Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #12 - Geoffrey Rush

photo by gdcgraphics
The King's Speech
 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
 Shakespeare in Love
 Les Misérables

Like Alan Rickman, success on the big screen came later in life for Geoffrey Rush.  But his first major role also won him an Academy Award.

It would be easy to dismiss his portrayal of broken piano genius David in the film Shine as a collection of quirks.  And indeed it is difficult to see past all of those outer twitches.  But Rush does not fill his performance with showy gesticulation for its own sake.  His character is so completely vulnerable and raw like an exposed nerve.  He simply acts what he feels, even if he cannot understand why.  And Rush lets you see how David's world only makes sense when he plays music.  He is a transfixing figure to behold when he lets his inner light shine (pun intended).

Rush is a chameleon type actor who can mold himself into whatever part he needs.  Simply look at two of his Victorian era performances: one as a manipulative courtier in Elizabeth and another as a witless stage manager in Shakespeare in Love.  Notice the complete difference in posture, cadence, and mannerisms, all coming believably from a character of the time (even though neither movie is that great).

He is also a master of restraint.  His role as the handler Ephraim in Spielberg's Munich is small but powerful.  He has very little to say and is often masking his thoughts with an unassuming smile.  And yet Rush imbues him with a sense of authority and power, though the outward signs would not indicate as such.  In The King's Speech, he plays another man of simplicity.  A frustrated actor-turned-therapist, he is a common man who must help an uncommon one.  He acts wonderfully as our window into the world of monarchy and we trust his sympathetic ear and his encouraging demeanor.

But when he needs to go big, Rush can go big.  People often speak of Johnny Depp's performance in Pirates of the Caribbean, and rightly so.  But Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbosa is also a bold and grand performance.  He uses uneducated sea fairing parlances without sounding uneducated.  He carries with him cruelty but intelligence beneath a hard-barnacled exterior.  He has the ability to turn his droll diction from humorous to menacing with incredible ease because we completely believe that he is the embodiment of old-timey sea fairing pirates.  If there was a Platonic ideal of movie pirates, it would be found in his Barbosa.

But his best performance to my mind was his Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.  Playing off of the amazing Liam Neeson, these two actors create a clash of charisma that explodes on the screen.  Rush's Javert is a man of iron.  There are no soft edges to him.  He is rigid and inflexible and a danger to Valjean at every step.  Rush does not give him a soft center the way Crowe does in the musical version.  There is a hardness through and through.  And yet… I cannot help but feel for Javert.  All of his softness has been squeezed out of him like a diamond under pressure.  But he tries to do what he thinks is right.  Even when Javert is unfair, you can never be too angry at him.  He is driven by a need to set the world right.  I completely believe that he sees Valjean as an evil man in need of capture.  And when Javert's world starts to crack, part of my heart broke for him.  Rush shows a man trying to hold together a world of contradictions, but trying his best never giving an inch to the outside world.  You don't see it, but you feel it.  And that is the genius of the performance.

Geoffrey Rush is still a much in demand actor and I want to see even more of his talent on the screen.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with this! He's one of the few actor I admire in terms of justifying the character in a movie. He's always been consistent in any role he played. I think he deserves to be included in Top Ten Greatest Acting Performances of All Time. And I also want to see him more in the big screen. I'm looking forward to that!