for Forest Whitaker's Idi Amin. Although Whitaker is tailor-made for the part and is undoubtedly commanding in it, the Amin of The Last King of Scotland has no interiority, and so again, the assignment is only so difficult. Dramatically, the film (which is based on a novel, people may be surprised to learn, not on the actual historic record) is a sorry mess, starting somewhat promisingly but quickly descending into melodrama and ludicrousness. As in The Queen, the supporting cast -- James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney -- is first-rate. But the film falls far short of an obvious model, Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously. Interestingly, the same Peter Morgan who wrote The Queen co-wrote this screenplay -- although blame for the maladroit plotting may fall on the source novelist Giles Foden.

No comments: