Thursday, March 13, 2008

Astonishing Acting

I have not yet seen No Country for Old Men. So I will not say that Hal Holbrook was robbed. But, having just seen In the Wild . . . damn. Holbrook doesn't show up until the end of the film - he's the last of the people McCandless befriends before he goes to Alaska for his final outdoor adventure. Holbrook plays an old man, Ron, with no relatives, who bonds closely with Chris. In reading the book, the pieces with Ron telling Krakauer how it felt when he learned Chris had died in Alaska were easily some of the most affecting. For whatever reason, this man had been deeply, deeply moved by his brief friendship with the much younger Chris.

And in the film, because of the facts of the story and the episodic structure (we only get 10-5 minutes with Holbrook), all of the weight falls on Holbrook and Hirsch to make that relationship work on screen - to make us believe in that bond that was made. The script simply doesn't have time to do it; the actors have to do all of the heavy lifting.

And Oh Jesus does Holbrook deliver. He's great throughout, but the scene where Ron drops Chris off to hitch a ride up to Alaska is astonishing. There's little dialogue, just a short speech in which Ron proposes "adopting" Chris, of becoming his grandfather, but the subtle, bewildering, hurt and terrified emotions that flash across his face as he says goodbye are as real as anything I've ever seen in a film. I had kind of suspected that Holbrook's nomination wasn't really earned, that it was more of a token "nominate the old guy" thing. I could not have been more wrong.

This clip, from the Oscars, cuts a bit even from the small piece of the scene shown, and doesn't do the moment I'm describing justice, but it should give you a sense. Genius.

Until Whenever

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