Lesser Spotted Bridges... Ian Freer On Overlooked Jeff Bridges Classics
Posted on Monday June 13, 2011, 11:18 by Ian Freer in Empire States
It is often a shame when an actor becomes so identified with one role that it is to the detriment to a whole body of work that came before it. Take Jeff Bridges. For the Empire generation, he is El Duderino — we’re not into that whole brevity thing — in The Big Lebowski, cinema’s greatest slacker, a man who has done more for toking, White Russians and bowling than anyone in history. It is a performance of laidback, sly comedic perfection that has come to characterise Bridges’ persona and the perception of it.
Which is a crying shame for as the current BFI season reveals, Bridges is an actor whose early résumé is filled with with a raft of overlooked gems. Throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s, his consistency rivaled De Niro but without any of the flash and grandstanding. Bridges specialized in playing bruised but obviously recognizable human beings, not only in classics like The Last Picture Show but also less well known flicks; the drifter turned bank robber Lightfoot in Michael Cimino’s Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, the rich boy who turns to the subculture of body building in Bob Rafelson’s Stay Hungry; the brother of the assassinated Kennedy-esque president in Winter Kills, doing his best to lie low but drawn into the murky aftermath of his brothers death.
Yet perhaps the most deserving overlooked film in Bridges’ first ten years is Cutter’s Way. John Heard has the showy role as the one-eyed, one-legged drunk Vietnam vet who becomes obsessed with solving the murder of a runaway girl but it is Bridges’ film as the quieter, more challenging role of Bone, the country club gigolo who witnessed the crime in the first place. It is the kind of character study that serves Bridges well, allowing his effortless, low key acting style to shine. Of course, it also shines against the vastness of Heaven’s Gate or the spectacle of Tron, but Bridges is at his best playing a luckless loser on the margins of the mainstream. He is one of cinema’s great outsiders.
Pauline Kael once suggested Bridges may be “the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor who ever lived”. Do you agree? Who can take on Bridges in the naturalism stakes? And which other actors CV’s are perhaps unjustly dominated by one role?
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Posted on Thursday June 16, 2011, 11:25
I'd suggest Gene Hackman also be up there in the natural stakes. In The French Connection it's so much like he's just 'being', rather than acting. In terms of New Hollywood, I'd group Ryan Gosling and Ben Foster into this category. Foster still needs his breakthrough but is consistently good.
Posted on Thursday June 16, 2011, 14:10
Who else is that natural... Gary Oldman in everything he does..... but speaking of Jeff's golden gems that don't get enough credit... Starman... maybe his best performance ever in my book
Posted on Saturday June 18, 2011, 11:06
There are many actors who have a natural, effortless grace to their work but Bridges is certainly high up on the list. He is without question one of the greatest actors of the last 30 years. More of his most underrated performances include Fearless, Tucker: The Man And His Dream, American Heart, Fat City and in many ways The Fabulous Baker Boys.
It's hard to believe this guy has the reputation he does have in Hollywood when the majority of his best work has hardly been seen by anyone.
Posted on Sunday June 19, 2011, 14:11
The trickiest bit about having a career dominated by that one, defining role, is that it sets up a scenario where movie studios keep offering the same roles, and a certain portion of the audience keeps requesting the same role as well. Hugh Jackman, for example. Regadless of what he does now, his career will never develop along the path it might have had he not become "Wolverine," probably in the same sense that--no matter the number of roles he's played--Harrison Ford will always be "Han Solo" and "Indiana Jones" or Elijah Wood will be "Frodo" or "That Hobbit" [and boy does poor Wood keep trying to NOT just be Frodo].
For the longest time, it seemed as if Johnny Depp was immune to being typecast or eclipsed by one character... but that's pretty much moot now that he's likely going to the grave "Captain Jack Sparrow." Which is a pity, because Sparrow is just the kind of easy, one-note character that can bury the Gilbert Grapes and Donny Brasco's of his career.
I think every major actor / actress, however, will always have a character they will never shake off, even as they win awards and critical acclaim for other roles. I love John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and Kate Blanchett. I've watched nearly all of their films, and have enjoyed... well, almost most of them. But I can't pretend that I know I'm watching Valmont, Orlando and Galadriel on screen.
It's odd, though, 'cause Jeff for me will always be, "Hey, isn't that the prince in that Fairy Tale Theater Rapunzel movie?! It is!" Oh, and also: "Oh hey! He's also that prince in The Last Unicorn!" A bit less glamorous than The Dude, eh?
Posted on Wednesday July 6, 2011, 12:51
Bridges is a great actor (all time top 5 for me), but there is one who I think is even more watchable, and that’s Gene Hackman. For my money, Hackman was the best film actor there’s ever been – he had enormous range and was always convincing no matter what register he was playing in.
Like Bridges, he was a master when it came to relaxed, subtle, seemingly effortless acting, and could inflect his voice in interesting ways. However, he could invest his performances with a riveting power and energy when a scene demanded it. (this was sometimes mistaken for Pacino-style showboating by less discerning critics, but there was never anything forced or contrived about it with Hackman)
He also had a flair for comedy which is rare among dramatic actors, and I’ve yet to be convinced Bridges has that, in spite of the plaudits for the overrated mess that is The Big Lebowski.
I’ll concede that Hackman didn’t always choose his material carefully, suffered from over-exposure at times and phoned it in on the odd occasion. However, when he was on form (which was often), the detail, naturalism and conviction of his acting was astonishing.
He was a very pure, very simple actor, just like Bridges. (‘simple’ is not easy to do of course)
The New Yorker critic David Denby said: “He is a powerful yet unemphatic performer, with such an intimate, easy and unforced relation to whatever situation he’s in that you simply accept everything he does as an expression of his entire being.”
When compared the actors do have different auras about them and exude different qualities. Bridges may be the most laid-back performer ever, but Hackman is unrivalled in his ability to convey moral ambiguity and different shades of anger.
Pauline Kael said: "Gene Hackman can give gloriously jaunty, unpredictable performances. He can be the best we've got."
My point is this - Hackman and Bridges are clearly in a different league from supposed greats like De Niro, Pacino, etc.