Monday, July 25, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Jim Caviezel

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)

Jim Caviezel: Man of Fire

Movie: Outlander (Own it)

Jim Caviezel stars as the titular character in Outlander. In a movie where the rest of the cast is a bunch of raiding vikings, Caviezel's character Kainan has to operate in dual roles. As a member of a refined sci-fi society, he has to be disgusted and out of his element around the primitive Norse. But as a soldier of the civilization that seeded earth with the first proto-vikings, he has to have an internal fire that puts him on superior footing with the vikings even after his swank tech is stripped away. So unlike Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan in The Thirteenth Warrior, he has to be confused by his crude hosts while still constantly impressing them. Caviezel does a good job of this, combining his trademark steel with a wounded emotional sensitivity. It's central to his character, as Kainan is himself remorseful over actions that the vikings wouldn't bat an eye at doing even though the scale of the atrocity is centuries beyond their ability. The fact that Kainan's guilt is compounded by over-identifying with the murderous antagonist makes it a very intriguing twist on the source epic, where Grendel is frequently invoked as a kin-killer. Also, it's a fun note that the monster is called a son of Cain or Cain's kin in the poem, which I'm sure informed the movie's writers to name the protagonist Kainain.

One of the other things that Kainan brings to Outlander is a unique take on the Schlub. You might recall me mentioning previously that a Schlub is a character that through ignorance or charisma finds it necessary to initiate exposition dumps for the audience. Kainan is a sort of anti-schlub in the movie--everyone else is ignorant of the sci-fi trappings of the setting, but he refrains from trying to convince them of it in absolute terms. Instead, he describes the alien monster, his nuke-wielding dropship, and his interstellar origins in primitive terms as a dragon, boats, and an island to the north, respectively. When the vikings first interrogate him for his suspicious behavior, he sticks to his story even amidst a light beating:

It's an interesting dynamic, and gives the audience a fun bit of juxtaposition later in the movie where we see literal visuals of the sci-fi backstory narrated with his dumbed-down-viking-friendly version of events. And Jim Caviezel's fierce delivery of the narration also evokes the emotion that makes him reluctant to share any of his history with the earthlings, allowing you to feel like that moment has three simultaneous levels of story-telling.

Movie: The Count of Monte Cristo (Own it) Light Spoilers

Alexander Dumas' prolific work is timeless because of the conflict built into its content and structure. On one level, it's a story of enlightening one's behavior and trappings to improve your station--a bit of My Fair Lady, really. On another, it's a story of the universality of brutish, selfish behavior regardless of social class--a little Les Miserables. And finally, it's a story about one man pursuing poetically damning revenge to thoroughly crush his enemies in an ironically appropriate manner--a whole lot of Hamlet. Appropriately enough, Caviezel as the star Edmond Dantes has to put on a lot of acting hats to pull off this nuanced plot. First, he plays a hubristically naive and innocent young man, then a wounded and confused victim. He turns into a driven, blood-thirsty avenger, but that is later softened into an investigative rogue. Each of these facets are well-realized and makes for a dynamic story that helps to remind you that it occurs over a seventeen year span of time. When Edmond makes it to the climax of the film and finally confronts Fernand, the weight of the movie is clearly carried on his shoulders throughout the charged scene, which begins with him ominously stage-whispering:

Caviezel's delivery of the line underscores the tension in the moment. Edmond is tremblingly close to the all-but-inevitable execution of his vengeance, and he has to force an expression of glee he doesn't seem to feel at this point. Given that all his loved ones have tried to warn him off this path, it's a great piece of drama in a movie that offers a wonderful combination of that sort of high-minded acting, action, dry wit, and precious historicity.

Movie: Frequency (Own it) Light Spoilers

A combination father-son drama and thriller, Frequency co-stars Jim Caviezel as John Sullivan, a cop drinking himself to oblivion when he discovers that the once-in-a-lifetime solar activity bombarding the area has linked his dad's old ham radio to the same unit thirty years prior. As John uses the link to the past to save his father--a Boston fireman--from a fire that was supposed to kill him, he has to deal with the unexpected consequences as a serial killer's spree in the sixties increases by ten more bodies. It's a fun bit of A Sound of Thunder and, like The Count of Monte Cristo, it gives Caviezel an opportunity to walk a lot of dramatic ground. At the film's start, he's a wreck that can't seem to care when his long-term girlfriend walks out on him, and as the butterfly effect worsens, he quickly becomes violently enraged that his mother--who was alive before the chronology was warped--became one of the serial killer's victims. As he tries to suss out the cold case that is all too fresh to his time-tripping sensibilities, John Sullivan lays into a suspect:

One of the major elements of the movie is how easy it is to screw up your life and how hard it is to fix. When John first makes contact with his father, he's clearly embarrassed to admit he's in his mid 30s and still unattached. His mother (before getting time-aborted) is quietly ashamed that he let his girlfriend get away. His long-time mentor and superior in the precinct identifies him as having a history of disrespecting himself and others. And it falls to his goof-ball best friend, who is married and a father, to be largely responsible for holding his melancholic pal together. All of this is sort of a spiral that began with growing up as a fatherless child, and Caviezel's character clearly recognizes it but isn't prepared to do anything about it now. So when a sci-fi-lite macguffin allows him to try to correct things at the start, it is no surprise either that he tries to right his life or that it ends up being more difficult than expected. As John gets closer to fixing his own mistake, he becomes violently attached to what little control he can exert over his world. It's an engaging film that doesn't let the silly bit of non-science-fiction get in the way of neat drama, good cinematography, and a convincing story that takes place in two concurrent times a generation apart.

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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