Friday, September 19, 2008

Gary Oldman: Superstar

If I were to have a villain in a movie, any movie, it would be Gary Oldman. Gary Oldman is a remarkable actor, not just for his ability to play a wide range of characters, but because he can bring genuineness. Despite myself, I sometimes find myself forgetting they’re characters, and also, sympathizing with them at times, which is the hallmark of a great actor. Oldman’s done some great supporting work though (like the rhythm section of a jazz band, he gives the soloists [like Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart] spots to shine in the Dark Knight, or the vaguely menacing yet always affable Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series.)  And yes, he is a great lead in films like Sid and Nancy or Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead.  But his villainous roles are where, in my opinion, he really shines.

Here are my five favorite Gary Oldman villain roles.

5. Ivan Korshunivov (Air Force One)

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Ivan is the one President Harrison Ford wants off his plane. Menacing, cold, calculating, and unlike many of the others on this list, surprisingly macho, Ivan is more of a traditional contemporary movie villain. Also, his Russian accent is quite good, as opposed to the awful drawl Ford adopts in K-19: The Widowmaker.

Moment of Awesome: As mentioned before:

4. Mason Verger (Hannibal)

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First off, look at the makeup job there.

I’ll admit that, like Thomas Harris clearly is, I’m a fan of the Hannibal Lecter character (the way he admonishes him in this film and book, and the later Hannibal Rising, however, is almost bizarrely fawning.) But, if you want to make a sympathetic, or at least a protagonistic, Hannibal, you need an antagonist to oppose him, so Gary Oldman puts on a good old boy accent to play Mason Verger. Like some of the later villains on the countdown, he’s effeminate (openly gay here,) and also menacing and threatening.

Moment of Awesome: If the whole plan to feed a man to giant inbred pigs wasn’t awesome enough, we have such a great intro. The way he emphasizes certain words (“the Ris”) and the way he slurs through the whole story is so mesmerizing and creepily compelling you can’t turn away, even if his face is terrifying.

3. Doctor Smith (Lost in Space)

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When I first saw Lost in Space I didn’t care much for it, but it grew on me after watching it again on cable. There are some awful parts (the black hole of talent that is Matt LeBlanc,) and it tries way too hard to be a franchise film. But Gary Oldman is able to take the mincing creep that is the camp 60s Doctor Smith and turn him into something genuinely menacing. Besides his repeated attempts to kill the Robinson family, Smith’s just so sarcastic and likeable of a character in that he’s very human. That kind of falls apart when they make him the “creepy spider-monster thing” near the end, which I’d argue was some (conscious or not) attempt to enhance the abberance of this rather effeminate man raising a boy on his own (making a character who could possibly be viewed as LGBT markedly nonhuman.)

Moment of Awesome: Reviving the injured Robinson daughter (played by #2 talent vortex Heather Graham) Smith chides Penny (played by a mid-Party of Five Lacey Chabert) as “Precious” to get him his medical supplies. She resists being called Precious but the way he forces the nickname on her is absolutely great in context.

Alternatively, near the end, muttering his catchphrase “We’re doomed!” and being subsequently punched in the face.

2. Dracula (Dracula [Coppola, 1992])

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Here is another example of a role that’s awesome despite the presence of another awful actor and another awful accent (both possessed by Keanu Reeves.) And again, we get the mince, and we get the menace, but Dracula here has two facets, not including the more creature feature makeup-y ones: the revivified young man, and the creepy old man so expertly lampooned on the Simpsons. We also get the same kind of excellent accent as in the previous projects; he has a great talent with using his voice and mimicking accents.

Moment of Awesome: I would count many little parts of Gary Oldman’s performance here. The shadows dancing on the wall independent of his body, the accent, the intonation, all awesome.

But the best moment comes early on, when Harker is almost seduced by some of Dracula’s vampiric minions, he comes out, takes them off him, and to appease them, gives them a baby to rip apart. Harker recoils in terror screaming, and Dracula just smiles and laughs, and raises his hand in a strange little way. I always was intrigued by Dracula's little hand motion.

Also, his dying monologue is pretty cool too.

1. Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (The Fifth Element)

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The Fifth Element is one of the great, oft-overlooked, Science Fiction films of the 90s. And part of the reason, besides delving into the kind of epic space opera that George Lucas seemed to forget sometime in the late 80s post Return of the Jedi, is in the villain. As the ruthless merchant of death Zorg, Gary Oldman limps around with a southern accent of a Mason Verger, has the cruel sibilance of Dracula or Doctor Smith, and the coldness of Ivan Korshunivov, all rolled into one plastic-headed package.

Moment of Awesome: In my favorite scene, Zorg enters the plot, threatens his hired guns, and kills them in a very manipulative way. I also like the use of the Kulsehov Effect in this scene: “Empty. The opposite of full.” The best part, however, is the last 30 seconds or so:

It's for roles like these that when I think of bad guys in movies, I generally think of Gary Oldman. He is great in supporting roles, but its in playing real villains that he gets his chance to shine.


simoneyes said...

Haha, I clicked over from your Facebook status because I saw the words "Gary Oldman". He's pretty much my favorite actor.


Son of Double Feature said...

I did neglect to mention his work as a lead. That might require a slight edit.

Also, while making and proposing addendum, #6 on this list would be his performance as Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK.

elgringo said...

Hey Derek, I'm hosting a blog-a-thon in two weeks.

Check out the details here:

Hope you participate!


Karl Hungus said...

I'm shocked at no mention of his role in Leon. That was one of his greatest moments, and from an actor of his undoubtable quality, that's saying a lot.

"Bring me everyone..."
"What do you mean everyonr?"

That said, it's not like I'm going to find fault with the films you did pick, he's remarkable in all of them, even if they're not the best of films (I wasn't really a fan of Lost in Space or Hannibal), so really this should've been a top 10 in order to do the man justice.

"I love these calm little moments before the storm."