Thursday, January 20, 2011

The 5 Best: Ed Harris

"Ask him, Edie....ask him how come he's so good at killing people."
-Ed Harris, A History of Violence

Lists. I'm obsessed with them. I love lists. They are useless in theory, so they exist only in the pleasure of discussion and debate.

Christy Lemire, AP writer and co-host of Ebert Presents At the Movies, has a regular series of lists called The 5 Best. This week, she tackles the 5 best performances from the great Ed Harris. Her picks:

1) The Truman Show, Christof
2) A History of Violence, Carl Fogarty
3) Pollock, Jackson Pollock
4) The Right Stuff, John Glenn
5) Apollo 13, Gene Kranz

This is a strong list. It almost mirrors my own choices, but I've never seen Pollock, and The Right Stuff hasn't resonated with me. The Truman Show is one of my favorites, but we're judging his performances, not his films. Despite being nominated, I felt that Harris's part was underwritten in The Truman Show, a film that belonged entirely to Jim Carrey. 

My picks, below:

1) The Abyss, Virgil "Bud" Brigman
2) Empire Falls, Miles Roby
3) A History of Violence, Carl Fogarty
4) State of Grace, Frankie Flanery
5) Apollo 13, Gene Kranz

Harris is an actor who rarely misses a step. His films may not always work, but he commits to every role he is offered. You never see him "phone it in." His role as Bud Brigman was the most committed I have ever seen him. Watch him as he balances the dangers of his job as the foreman of an underwater oil platform and walk the tightrope of a crumbling marriage. It's a brilliant leading performance in one of Jim Cameron's best films.

2005 was a great year for Harris. A History of Violence was my favorite film that year, where he plays a mob goon who attempts to disrupt Viggo Mortensen's new life. Harris terrorizes his family with menacing glee. Also that year he played Miles Roby in Fred Schepisi's faithful adaptation of Richard Russo's novel, Empire Falls. He leads a terrific ensemble as the sleepy owner of a diner who juggles his meddling family and middle-aged uncertainty. It's a warm performance, a wonderful contrast to his usually intense work.

In State of Grace, Harris is a live wire as Frankie Flannery, yet another mob figure with a short temper. He is none too pleased to be overshadowed by his volatile brother, superbly played by Gary Oldman. And lastly, another good guy role, and the best thing about Apollo 13, he played Gene Kranz, the flight director who, alongside Gary Sinise's Ken Mattingly, attempts to get our heroes back onto the ground after a troubled mission to the moon. I didn't care for the movie too much when it came out (I haven't seen it since then), but Harris's Oscar-nominated supporting role stood out amongst the other heavyweights.

Other performances I enjoyed that didn't make the cut:

Places in the Heart, Wayne Lomax
Glengarry Glen Ross, Dave Moss
The Firm, Wayne Tarrance
Needful Things, Sheriff Pangborn
Gone Baby Gone, Remy Bressant
Appaloosa, Virgil Cole

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