Monday, June 3, 2013

Movie Web Monday: David Morse

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)

Today's Movie Web entry is focusing on an actor who, while not as prolific as some of the performers I've highlighted so far, is probably one of the most widely recognizable actors whose name you might not know. And, as a further distinction, this is the first Movie Web Monday installment where I don't own even one of the films showcased. And they're all great. Other movies that I do own that feature today's actor: The Long Kiss Goodnight, 16 Blocks, and Disturbia. I just didn't pick those because I wanted the progression to go a specific way, but you can't fault my nerd-cred for not having three movies with him in it.

No, you can't.

David Morse: Big Softie

Movie: The Green Mile (Why the heck don't I own it?!)

David Morse plays Brutus "Brutal" Howell in the prison tear-jerker. At 6'4" he's only an inch shorter than Michael Clarke Duncan, who played John Coffey, Brutal is easily a head taller than the rest of the guard staff in the film, and early on the joke is that John Coffey can't be bigger than Brutal. But his affable and wry sense of humor sets up the movie's motif of gentle giants when set alongside Coffey's exaggerated size. Unlike Coffey, of course, Brutal has a teasing streak in him that he uses as both a tool to torment the cruel antagonists of the film and to cope with his depressing job. For instance, he clearly enjoys tormenting the sadistic guard Percy Wetmore with the revelation that the mouse he had crushed underfoot is in fact resurrected. When Percy insists that it's a hasty prank, Brutal almost breaks out into open mirth, mocking the unhinged little man:

Morse portrays Brutal as very deliberately following the lead of Tom Hanks' character, Paul Edgecomb, to the point where he seems to be uncertain without the protagonist's guidance. While Edgecomb is a pretty typical lead character for a Stephen King story--affable, initially very reactionary, and fairly optimistic when meeting new people--Brutal seems almost like an okay man who is made considerably better by the company he keeps. There's less patience and good will between him and some of the other inmates. When he humors Delacroix's delusions of a mouse retirement community, he takes it almost to the point of mockery, and the glances between him and Edgecomb imply that maybe he would've gone a bit too far in other company: mocking the eccentric rather than setting his mind at ease. It adds a good layer of introspection to the film, peeling back the cast in layers to show how good company and gentleness inspires similar virtues in those around us.

Movie: The Rock (Rent it)

Once upon a time Michael Bay made mindless action movies starring big name, established stars. People didn't seem to mind that so much. Then, when he started making movies PG-13 and tried discovering or spotlighting young talent for his movies, the world cried out in anger and demanded his movies start looking like Christopher Nolan flicks. The Rock was an action movie starring Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery as two men trying to break into Alcatraz island to stop a decorated marine general from detonating bio-weapons over San Francisco in an effort to coerce money to honor soldiers killed in black ops missions. Yeah. And it's pretty enjoyable, too. Don't you feel stupid for complaining about alien ninja turtles now?

Spoilers on the way. But if you haven't seen The Rock by now, are you really going in to see a Bay movie to be surprised by the plot?

David Morse plays Major Tom Baxter, the right-hand man to pseudo-terrorist General Francis Hummel, played by Ed Harris. these two are your classic bad-guys with a heart of gold, which means that in the end they go down like punks, because the script never respects a bad guy with a heart of gold (Serenity's Operative a notable exception). Both marines of honor who plod through their violent, sketchy plot with reluctance and hand-wringing, Morse and Harris give a lot of needed credence to these kind of goofy characters. In fact, they end up forming a sort of opposing bro-mance to the main characters played by Cage and Connery. And I frankly enjoy watching Morse and Harris be all like "I respect you, man" a bit more than the twitchy odd couple of the protagonists. Although the leads make up for it by being almost infinitely quotable. At the end of the movie in particular, as the plot of the bad guys (and the movie itself, really) sort of collapses under its own weight, Morse and Harris shore up the production around their buddy-buddy awesomeness. Faced with three mutinous marines pointing guns at General Hummel, Major Baxter is given the classic ultimatum to pick sides in the middle of a Mexican standoff. Which is a really dumb time to pick sides, by the way. Baxter draws his pistol on his beloved commanding officer, and then gets all misty:

He then shoots Ben from the Night of the Living Dead remake and gets himself peppered for friendship, honor, and good vibrations as everyone starts shooting. Yeah, it's cliched and not well-wrought on paper, but the actors really pull through and make you care about these mind-bogglingly inconsistent characters.

Also, the car chase on the streets of San Fran was nuts. Avengers-level property damage done by a myopic Scot in a hummer?



Movie: Hearts in Atlantis (Rent it)

Another movie based on a Stephen King novella, Hearts in Atlantis falls into one of King's most popular sub-genres: the nostalgic kid drama. Alongside Hearts in Atlantis, Dreamcatcher, It, and Stand By Me all feature detailed flashbacks or grown-up narrative over particularly poignant childhood trauma and adventures. As the grown-up narrator Robert Garfield in Hearts in Atlantis, David Morse is in just three scenes that bookend the movie, plus a few lines of narration scattered throughout the extended flashback composing the plot. But his scratchy and raw nostalgia, at once reminiscing and romancing his childhood while also grappling with his own regret, does a great job of narrating the movie, and the direction of the movie does a great job of tying the emotional tenor of old and young Bobby Garfield together. As the film closes on a sober note, David Morse anchors his character to the conflicted moment when the daughter of his dead sweetheart snorts at him and relates that her mother, "said he was beautiful." He then snorts in disbelief and hands the girl a picture of her mother when she was a young girl, saying:

Morse is able to sell us on the emotionally mingled confusion Bobby Garfield is feeling. He's mystified by incredible events in his life, flattered by the offhand compliment to the boy he once was, and haunted by his abject failure to nurture the friendships that had meant so much to him as an eleven year-old. And you realize how much they still mean to him, even though he never followed through. Kind of an uber guilt-trip for all those summer camp friends you never wrote to, but with men-in-black and psychics thrown in, too.

Because, y'know...Stephen King.

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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