Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Kung Fu?

Sam Rockwell is one of my favorite actors.  Of course, that isn't saying much, because I have a lot of favorite actors.  Here's a short and not comprehensive list: Leo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg (I like them, but it's mostly that they're Bostonians and do Boston films that puts them on this list), Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Giamatti, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, David Duchovny, Reese Witherspoon, James McAvoy, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Lindsay Lohan.  The last is a joke.  Clearly a joke.  I also follow directors and screenwriters, like Charlie Kaufman whom I've written about before.  Richard Kelly, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, and others are directors whose works I absolutely must see before I die.  There are few actors, however, that I decide deserve my full attention, to the point that, when I come upon them, I watch all of their work as soon as possible.  Sam Rockwell is one of those few.  He was first presented to me by a friend's suggesting that I watch Gentlemen Broncos--the suggestion coming in the form of, "Hey, you know that Jared Hess made a new movie?"--and his supreme skill was confirmed to me by next watching his performance in The Green Mile.  I say all of this as an introduction because, of all the actors I've listed above, Sam Rockwell may be the least known to the general public other than, perhaps, Adam Goldberg (whose Hebrew Hammer and (Untitled) are hilarious must-sees). 

In the middle of my Sam Rockwell kick I stumbled upon a movie called Snow Angels.  Kudos to David Gordon Green for directing a genius of a movie.  Seriously, it's brilliant.  Even without Rockwell I'd still say that the movie is brilliant, but Rockwell's presence boosts the quality of the film up a notch or two.  Of all the Rockwell films I've seen, his performance in The Green Mile still takes the cake (don't remember him?  He's the crazy guy in the jail that, as you find out at the end, actually killed the little girls, the crime of which John Coffey is convicted).  Yet as always his Snow Angels performance is stellar. 

Rockwell plays a recovering suicidal-drunk separated from his wife, with whom they have a young daughter.  After getting a job, turning to God, and seemingly putting his life back in order, Rockwell's character hopes to mend the relationship with his wife, played by Kate Beckinsale.  Beckinsale rebuffs him, at least in part because she has started having an affair and because she claims Rockwell hasn't changed.  Of course, constantly being rejected by his wife, finding out that his wife is having an affair, and not being allowed more time with his daughter despite the fact that the wife isn't a great mother with all the time that she spends carrying on her affair, Rockwell reverts to his drunken ways.  I won't ruin any more of the movie except to say that Rockwell plays the best drunk I've ever seen. 

Indeed, Rockwell's drunken scenes in the movie are the inspiration for the drunken character that I've written into my play.  My character swears a lot more than Rockwell's and isn't as aggressive as Rockwell's, but inspiration rarely leads to exact imitation.  After clearly losing a fight to the man with whom his wife is having an affair, Rockwell says, "You think you're tough?  You think you're tough because you've got a baseball bat... and pushed my head in the snow?"  It's hilarious in a terribly serious way.  Before the fight Rockwell repeats a line that has stuck with me since watching the film.  Rockwell's opponent threatens to beat Rockwell up, to which Rockwell replies, "Hey... you kung fu? Haha, hey... you kung fu.  You kung fu?"  I can't tell you how funny that is.

Nothing I can say will convince you of Rockwell's superb performance.  I'm not really talking about Rockwell anyway.  No, the point here is that inspiration can come from unexpected places.  I acknowledge the greatness of Rockwell's acting and the greatness of his character in Snow Angels but ultimately I despise the character, and the last thing that I want to do is promote a likeness to the broken character Rockwell portrays.  Yet that is precisely what I have done, in a way, by writing in a similar character to my play.  Like Rockwell's, my drunken character moves the negative action of the play, so I am not promoting the behavior but I do prolong it.  Most importantly, writers and artists must become acquainted with people, situations, and behaviors that they abhor so that they can write the best works possible.

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