How the hell can you play someone whom we all know from found footage on the news? How can we know what he was like outside of this sad incident? Sure we can get stories from his loved ones about what he did, but how could his true character be brought to film? Well, Michael B. Jordan guessed, and his gamble was a great success. He isn’t this heroic person who is flawless. He isn’t this sorry case before anything has even happened. He’s just an everyday guy wanting to right his wrongs slowly but surely. He puts on a smile and fakes a laugh to distract others from the internal struggles he faces to keep his loved ones afloat. You wouldn’t know he has such responsibilities until the film gets to those parts, and he fools us too. Once we see the reality of Oscar’s life, we can see how serious he is about fixing it. It’s B. Jordan’s performance that shoots Fruitvale Station way past the stars, because he turned a film about the last day of Oscar’s life into a character study of not just a shooting victim but of every single one of us, reminding us that Oscar was as human as you or me.
The connection is immediate. The reactions are rapid. The exchange of words are porous. Both the young stars of The Spectacular Now contain some of the best chemistry of any onscreen couple in a very long time, and it is nice to see in a film about high school. Both characters are very natural; Teller being the next Jonah Hill and Woodley the next Sandrah Bullock with their characters Sutter and Aimee. Sutter is the cool kid but not arrogant. He has fun but also feels ugly. Aimee sees everything at face value and still tries to be optimistic, despite admitting that she is an oddball. Together, through their insecurities and their magnetism, Teller and Woodley have set a standard for the younger generation of actors and, most likely, a very fine tuned resume in the future. As for now, they created a piece that perfectly recreates how it feels to be in the moment.
How would you react if you were a kind kindergarten teacher who was accused of sexually abusing a student? I’d have no idea how I would react, but somehow Mads Mikkelsen mustered the courage to face this question face on with a performance of humility. You know you’ve done a good job when a major plot point is based around nothing but your subtly hurt emotion within your eyes, and it isn’t phoned in as we react the same way to Lucas’s damage. When the rumor got spread around, some were disturbed and others laughed at its ridiculousness. Lucas himself was kicked from the very beginning just from the small accusation alone, never mind when it becomes an out of control storm of mass hysteria. Mikkelsen gives a contained portrayal of Lucas’s rage, and it is what keeps us believing his word the entire time when we could have easily doubted him.
It’s nice that a humble movie like The Artist jump started the careers of its lead actors and made them mainstream names. Jean Dujardin is slowly appearing in his own films, including Scorsese’s 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. Bérénice Bejo, on the other hand, worked with another big name director whose fame is for different reasons: Asghar Farhadi. Farhadi is acclaimed for his foreign films, especially 2011’s A Separation. His follow up to that instant classic is The Past, where Bejo faces a struggle between her previous life and the way she is now. This comes in the form of men, her ex husband (played by Ali Mosaffa) and her new love (played by Tahar Rahim). She gets emotionally attached to the both of them, and she does lose her cool a number of times within the film. Bejo reacts to situations dangerously, and you can sense from her that even she doesn’t know what the right action to take is. She isn’t a damsel in distress, but she isn’t a know-it-all either. She’s just a mother trying to do the right thing, and her tantrums are mostly towards herself and not to those she yells at. Bejo’s controlled performance as the explosive Marie is one that reminds us of the real kinds of emotions that are usually left outside of the cinema, and she is a perfect lead for another great Farhadi film.
I may not have been on board with Lee Daniels’ The Butler as much as others were. I felt it was a bit all over the place. The one praise I do agree with is the praise Forest Whitaker has been getting. Whitaker saves the film by being a firmly grounded anchor. While the movie tries to discuss Gaines’ past with his history played on screen, Whitaker shows that experience just by his actions and reactions. He is someone who has suffered for a long time and is finally finding safety with the practices he kept to for most of his life. You’ll find a grateful expression through Whitaker’s smile and his many ways of saying “thank you” through the way he talks. He is compassionate, loyal and humble. Whitaker adds a lot of true heart to a character within a film that tries to splurge emotions everywhere, and it goes to say something when a film full of a large ensemble cast playing American legends cannot keep up with one single butler.