Spectators can stay surprised at the vision that greets them at the very beginning of Elvisthe movie of Baz Luhrman premiered last week in the rest of the world and will arrive in Argentina next week. That grotesque overweight manwith sallow skin, aged and sickly appearance who assures that no, that he did not kill Elvis Presley, is none other than Tom Hanks.
the famous actor, six-time Oscar nominee for Best Actor and winner two years in a rowis the same one who played the holy innocent of Forrest Gump (1994, which gave him one of his golden statuettes) and the heroic lawyer and AIDS victim who takes on the establishment in Philadelphia (1993, his other Academy Award). But here it appears in a very different light. We’re so used to seeing Hanks playing selfless heroes as an airline commander dealing with disaster in Sulli (Clint Eastwood, 2016), or his representations of lovable “common guy” as the grieving husband of love tune, the successful romantic comedy that Nora Ephron directed in 1993, which it’s quite a shock that he doesn’t appear on screen as an epitome of decency.
In 1971, Richard Attenborough was chosen to embody the necrophiliac serial killer English John Christie in the macabre biopic of Richard Fleischer The Rillington Place Strangler. Seeing Hanks as the sleazy, corrupt Colonel Tom Parkersigning deceitful contracts in Elvis’s name with mobster Las Vegas casino owners, is almost as surprising as it was to see Attenborough’s Christie drugging and strangling young women.
This happens because, like Attenborough, Hanks is loved and revered. Even if Hanks is caught fucking in public – as happened a couple of weeks ago, when a somewhat excited fan took his wife in front of him in a restaurant -, the press reacts with dismay. Why, then, would Luhrmann be so wicked as to ask Hanks to deal with Parker?the con-artist showman who managed Elvis’s career?
Whether the Colonel was ever a Colonel is a moot point. In the movie, when he first meets Elvis, he’s an obscure carnival promoter and music manager with a keen eye for big opportunities. He notices that everyone is listening to an early Elvis hit, “That’s Alright”and discover that the singer is white. Elvis, he realizes, is potentially the most lucrative meal ticket he has ever come across and will ever come across in his life.
In any case, Luhrmann gives signs that this It’s not going to be your typical Hanks performance. from the very beginning, aging it and adding weight to it. The Colonel’s corpulence makes him look even more morally grotesque.
“I’m not interested in malevolence, I’m interested in motivation”, the actor told New York Times In a recent interview promoting the premiere of Elvis. In his interpretation, Parker is cynical and opportunistic. His business decisions make Elvis a millionaire and him even richer, but lead inexorably to the destruction of the singer. It allows Elvis to become addicted to prescription drugs and drives him to explore every low-level business opportunity available, be it selling Elvis-branded toys, home appliances, or even Christmas sweaters. Elvis can’t tour internationally because Parker is actually Dutch and is in the United States illegally.. If he leaves the country, he is terrified that he will not be allowed to re-enter.
But if you look through the history of cinema, you will find many other examples of occasions in which the directors deliberately chose the most pious actors to portray the most diabolical characters.
Why the director of spaghetti westerns Serge Leone chose to Henry Fondathe blue-eyed American who was everyone’s hero, to play the toughest and sadistic killer imaginable in Once upon a time in the West, from 1968? What led the lovable clown robin-williams -the star of Mrs Doubtfire Y Jumanji– to interpret unctuous, very photographic technical accident who starred in Mark Romanek’s dark thriller Portraits of an obsession (2002)?
And there it is Tony Curtisthe affable star of One Eve and two Adams by Billy Wilder, appearing as the deranged mass murderer Albert DeSalvo in The Boston Strangler (Richard Fleischer, 1968), the revered British actor alec guinness thinking it was a good idea to play the Adolf Hitler with wild hair and a mustache The last ten days of Hitler (1973); and the Oscar winner octavia spencerthe lovable and resilient heroine who confronted everyday racism and sexism in Crossing stories (2011) and hidden talents (2016), terrifying to all those teens in the horror movie Ma (2019), by Tate Taylor.
On some level, these are examples of a daring casting. The filmmakers are giving the audience a good shake by playing on their expectations. Actors and actresses who are thought to be trustworthy, and suddenly exhibit extreme evil.
In many of his movies, Alfred Hitchcock could hint at the basic instincts of characters played by popular male leads like James Stewart and Cary Grant. Were they voyeurs or murderers or sexual sadists? Hitchcock unsettled viewers with these questions.
Certain actors become the equivalent of National monuments. For some directors, the temptation to graffiti those monuments it’s overwhelming. As Christopher Frayling wrote in his biography of Leone, the Italian filmmaker wanted to “shock the audience” with the contrast between the character Fonda played in once upon a time in the west and “Fonda’s face, a face that for so many years had symbolized justice and kindness.” It was as if Leone was turning Abraham Lincoln into Charles Manson.
At the same time, a movie is likely to have a extra emotional depth if the villain is represented in a more complex and subtle way. seeing Loss (2014), one does not expect the Amy of Rosamund Pikea beautiful, saintly wife who has disappeared on the day of the fifth anniversary of her marriage, be revealed as a scheming villain. The closest Pike had previously come to the dark side was when she played the treacherous Miranda Frost in the film james-bond Another day to die (2002), but there it was in an ironic way, bordering on kitsch, and didn’t prepare viewers for the Machiavellian extremes reached the plan designed against her husband, the hapless Ben Affleckin Loss.
There is a similar measure of surprise when the detective in Denzel Washington in Training Day (Antoine Fuqua, 2001), who is teaching the youngest detective the basic rules of Ethan Hawkeis revealed as a bloodthirsty stalker psychopath. He comes across as infinitely more dangerous than any of the drug dealers and murderers ostensibly on the other side of the law. “King Kong is not going to shit on me!”, the detective shouts to the crowd around him as his power is fading.
Washington is a totemic figure in American cinema, who has received multiple Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. He has played historical figures such as the anti-apartheid activist Steve Bikko in Freedom Cry (Richard Attenborough, 1988) and the radical leader for human rights in Malcolm X (Spike Lee, 1992). Fans respect those performances but still tend to have more vivid memories of him as the scheming policeman with a volcanic temper than in all the other heroes he knew how to embody.
The same applies to Al Pacino. He is one of the great actors of the Method, but one of the scenes that fans enjoy the most of all his work is that of his gangster Tony Montana in the midst of a hail of bullets at the end of Scarface (1983). Yes, he was very good -and semi-villainous- in The Godfather and in dog afternoon, but those performances pale before the pyrotechnics of Scarfacewhen he is firing bursts from his machine gun before falling down riddled with bullets.
The attraction of embodying villains is obvious. Can be lucrative. Angelina Jolie enjoyed his biggest box office hit when she embraced the dark side and embodied the evil queen in maleficent (2014). It’s a way for “clean” actors and actresses to show a new dimension, often winning an award in the process. It is also funny. meryl streep seems to be enjoying herself a lot more when she plays an extremely caustic magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) that when he is suffering for his art, putting the body to all those sanctimonious characters with weird accents in some of his early roles.
On certain occasions, stars trapped in a scandal they can repair their reputations by playing villains. Now it can be hard for the public to accept a Will Smith as the conventional protagonist after his attack on Chris Rock at the Oscars this year, but this could free him up to take on more complex, less flawless characters.
Long before his serial killer The Rillington Place Stranglera much cooler looking Attenborough had been Pinkie Brownthe razor-wielding gang leader in young scarface (1948), director’s adaptation John Boulting of Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. Later in his life, Attenborough was still haunted by a review of the Daily Express in which critic Leonard Mosley had referred to him as “a pimply, repellent teenager,” and had suggested that “Graham Greene’s version of Pinkie in the movie is as close to the real thing as Donald Duck is to Greta Garbo.”
In the case of Elvis from Luhrmann, there is such a reserve of goodwill towards Hanks that he can take on a scoundrel like Parker without hurting his reputation. Arguably the problem with his work is that It’s not villainous enough. With his hat and his safari suit, he has a folksy charmsomething cartoonish. Hanks was a mob thug in Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes, 2002), and he has occasionally strayed from the typical in other roles, but it’s not enough. If he really wants to prove his credentials as a full-fledged screen villain, he’ll have to go all-in on the Attenborough method and be a serial killer
* Of The Independent From great britain. Special for Page 12.