Dre Rivas March 31, 2010
Just what is it about Ralph Fiennes that we don’t like? He’s clearly a very good actor, but he doesn’t seem to have much box-office charisma. Every time he’s been asked to open a movie it’s been a bust. Wait a minute — has he even been tested in this regard since 1995′s Strange Days? I don’t think so. Not really. Most of his work these days comes from independents or the Harry Potter films where his box-office clout is rendered irrelevant. But forget box office for a minute, because it has nothing to do with how good an actor someone is. Why doesn’t his name pop up more when we mention the underrated Sam Rockwell types?
I think part of the problem is Fiennes has been stuck playing what many would consider similar roles: the haunted romantic lover, the icy period piece role. Need a dashing hero or villain in a ruffled shirt? Call Fiennes! In truth they amount to a small portion of his resume. Perception is everything.
A deeper look at his resume is a lot more refreshing. In celebration of his role as Hades in Clash of the Titans, I’ve picked five favorites and left off the not-so-successful endeavors (The Avengers, Spider, Maid in Manhattan, and others of your ilk, I have spared you the rod). Enjoy.
The Constant Gardener
As pointed out, Fiennes excels at playing frigid, stoic men. Watching his character’s glacial exterior melt away while he falls even more deeply in love with his wife (after she is killed, no less) — while also coming to terms with the maddening, corrupt world he lives in — is a real treat. This is one of his best performances, no doubt.
The English Patient
If you’re OK with the slow journey by foot, there are riches to be found in Anthony Minghella‘s beautiful romantic epic. This movie gets a bad rap these days for beating out Fargo for the Oscar, and on that score I can’t argue. But this is a damn fine production that has some strong emotional payoffs in the end. Don’t be surprised if Juliette Binoche‘s romance with the Sikh soldier (Lost‘s Naveen Andrews) steals the show.
It’s a barrel of monkeys seeing Fiennes let loose and have some fun in the Potter movies, but we need even more of this. Let’s play a game. If you haven’t seen In Bruges yet, get a moving. If you have, get one of your friends to see it. The more times I see this movie, the more I regret leaving it out of my 2008 top 10 in favor of Gran Torino. Oh, 2008 Dre…
Charles Van Doren — as in, “Van Doren Van Doren” — makes for another great tragic figure on Fiennes’ resume. He’s made all the more tragic by the very presence and stature of Paul Scofield as Mark Van Doren, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American scholar whose son shames his name. Robert Redford and screenwriter Paul Attanasio smartly build on their relationship in light strokes throughout the movie leading to this: the film’s best scene. When Scofield says, “Your name is mine!” Fiennes has gone from embarrassed confession to rationalized anger to the sort of shame only a son could offer before a father.
There are many villains to be found in Steven Spielberg‘s holocaust epic but none more cruel or interesting as Fiennes’ Amon Goeth. He’s every bit the monster as Fienne’ Tooth Fairy or Lord Voldemort, only — regrettably — he is not a work of fiction. There are monsters among us and they may love their wives and children. They may care deeply for their pets and neighbors. They may be as jovial and engaging as the next. But there is something else in their wiring sprung from fear, poisoned into hate. Fiennes — allowed to forgo dipping into the facial menace bowl or twirl his mustache — is Amon Goeth as a cold and emotionally confused social miscreant. He was just one of the mob, but he had rank.
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Dre writes for Film.com weekly.
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