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Celebrating Great Performances

Being an actor is hard - and most people should notice this. Spend a few moments trying to learn that exchange of dialogue from that movie you watched the other day, and you'll quickly realize that regurgitating lines while maneuvering your face in a way that matches what you're supposed to be feeling is like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head simultaneously (although I can do that


Being an actor is hard – and most people should notice this. Spend a few moments trying to learn that exchange of dialogue from that movie you watched the other day, and you’ll quickly realize that regurgitating lines while maneuvering your face in a way that matches what you’re supposed to be feeling is like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head simultaneously (although I can do that flawlessly.)

Good acting should capture your soul. I’ve seen plenty of movies where everything in the film was excellent, whether it be the direction or script or maybe even the costuming choices. But, the film failed to make the leap from just a good acting performance to a great ones ( and maybe you can blame the casting director for that). That being said, there are many different characteristics that make for good acting, you can’t just choose one, so here are a three movies in which I think the acting really shines through.

 Dogville (2003)

Dogville performances

Dogville (2003) – source: Lions Gate Entertainment

When I’m watching a film, I want it to be an enjoyable experience. I’ve seen my fair share of bad movies, but the difference between a good film, and a great film is its ability to immerse you into whatever world the director is trying to create , and the acting in the the film Dogville, directed by Lars Von Trier, is one example that stands out. It stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Margaret Mulligan, a stowaway who finds herself running away from the mob, finding solace in a small Colorado town. The locals are friendly to her at first, exchanging work for their secrecy. But, as her residency continues, the locals quickly take advantage of her, eventually leading to their demise.

What makes it tolerable is the fact that it is set in one centralized place. It immerses you into this world of love, hate, sex, and violence- something that you can’t take your eyes off of. Von Trier masterfully captures the feeling of distaste among the townspeople, particularly  when the wealthy Grace steps into the ‘sanctuary’ they call home. One scene with Kidman in particular is something in which the ‘epitome’ of great acting is on display.

Grace is a bit more wealthy than the townsfolk and the movie progresses, it becomes more apparent that the animosity grows between the two parties. So much so that, in order to “get back” at Grace, one of the elder men (in what is supposed to be a safe space for Grace) decides to rape her. Naturally, not too much pleasure was shown on Grace’s face. She had a look of pain, boredom, stoicism, and most surprising – melancholy. By the time we reach this point in the movie, Grace was being abused. She was tied to this metal contraption the limited her every move, the townspeople have given her the silent treatment, and basically every chore that everybody had was now up to her.

Kudos to Nicole Kidman for taking this role. It was extremely demanding not only to look at, but I can imagine what it must of felt like to good through all those situations. She played everything so well it’s crazy to think that her character’s emotional arc throughout the entire film went from: scared, to safe, then to angry, and back to scared. That’s what makes this film so great. And when you have a supporting cast that includes, Paul Bettany, and the late Lauren Bacall, it makes for one of the more intriguing acting performances I’ve seen.

Unfaithful (2002)

Unfaithful performances

Unfaithful (2002) – source: 20th Century Fox

Very good films should also make you feel. At the at end of a movie it should have you, as the viewer, asking introspective questions about yourself and possibly others around you; Unfaithful directed by Adrian Lyne is a movie that asks one of the more important questions that you could think of: How do you respond when you know your wife is cheating on you?

A suburban housewife goes on an errand run during what seems like an unusually strong windstorm on a bright New York City’s day. Being the small, frail woman that she is, Connie Sumner (played by Diane Lane) falls over and scrapes her knee. Conveniently enough, she falls on top of a handsome young book dealer named Paul Martel (played by Olivier Martinez) whose apartment is coincidentally a few steps from where they fell. He invites her inside for some tea, and gets a little bit too flirty. Realizing this is a mistake, Connie makes up an excuse to leave his apartment and quickly returns home to her husband Edward Sumner (played by Richard Gere.) This cat and mouse game goes on for a couple more weeks, until the inevitable happens.

Of course, any rational person could deduce that Paul and Connie would go on to have an affair. This doesn’t leave Edward too happy and because of this, Mr. Sumner hires a private detective to collect photos of the two on their trysts. He gets the proof he needs in order to confront his wife and he does. What occurs next is probably the most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. Richard Gere pretty much pours out his heart to his wife, even threatening to kill her because he was so angry. The tears and the look of anguish of his face were off putting, horrible, and distressing to watch.

It was a genuine reaction to a life ruining situation, and it definitely made it all the more sweeter when eventually Mr. Sumner got his revenge later in in the film. The entire movie was a master class in acting (even Erik Per Sullivan was bearable), and I thoroughly appreciated it. If a situation like this were to occur in someone’s life, I fully expect them to act like the characters did in this film.

Eastern Promises (2007)

Eastern Promises performances

Eastern Promises (2007) – source: Focus Features

In order to talk about this, I must discuss the evil corporation that is MPAA. As film fans, the MPAA hovers over us like a parent who is severely disappointed in their straight A child. We don’t do anything wrong, but they punish us anyway. You see, the MPAA has a long history of overreacting. The slightest bit of female nudity can immediately warrant a film an R rating, but on flip side in a PG-13 film you can get away with saying two “fucks” (as long as they’re not sexual) and still keep the PG-13 label.

Now, I’m not saying cursing will instantly send any prepubescent child into a cursing rampage, it’s just the petty things that  MPAA does that make it less than ideal, (if you want more on this subject, the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated provides excellent information.) That being said, I presume the MPAA absolutely loathe David Cronenberg.

With a career spanning forty years, this man has been making movies long before I was born, but I can appreciate them like they were released yesterday. As you know with Cronenberg, he’s notoriously know for having large amounts of (although not gratuitous) violence and sex in his films and his 2007 film Eastern Promises  starring Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen is certainly no exception.

Watts plays Anna Khitrova a midwife in London who still lives with her parents. One night, Anna discovers a diary that belonged to a 14-year-old that died giving child birth in her ward. The entire journal was written in Russian, so, she takes it to her uncle who translates it for her. It turns out the girl was raped and somehow had mob ties. Most normal people would have realized the situation and quickly removed herself from it, but that doesn’t happen. Mortensen plays Nikolai, a Russian mobster driver who is pretty much the eyes and ears of almost everything. He looks tough at first with his roughly drawn tattoos, a heavy Russian accent, and intimidating presence, but as certain circumstances occur he starts to show his true colors.

Yes, this movie is very violent at times, yes it can be a little frightening at certain points too. But, that doesn’t detract from how real it felt. Certain scenes in the movie blew me away from an acting standpoint. There’s one scene where Nikolai is getting assessed on whether or not he’ll get these stars tattooed on his shoulders. The look of stoicism on his face when the mafia leaders were questioning him about his prison history was something that a person going through predicament would have had, it was played off perfectly by Mortensen.

Viggo Mortensen should get more recognition than he receives, even though this man has been nominated for an Academy Award, you’ll never hear his name during conversations about acting greats. Now, I’m not saying his filmography is comparable to say Jake Gyllenhaal or Tom Hardy, but whenever I’ve seen Mortensen in a film, he’s always been consistent; he just takes his craft very seriously.

Take this video for example. Viggo Mortensen is talking about how authentic the tattoos were in the film, so much so, that when Mortensen went out drinking one night straight from shooting, he overheard a Russian couple speaking frantically worried that he actually was a part of the Russian mafia. From that day on, he started to wash the temporary tattoos as soon as he left the set. This is what film should be about, whether it be transporting the audience into space, on the beaches of Normandy, or in this case, the inner workings of the Russian mafia.

Good Acting Should Be Lauded

The acting performances that I’ve discussed are just some of the many roles actors take on to challenge themselves; and we, as movie fans should appreciate their abilities. Not only do these movies stir your creative spirit urging you, as an audience member, to reflect about circumstances in your own life, it also lets you know that the movie you’re witnessing is well crafted.

Viggo Mortensen, Richard Gere and Nicole Kidman have all shown (in their respective films) that they’re willing to go the extra mile in order to bring the most realistic and empathetic performance they could – this is the sort of acting should be commended. After all, what are good movies, without good acting?

What are your favorite acting performances? Let me know in the comments!

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

Alexzandria is a college junior who has an unhealthy obsession with classic films. She believes in order for a movie to be a true 'classic', it has to have been released before the year 1993. Living in Miami, Florida, she spends most of her time listening to BTS, and purging the world of communists.

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