Monday, June 27, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Tony Curran

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)

Tony Curran: Awesome at selling the bad-attitude

Movie: Beowulf & Grendel (Own it) Light Spoilers

In a film that rides on the presence of the star more than most, Tony Curran offers a powerful boon to the film in the role of Hondscioh (hahn-shoo or hahn-shoh). As one of the more notable of Beowulf's brothers-in-arms, Tony Curran plays one of the foremost of the warriors that are in the background of virtually every other scene in the film. The scot gives a strong performance within the bounds of his limited role, though, and Hondscioh does serve as an important supporting pillar in the film's message about the allure of revenge. Beowulf & Grendel names three of Beowulf's followers, and of them, Hondscioh is the more relatable. He may not have any epic lines in a film that is choked with them--in addition to the great Beowulf lines I'd mentioned last week, King Hrothgar and Brendan each have their share of lines that are awesome and funny--but Hondscioh has a few moments of sensibility that outlines the bias of these larger-than-life Geats. And plus he looks awesome:

See that antler? That's the hilt and pommel of his shortsword. Frakkin' awesome. And this movie has some of the coolest assortment of armor. Most of the warriors sport chainmail with leather lamelar over it, as seen above. Beside looking awesome, Tony Curran's Hondscioh is a cautionary tale of the escalation of revenge. Early in the movie, he is clearly affected by a bad feeling about their quest to kill the titular troll. Bowing out of practice with the braggart Breca, he tersely replies, "waste your swings on the air, not me." Breca berates him, but Beowulf sums that fear has its uses. After their first few failed forays to slay Grendel, though, Hondscioh's fear makes him become hatefully reactionary. Grendel literally pisses on their ambush, so when the Geats later find Grendel's home, Hondscioh finds and desecrates a troll skull he correctly guesses belonged to Grendel's father. It seals his fate, as Grendel goes on a killing rampage to find the Geat that destroyed the skull.

Hondscioh's death fuels Beowulf's own hunt for revenge, but it also serves as a bit of foreshadowing of how Beowulf is ultimately fated to die over an unjust cause. While the lead's death isn't depicted in the movie, the rest of the film alludes to it enough to establish it as relevant to the theme. And, thanks to Tony Curran's adroit performance in the minor-but-critical role, it is all illustrated through his run as a likable but basely driven boon companion to their leader.

Movie: The 13th Warrior (Own it) Light Spoilers

Before he'd acted in Beowulf & Grendel, Tony Curran played another warrior in a Beowulf tale. This time it was John McTiernan's The 13th Warrior, and the role was Weath the Musician. Adapted from Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead, The 13th Warrior is a somewhat more plausible origin story that might have inspired the epic poem. With no inherently impossible elements, the movie is about giving realistic characters that are nonetheless larger-than-life enough stones to inspire the patently unrealistic actions of Beowulf's saga. While Weath's thematic impact isn't nearly as great in The 13th Warrior as Hondscioh's in Beowulf & Grendel, he still serves to fill out the roster with a good deal of grounded masculine braggadocio. No place is this raving, sexy viking testosterone more cogently displayed than when Ahmed shaves down the over-sized viking sword he'd been given into a sleek saber (sooo improbable). As Ahmed, played by Antonio Banderas, shows off how his sissy sword can chip at the palisades they're building, Tony Curran as Weath replies with perfect delivery: 

In a movie that surrounds its action set-pieces with culture-clash humor, this is one of my favorite comedic moments. I mean, it's a movie about a Baghdad bard joining a group of viking barbarians (RPG party, anyone?), and it says a lot for the film's cleverness that the most improbable moments are in the service of light fun and anecdotally intimate the real misunderstandings that led to ancient stereotypes regarding the northern peoples.

Movie: Blade II (Own it) Light Spoilers

Blade II is a gem in the surprisingly full action-vampire movie genre. Directed by Guillermo del Toro and featuring the acting talents of Wesley Snipes, Ron Perlman, and another gentleman you'll hear more about next time, Tony Curran helps to fill out and anchor the squad of undead red-shirts that you only get to appreciate in the first act of the movie. Since they aren't given any chance to shine in a combat sense--a problem in all three of the Blade movies, as the star owns everyone except the primary antagonist in single combat--you only have a small amount of screen-time to show the audience how bad-attitude these guys are. For Tony Curran, as vampire hitman Priest, it's the marvelous fact that he even disgusts one of the other vampire hitmen. As they wade shoulder-to-shoulder through a vampire rave of surgically addicted crack-heads looking for the abominations called Reapers, Priest sneers in disgust as he notes, "Half of these bastards aren't even purebloods..."

Look at Asad's expression in the background. You can read the thought bubble at that moment: "I have to work with this joker?" In a franchise where vampire culture isn't very well fleshed out, it's nice to get a hint that there's enough cultural variation amongst the blood-suckers to see this much internal conflict. Since that internal conflict is more or less the point of this movie, it's nice to see it so colorfully illustrated early on in the movie, and Tony Curran's Priest does so especially well.

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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