Thursday, January 3, 2013

Question for the Week of Dec 31-Jan 6: Best Against-Type Role

Some actors appear in the same types of roles over and over. What's the biggest or best surprise you ever got from a performer taking an unexpected role?
WOW! Brilliant question, easy answer: Mad Dog and Glory, and it's even better because it's a double-switch. In John McNaughton's 1993 romantic dramedy, Robert DeNiro plays not the typical cop: he's a shy forensic photographer. His life is quiet and lonely and simple. He is not brave, and he may very well have "given up" on life being anything other than a slow grind. Meanwhile, Bill Murray plays a hardcore mob boss who tries to do standup - and bombs every joke. You can see this perverse idea in the trailer, below.

If I described it much more, I would start to review this picture, but a lot of comedy and impact is drawn from the complete twist on what you expect to see from Bill Murray. It's really a great piece of work by Murray, but my only complaint is that he doesn't do like 20 movies every year.

And Robert DeNiro is playing the sort of person that doesn't get tons of attention in film to begin with... He's good at playing this particular person, even if it's someone who's a coward, but sweet, and quiet yet funny. I've been down on the guy for a while lately, and it's amazing to remember how fine DeNiro could be when he took roles that make an actor have to dial the performance down.

Actually, it's been a long time since I've seen this pic, and I remember it fondly. I am going to review it over the next month or so. It might just get the MRQ treatment. And I've also decided that Bill Murray deserves his own tag on this site. He's the first actor and only to have one of those here...


  1. Albert Brooks in Drive might be the most brilliant against-type casting I've ever seen. As someone who will watch Broadcast News and Defending Your Life every time they are on TV, seeing Brooks as not just a villain, but a scary, brutal, physically threatening psychopath seemed like something you'd need CGI to accomplish. But man, does it work--there's no way that performance shouldn't have received a Supporting Actor nomination.

    What's more, rewatching Broadcast News after seeing Drive was like pairing a wine with food. Suddenly, the more malevolent aspects of Brooks's Broadcast News character really stood out: the petty joy he takes when he tricks John Hurt's character into admitting he doesn't know how many people are in the Cabinet, the ultra-cold line reading he gives after torpedoing Hurt's date with Holly all takes on a new, slightly more badass gloss.

    Another great bit against-type casting: Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk in Avengers. Rufallo's mainly known for playing laid-back slackers, so it looked like an accident waiting to happen to cast him as a mild-mannered, nervous guy-turned-rage monster. He also looked like he might be the worst casting as a scientist since Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough. Instead, he wound up being the highlight of one of the year's best films.

    I should probably watch Mad Dog and Glory again. I remember I strongly disliked it at the time, in large part because casting both Murray and DeNiro against type seemed too much like a stunt to me. I might have distracted myself out of catching a good performance.

    1. Ugh--I cannot spell Ruffalo's name correctly twice in a row.

    2. It's not a perfect movie, but it is one that's very easy to like. The trailer was sort of shocking, I think maybe they used the wrong score for those scenes, but... Anyway, it was very unexpected. I don't think there's any reason not to give it a shot - I just wish I could've found more embed vids to use in this post.

      I'd heard about Drive, but I still haven't watched it yet. Great joke, and yeah, you're dead right. I'd think CGI would be needed to make that dude genuinely scary.

      Actually, damn, I forgot to put that on my list of 2013 viewing! I think it might be fun to do exactly what you did and look back at Broadcast News (an old favorite). Unlike you, I didn't forget that Brooks played one of the all-time best villains: Hank Scorpio.

      Amazingly, Ruffalo fell into a gap of actors who I never saw in anything. But from what I heard about him, you're right and he was a left-field choice. And yes again, he was excellent.


Chime in!