Monday, September 12, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Pete Postlethwaite

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)

Pete Postlethwaite: Great, Gravel-voiced, and Gone

I've been putting off this Movie Web Monday for some time. This week's featured actor, Pete Postlethwaite, passed away this year at the age of 62. A fabulous British actor I always marked for being one of those fine fellows who needlessly uplifted movies through his high-caliber acting, whether they deserved it or not, Pete has one of the fantastically distinctive voices of modern cinema. He will be missed, and it's almost painful to limit his cross-section of roles to these three movies.

"C'mon, Sharpie..."

Movie: Dragonheart (Own it)

As I've said previously, Dragonheart suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It has PG humor mixed with grim, dramatic moments, and a damsel in the sort of marital distress that falls uncomfortably between Saturday morning cartoons and the deep anxiety of more serious treatments of the threat. Some of the actors fit well with the serious, dramatic side--I think Quaid falls into this category--and others fit the comedic demands better--Connery's Draco, being a little too kid-friendly, feels this way more often than not. And in the midst of this confusion sits Pete Postlethwaite as Brother Gilbert, a character who succeeds at elevating both the humor and the drama of the film, gloriously making it more fun in a guiltless, not-too-silly way while also heightening the drama of the climax with his seasoned gravity.

Just consider the fun his character exudes in the early film. Gilbert's tireless enthusiasm serves as an excellent and immediate contrast to Bowen's dour, jaded age. It's rare and fun to have an action-oriented movie feature multiple past-prime characters, let alone two who are so distinctly defined by their life experiences. In the monk's case, he lets his academic flair and pseudo-religious quest form a strong backbone to a character who is otherwise terribly naive due to the nature of his life experience. And Postlethwaite delivers on every line, such as when he tries to vet Bowen's prowess as a dragonslayer:

The serious way he delivers that unconfident, faint certification is irresistibly funny. And the bashful way he gets ingratiated into the plot is rather more natural feeling than that of Kara, the leading lady. But he's not just a comedic pillar--he also helps to sell the drama of the closing act of the film, beginning with his face-twitching internal conflict as he forces himself to kill in order to do what he believes is right. And his closing monologue does a superb job of making you forget the half-cocked camp and feel like you really just watched something terribly special. Postlethwaite as Gilbert and soundtrack composer Randy Edelman really define the best moments of the film for me.

Movie: Alien3 (Own it) Light Spoilers

Truly, the Alien series is starkly monochromatic. Normally when applied to movie, that statement is inaccurate--true monochrome implies only one note is being played, so most movies that receive the title should probably be credited as dichromatic. But this sci-fi series merits the term in all its implications. Ripley is a solitary, almost completely out of place point of light in a setting that is defined by the jet grotesquery of the xenomorph defiling the charcoal douche-baggery of the worthless humans who generally fill out the cast. And Alien3 is particularly steeped in this trend: Ripley is surrounded by rapists and murderers whom she enlists to help her kill the alien raping killing-machine. Pete Postlethwaite is a small highlight of the film, but he's a stark one. Other than a handful of lines in Aliens, Pete's character David has one of the most real-sounding lines in the series. It comes as they begin moving some old drums of some sci-fi combustible to arrange a trap for the alien:

The first part of the line is delivered with conscientious gravity--David's really concerned about Ripley being careful with her and his safety. But the afterthought exclamation is the perverse nature rearing its head in a totally believable moment of admiring the destructive potential of the substance. This line always makes me think of my old pyro buddy Luke--it's just a touch of approachable, amicable wickedness in a movie and series that knows one volume: blaring. And nobody but Pete Postlethwaite could deliver it in such a quickly endearing and grounded fashion.


Movie: Jurassic Park: The Lost World (Own it) Light Spoilers

Most of Michael Crichton's stories are about a specific scientific ethic, and woe betide any of his characters opposed to the ethic of his particular story. You normally have one figure--almost always a scientist, an unheeded specialist in his field--who is unassailable in his prescriptions. If you disobey Crichton's mouthpiece, you are not going to fare well. Except when you do. In Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Crichton uncharacteristically makes a character who is both ethically opposed to principal Ian Malcolm and manages to come out as well off as one could hope. Pete Postlethwaite plays Roland Tembo, a big game hunter and orchestrator of the mass-scale hunt that sweeps through the sissy dinosaur preserve. Thanks to Postlethwaite's superb delivery and timing, he storms into the movie and immediately becomes that character you just can't get enough of. Starting with him telling off the pencil-neck exec, Tembo is an acutely principled and forceful character. When he gets to tell off the functionally brain-dead eco-terrorist (played by a pre-popular but still annoying Vince Vaughn), it always gives me a thrill: "Yeah, shut up dino-hugger! I'm going to bag me a T-rex." You'd think he was heading for a grisly end, but Tembo not only makes it through the film intact he also gets the best parting line in the whole film:

Sure, it's still Crichton deconstructing a character opposed to his core message--this time about preservationism--but at least Postlethwaite doesn't die like a punk like all the other nameless goons beneath him in the rest of the movie. Heck, the film probably would sit better with audiences in general if the film ended right here rather than extending itself through a laughable Godzilla riff. Since he's gone now, I sure hope every movie director out there who didn't take the opportunity to have their movie end with Postlethwaite's glorious, gripping, gravelly voice is kicking himself.

Shame on you, Steven Spielberg.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment