Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Neal McDonough

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Neal McDonough: Dreamy McSteamy

Mini-Series: Band of Brothers (Own it)

As I mentioned last time, one of Band of Brothers' great, weighty qualities is the way we get under-whelming or glossed-over introductions to characters that later become the focus of one or more episodes and make lasting impressions with the audience. Neal McDonough's character, Buck Compton, follows this pattern. When he is introduced, he is there playing off of the outstanding ethics of Richard Winters, played by Damian Lewis. He lounges in the jeep's passenger seat and makes half-assed defenses of gambling with his subordinates while Winters reads him the riot act and finishes with an unassailable ethical gem for military leadership. The audience comes away from the scene respecting Winters more and wondering how worthwhile this Lieutenant Compton will actually be. So far we just know that he likes a'gamblin' and that he has dreamy eyes and a GI Joe voice.


But, true to form, Band of Brothers gives Neal the opportunity to step up to the plate, and we get to see that Buck Compton is not only a reliable and charismatic character but also one of the most dynamic in the series. We see that Buck, in addition to being recognized as a valiant and capable military leader, is one of the most personable of the Easy Company officers, mingling and making firm friendships with non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. This defines his tragic gravity later on in the series, where we begin to see Compton become a bit frayed as the constant loss and suffering of his friends wears on him. He tries to play this perceived sentiment off, but his psychological aches come through in his humor in Bastogne when he threatens some of his men to be safe:

Neal McDonough delivers the line with a forced sort of familiarity that any guy can recognize as being deeply anguished machismo. It's poignant and effective, and--like so much in Band of Brothers--over far too soon.

Movie: Tin Man (Own it) Light spoilers below.

Tin Man was an alleged sci-fi mini-series that was inspired by The Wizard of Oz. As the titular character, Neal McDonough plays Wyatt Cain--a 'tin man', or former law enforcer in the "OZ". Cain stands dead center of many of the fairy tale's changes and updates. Rather than playing one of America's first bionic men, Cain is a hard-bitten hero whose heartless state is an expression of grief over losing his queen, his post, and his family to the witch Azkadellia rather than the tough-nuts result of trusting a tin-smith with your full-body prosthesis. As a rogue hero in a corrupted world, Cain is responsible for supplying a lot of energy to the series. Like the original story, the Tin Man is the guy to go to for protection from the freaks of Oz, only Cain packs a revolver instead of an axe. Also parallel to the original, the protagonist DG is very reactive and doesn't drive the plot so much as ride it. Cain, in showing the personal suffering those beneath Azkadellia endure, helps to inspire and unify the group as they take on a sort of a revolutionary path to defeat her.

Tin Man is a bit of a rough mini-series, though it is far from the worst made by the Sci-Fi Channel. Like the other adaptations of the story, it is forced to cover a lot of ground without feeling rich or populous for doing so. That said, the creative twist of having the Tin Man being an ex-lawman anti-hero is capably done and forms one of the highlights of the show for me. Neal McDonough embodies the man who is emotionally unreachable now because of how easily it was used against him in the past, and that quality beams when he meets his son whom he thought he'd lost years prior. His personal vendetta against Zero, the witch's goon who beat him and made him watch as his family was attacked, smolders in a few well-portrayed-but-understated moments:

Neal McDonough, having played a mix of white and black hats in the past, walks the dichotomy of the Tin Man Wyatt Cain well. And as one of the only characters who keeps the action kinetic and physical, he thoroughly deserves the title credit for Tin Man.

(Yes, I know the Sci-Fi Channel is now SyFy, but I'm not calling it that. It sounds like something you'd contract in a high-security prison.)

Movie: Timeline (Own it, though it's frakking missing in action) Light spoilers below.

Timeline is by far the best Michael Crichton movie that isn't the first Jurassic Park movie*. Or The Thirteenth Warrior. And though it doesn't have the initial wonderment of scientific discovery of Jurassic Park or the glut of medieval culture of The Thirteenth Warrior, it deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them and is populated by a cast that is equivalently solid compared to either film.

As Frank Gordon, once more Neal McDonough plays a role that begins on a surface level and creeps into more depth as the film proceeds. Frank is an employee of ITC Corp., and in his introduction he comes off as a friendly accomplice to the company's cover-up. When he and the protagonists start to get ready for their trip back in time, he uses the extra screen time to ingratiate himself as a somewhat diplomatic, thoughtful guy. This is evident in his carefully worded reluctance to accept the assignment:

Considering that he's thinking of being violently and painfully torn through a wormhole to go to a primitive war-zone where a time-lorn disgruntled employee murderously lies in wait, it's quite polite, really. He doesn't raise his voice or give hasty orders to anyone until the group is trapped and in danger in medieval France, and that's when Neal McDonough shines as he plays the complete gradient of the nice guy turning out to be a self-serving coward who dies pleading for his life. Michael Crichton stories generally feature a panoply of antagonists, with several flavors of douche-baggery available for all, and Frank Gordon is a key element of Timeline's palette. He falls alongside the bitterly-unhinged killer Decker as small players acting on behalf of greater villains in a story that has lying, murdering nobles calling the shots in both time periods.

*Despite its lack of gorilla-killing lasers wielded by Laura Linney, I've got to say I enjoy it more than Congo.

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.

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