Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Montage Revokes Your License! This week: Willem Dafoe
O Willem, would thou hast not given in to temptation, and from temptation be delivered from evil (Speed 2: Cruise Control, Body of Evidence,) thou wouldst not have been the first to die here on these pages. As it stands, however, Biblical lamentations aside, Willem Dafoe’s license must be revoked. Yea and verily his particular talent cannot be denied, as it is showcased in dozens of quality films, but the truth of it is that when Dafoe makes a rotten choice, it is as the corpse that poisons the spring, so thoroughly does it muddy his previous achievements.
First let us look at Dafoe’s winning achievements, for there are many. Platoon was an early success for young Willem, and the pairing of the oft-described “craggy faced” actor with the then-talented Oliver Stone pulled at the heartstrings and outraged audiences with its gritty telling of some of the less savory aspects of the Vietnam War. (Funny how no on has ever managed to make a “nice” Vietnam movie-say a “Hogan’s Heroes” about the Vietcong? But we’ll get to that later.) The iconic image of Dafoe’s Sgt. Elias Grodin, arms raised in ragged desperation as he is gunned down by his psychopathic colleague in the jungle is not easily wiped from the movie-goer’s filmic consciousness. Likewise, his performance in Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ garnered controversy and cries of blasphemy for the actor, but more importantly, it was an interesting film and Dafoe was just plain good in it. He went on to do more mediocre and non-starter films, but also a tonne of really cracker productions like American Psycho, The English Patient, and Auto Focus, where he plays the creepy John Carpenter, the perverted foil to Greg Kinnear’s Bob Crane, the pulpy-headed star of “Hogan’s Heroes.” (See, we did come back to it.) Dafoe even does comedy well, playing the misanthropic seaman Klaus Daimler in The Life Aquatic and excels at vampyric longing when he asks “Is that Greta Schroeder?” in Shadow of the Vampire. When taken in the long view, Willem Dafoe is a great actor, capable of making bold choices and fulfilling his promise with intense, crepuscular performances in interesting films of wildly varying degrees of watchability. This is why he must be sanctioned.
Let us look at Body of Evidence, shall we? The watchword here is Madonna. Admittedly, this was before Madge was branded “Box Office Poison” with a red hot poker, but one can imagine Dafoe in his agent’s office, flipping idly through the script and nodding eagerly at all the graphic sex he will be performing with his leading lady. One is less sure of Dafoe for doing the film after asking “And who do they have me performing cunnilingus on and raping?” Upon hearing the words “Madonna,” most sensible actors, if not only fearing for their sexual safety, would at least politely decline and drive home at top speed for the hottest shower they have endured, but no, audiences were treated to Dafoe munching away happily at Her Madgesty’s crowning glory while everyone else in the film (Joe Mantegna, Julianne Moore, Frank Langella and Anne Archer,) acted better and didn’t have to apply any unguents after filming wrapped.
Next we have The Boondock Saints. Oh glory be that this movie was ever made. Considering that the director/screenwriter was a first-timer on both counts with a dodgy sense of right and wrong and even more suspect claims to talent, it seems little wonder that when released the film was given so little credence. Sure, the script was Hollywood’s Next Big Thing when it was written, but scripts that languish in obscurity for years do not great movies make, in particular when hands are thrown up in the air and the novice writer is asked to direct on a tiny budget with no release date in sight. So why then, did Willem Dafoe, bright Hollywood star, take the role of evidence-licking, crime-scene dancing, walkman-loving Agent Paul Smeckler? What part of “Um, so, we er, won’t be able to pay you at scale, and uh, we kinda messed up the shooting schedule, so we, like, have two weeks, and stuff. Can I stay at your place?” did Dafoe like? Maybe his girlfriend was a Norman Reedus fan. (Improbable. No one likes Norman Reedus.) Maybe he liked the idea that people who kill people should be killed, (does raise the issue of mental health problems,) or, just maybe Dafoe really thought that he was, yet again, playing in an edgy thriller that would challenge his limits as much as those of his audience? Audiences were challenged, all right. Challenged to sit through a film of such preachy pap and egotistical jawing that it was not hard to discern that the writer/director was a baboon loose from the zoo who had managed to get hold of a camera and six ounces of cocaine. Willem, Willem, what were you thinking?
Sadly, this brings me to the third undulating blemish on Dafoe’s CV, and his most recent outing in British cinemas. Mr Bean’s Holiday stars the egregious Rowan Atkinson as the titular boob in a comedy malfunction dealing with child abduction and film set disruption. Was Bean so good that Dafoe called his beleaguered agent and said ‘Dammit, get me on the next Mr Bean film or it’s your ass.” Was working on the assured blockbuster Spiderman franchise such a mind-warping experience that he had to go the other way and do a Bean movie, ten years after the first one bombed? Not even the role makes sense. Dafoe is Carson Clay, a film director whose latest project is foiled time and time again by Bean’s buffoonish bumblings. Clay is a bog standard villain who doesn’t even get the girl. Maybe Dafoe thought there would be graphic sex scenes, because other than showing that he has an under-developed sense of humour, taking this role makes no sense. So roll up your sleeves, Mr Dafoe, and put down that script, for your license has been revoked.
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