Friday, April 16, 2010

Why Bruce Dern Should be in Every Movie

A little context first. I was talking to the missus the other day and she said I should come up with more regular features on this site (like Celebrity Connections). I thought about it and then it hit me. I'd keep extending a piece I wrote last month about why Charles S. Dutton should be in every movie. It will be a regular adding to that short list of distinctive actors who make you perk up whenever they come on screen because no matter what, you know what's coming is going to be something good. I was watching Hal Ashby's emotionally effecting Vietnam tale Coming Home in which Jane Fonda plays a woman left behind as her husband (Dern) goes off to fight. She takes up a position as a volunteer nurse at a veteran hospital and there begins an affair with a wounded soldier played by Jon Voight. Although the film has little social relevance today it is still an effecting work because of the quality of the acting and the impact of the relationship between the two leads. Although the film is somewhat (maybe wrongly?) criticized for losing its course in the third act when Dern returns home after sustaining an injury, there is a scene within this time that I shall never forget. Dern, having been clearly effected by what he has witnessed in combat and by what his injury has done to his pride, finds out about the affair and erupts in anger over everything. A lot of actors play big scenes with big emotions. You can see them going into acting overdrive. They play bigger, they tremble, they raise their voice, they put the fruits of their entire craft on full display. Not Dern. His eruption is so pure and unexpected that it is almost hard to watch. He gives himself over to the scene entirely, cutting himself open and laying himself bare for the camera in the span of mere seconds. I've never seen anything quite like it before. It certainly may be the most honest and open scene Dern has ever played.
But now watch Dern play the goofy sidekick in Hitchcock's final film Family Plot
And now look at Dern as the ugly, emotionless villain of The Cowboys

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