Best Actor Preview: Trumbo, Youth and Legend
‘Tis the season for awards, and right now, the leading contenders for Best Actor nominations are Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant, Johnny Depp for Black Mass, Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs, Matt Damon for The Martian and Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl. But none of these guys is a lock: Leo’s Revenant could fail to live up to its advance hype, Depp’s work could fade from memory with time, Fassbender could get punished for Jobs‘ poor box office, Damon could be downgraded for doing a sci-fi movie, and voters could figure Redmayne doesn’t deserve another prize so soon after winning last year for The Theory of Everything.
So there’s a whole second tier of actors waiting in the wings to swoop in should one of the front-runners falter. I’m personally pulling for Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies, Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes and Michael B. Jordan in Creed. And I’ve just seen three more possible nominees: Bryan Cranston in Trumbo, Michael Caine in Youth and Tom Hardy in Legend. And two out of three ain’t bad, even if two of their movies are.
It takes a great actor to give a truly terrible performance (just look at half of Marlon Brando’s movies), and that’s exactly what Cranston delivers in Trumbo. His portrayal of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo never rises above the level of cartoonish caricature, and ironically, he’s not helped by the shallow, choppy script written by John McNamara. Director Jay Roach’s uneven tone just makes it worse. There are a couple of good performances in the film, most notably Helen Mirren as gossip maven Hedda Hopper, but even more disappointing ones, like a miscast Louis CK as a fellow traveler, a wasted Diane Lane as Trumbo’s long-suffering wife and a surprisingly flat Michael Stuhlbarg (whom I usually adore) as an unconvincing Edward G. Robinson. What this movie really needs is a rewrite. What this movie really needs is Dalton Trumbo in any shape or form, and Cranston breaks bad in the worst possible way; he’s like Ed Wood if Tim Burton had cast Jon Lovitz instead of Johnny Depp.
Michael Caine doesn’t hit a false note as a fading conductor/composer in Youth, which is a miracle considering the movie is full of false notes, not to mention shit. Somehow he finds the truth in The Great Beauty director Paolo Sorrentino’s pretentious mishmash set at a Swiss spa, where Caine’s musical genius crosses paths with his daughter/assistant (Rachel Weisz), a lifelong friend (Harvey Keitel), and an actor preparing to play Hitler (Paul Dano. who should be up for an Oscar for Love & Mercy).
There’s really nothing wrong with any of the performances in the film — and Jane Fonda shows up 90 minutes into this two-hour-plus slog as an aging diva and gives the movie a long-overdue kick — but its dialogue sounds like it was written in Italian and translated badly into English (“Don’t lick my ass — it only makes your breaking my balls worse,” Fonda tells Keitel). And don’t get me started on Caine and Keitel’s ongoing dialogue about their prostates and daily urinary output. Plus, there are way too many cryptic yet meaningless images — a Buddhist monk who levitates, a morbidly obese former soccer star with a tattoo of Karl Marx on his back, an elderly couple having loud sex against a tree in the forest.
Most cringe-worthy, words of seemingly deep wisdom continually come out of the mouths of babes: not just two painfully precocious children, but also Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea, whose nude scene is Youth‘s sole saving grace aside from Caine). Yes, let me say it again: Caine is great, and this Euro-centric movie will probably be catnip for the Golden Globes. But he’s already won two well-earned Oscars (for Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules), so there’s no reason to honor him again when there are so many more deserving candidates.
Like Tom Hardy, who should’ve gotten a nod last year for his one-man tour de force in Locke and is quickly becoming the greatest actor of his generation in films as varying as Mad Max: Fury Road and The Drop. Between the mask he wore as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and his thick accents in British films like Legend, he’s also the least intelligible actor since Benicio Del Toro, but that didn’t stop him from winning an Oscar for Traffic (and he merits another supporting nomination for this year’s Sicario). Even though it’s in English, Legend should come with subtitles; it reminded me of SNL‘s spot-on British-gangster movie parody Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro.
In Legend, Hardy plays twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray, gangsters who terrorized London in the ’60s. They were previously played by Spandau Ballet bandmates and brothers Gary and Martin Kemp in 1990’s The Krays, which was a very good film, but Hardy’s turn here is simply transcendent. Often sharing the screen with himself, he brilliantly delineates the two brothers (Reggie is smooth and ruthless, Ronnie is unhinged yet sweetly naive) and somehow makes their bond endearing.
The stellar supporting cast includes Emily Browning (making a quantum leap forward from dreck like Sucker Punch and Pompeii), British character actors extraordinaire David Thewlis and Christopher Eccleston and pop star Duffy, aka the Woman Who Should Be Adele. The cinematography, by Dick Pope (or “Dick Poop,” as he was mistakenly called when he was nominated for his painterly images in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner last year), is stunning. Sharply written and directed by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, 42), Legend suffers only from its terribly generic title. Still, it certainly applies to the star: Tom Hardy is a Legend in the making.