While watching David O. Russell’s American Hustle a few evenings ago, I started thinking about how much harder it can be to portray the “good” guy, the one who walks the straight-and-narrow, compared to the “bad” guy or the character struggling with emotional issues and obstacles. So many of the main players in American Hustle received acclaim for their performances and yet the good guy, Mayor Carmine Polito-portrayed wonderfully by Jeremy Renner- seemed sadly overlooked. If that character wasn’t infused with just the right amount of sincerity and heart, it could have come across as stereotypically cliche and then the whole thing would have just fallen apart.
Richard has said that playing characters that are closest to himself is difficult. I can understand that. When I was little, playing “pretend” with my friends, I always preferred to be the disruptive student when playing School; the annoying child when playing House; the rogue cop when playing with the boys.
I was able to become someone that I wasn’t in real life but someone that I had inside of me, just the same; it was very freeing. Playing the good kid though, or the quiet student, the obedient soldier, was confusing. The self-consciousness and second guessing quickly crept in, making it all seem too real.
So when “good” characters like Harry Kennedy and Alec Track get discounted for being easy, I must respectfully disagree.
Harry had to have just the right amount of affability, while leaving enough room for self-doubt, in order for it all to culminate in the ending proposal scene. He had to be charming enough to get the unflappable Geraldine nervous but aloof enough to not appear arrogant.
The proposal wouldn’t have worked nearly as well
without Harry pulling nervously at his collar and giving those confused awkward pauses while Geraldine moved full force ahead, oblivious.
Harry wasn’t there just for Geraldine to bounce jokes off of,
the jokes were there because Harry set them up.
Similarly, Alec Track was the sun his coworkers orbited around. He could have been the condescending boss, making Paul’s attempts at stealing his girl justifiable. He could have been the neglectful boyfriend, hiding Jane away out of some kind of commitment phobia, instead of the dedicated leader who was trying to do what was best for everyone involved. Richard gave Alec integrity enough that dragging his feet in the romance department didn’t automatically warrant harsh condemnation.
I’m not trying to take anything away from the “bad/struggling” characters that Richard portrays so well, just that the “good” guys may have more depth and purpose than they’re getting credit for. This is often why I respect the Best Supporting accolades even more than the main character praise because
they must possess strong shoulders, to raise those others to greatness.