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Director Tony Kaye’s Detachment, one of the most provocative films shown at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, is now available on multiple platforms. Detachment features a remarkable ensemble cast that includes Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, Lucy Liu and outstanding newcomers Sami Gayle and Betty Kaye. The real standout of the film, however, is Academy Award® winner Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher who avoids emotional connections at all costs, never staying anywhere long enough to form a bond with either his students or colleagues.
Barthes, a lost soul struggling with a troubled past, finds himself at a public school with an apathetic student body and a frustrated, burned-out staff. Barthes’ pragmatic style and honesty with his students inadvertently make him a role model for his students. Against his better judgment, he gets involved by helping a runaway teen who is just as lost, and Brody skillfully conveys Henry’s gradual realization that he is not alone in his struggle to find beauty in a seemingly vicious and loveless world.
It was Adrien Brody’s portrayal of Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist that garnered him well-deserved mainstream recognition (including an Oscar) and has allowed him to take on many diverse roles in films such as The Village, Hollywoodland and The Darjeeling Limited and Detachment. Whatever the film, Adrien Brody’s performances are inherently creative, and we could not help but notice how often Brody chooses to portray artists of all kinds. Even in Detachment, Brody's Henry Barthes is a creative teacher who seems at ease only when he is helping his students to hone their writing skills or challenging them with concepts such as "doublethink." In honor of Adrien Brody’s artistic bent, we are showcasing six films that that feature compelling Brody-as-Artist performances. Enjoy the master at work.
Role: Rudy Stein
Playing the artistic type seems to come naturally to Adrien Brody. With his long face, soulful eyes and crooked smile, he looks like he belongs in a West Village apartment, smoking a cigarette and sitting at a typewriter. In Bullet, Brody takes on the role of a tortured graffiti artist, Ruby Stein, whose big brother, Bullet (Mickey Rourke), has just gotten out of prison after an 8-year sentence. Ruby seems doomed to become part of Bullet’s drug-fueled, violent lifestyle in spite of his obvious artistic talents, but when he is stabbed in the hand while driving a getaway car for Bullet, Ruby is transformed. Brody, a marvel to watch, beautifully conveys Ruby’s shock and pain, letting out a guttural cry with the realization that he may never paint again. When Bullet sacrifices his own life to keep Ruby safe, Brody is heartbreaking to watch. Many young actors would have been intimidated by Mickey Rourke, but Brody matches Rourke’s intensity with surprising maturity in scene after scene. The two actors are the emotional core of the film, and the chemistry that the young Brody establishes with Rourke bodes well for his budding career.
Role: Chris Calloway
Restaurant is an interesting little indie film featuring a talented cast (Simon Baker, Jesse L. Martin, Elise Neal, and David Moscow, to name a few) led by Adrien Brody as Chris Calloway, a promising playwright and recovering alcoholic. Calloway works alongside other struggling young artists in a New Jersey restaurant. All are dreaming of a career in show business, but Brody’s Chris is anything but delusional. He gets a major opportunity when one of his plays is chosen for a prestigious showcase, but he can’t get over the fact that the guy who stole his girlfriend (Lauryn Hill) is chosen as the lead. Brody subtly conveys the essential desperateness of Calloway, who understands that he is poised to repeat his endless cycle of broken relationships and dreams. Brody’s performance stands out in this somewhat predictable tale of the struggles of aspiring artists, and the film does manage to touch on a few weighty issues such as alcoholism and commitment phobias. Brody was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his performance as Chris Calloway, and rightfully so. Because of him, Restaurant is worth a watch.
Summer of Sam (1999)
Adrien Brody’s chameleon-like ability to disappear into each role is especially evident in Spike Lee’s incredibly underrated Summer of Sam. The film, set in the hot summer of 1977, deals with events in an Italian-American Bronx neighborhood that is reacting to the ongoing “Son of Sam” murders. Brody plays Richie, a punk rocker who is threatening because he is different. Enamored with the punk scene and his band, Late Term Abortion, Richie sports spiked hair and a Union Jack T-shirt and is an enigma to the neighborhood guys that he grew up with. Unlike his friend Vinny (John Leguziamo) and the other goombas in the neighborhood, Richie is determined to better himself, and Brody is excellent as the punk wannabe who speaks with a faux-British accent and will do anything to escape his old life in the Bronx and achieve his dream of becoming a musician, including working as a performer in a porno theater for cash to buy a new Fender. Brody masterfully conveys Richie’s confusion and frustration at being continually misunderstood and ultimately vilified, giving Richie a core of integrity and strength that ultimately makes him the sole admirable character in the film.
The Pianist (2002)
Role: Wladyslaw Szpilman
To play the real life musician Wladyslaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, Adrien Brody reportedly dropped 30 pounds and sold his car and apartment so that he could experience a feeling of loss and so identify with Szpilman, a Polish Jew who underwent incredible hardships in the Warsaw Ghetto but miraculously survived with the help of the Polish resistance. As the film opens, Szpilman is playing Chopin on Warsaw radio while bombs are falling. Szpilman is so focused on his performance that the explosions barely register, and his resolve to continue to playing no matter the danger sets the tone for his character. Brody’s performance is remarkable. He effectively conveys that Szpilman is not a hero but rather a man who is merely attempting to survive. When the horrors of war become too much, Szpilman retreats into his memories of music, and Brody’s mobile face conveys the gradual changeover from terror to serenity that music brings about for the character.
At the climax of the film, Spzilman is forced to take shelter in a ruined house where the only remaining furniture is, ironically, a piano. Brody’s Spzilman slowly succumbs to his desire to play, and when a German captain hears him, the two men find common ground in their love of music. Brody manages to convey both the sensitivity and strength of this complicated artist, more than earning the Oscar he was awarded for his performance.
King Kong (2005)
Role: Jack Driscoll
When you think of King Kong, you don’t immediately think of Adrien Brody, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The heart of the film is the love story between a girl and the gorilla. In the somewhat bloated 2005 remake of the 1933 classic, Brody plays Jack Driscoll, a struggling yet talented playwright who, against his artistic tendencies, agrees to write the screenplay for a new film by the notorious (and secretly bankrupt) director, Carl Denham (Jack Black). Driscoll takes a leap of faith and gets on the filmmaker’s chartered ship, which is heading to Skull Island. On the ship, Driscoll meets Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), the film’s leading lady, and instantly falls head over heels in love. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a tribute to the films from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and Brody ably embodies the look and feel of a 1930s leading man who won’t stop at anything to save the day or get the girl.
Brody makes believable Driscoll’s transformation from lovelorn opportunistic playwright to action hero. Brody is appealing, brave and incredibly sexy as he fights dinosaurs, giant mosquitoes and many other unidentifiable creatures to save Ann. Few other modern actors could make a cardboard character multi-faceted, but Brody manages to play Driscoll as sensitive and physically powerful at the same time, a feat that makes Jackson’s King Kong worth re-watching.
Midnight in Paris (2012)
Role: Salvador Dali
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris featured many different and influential figures that peopled Paris in the 1920s. Through a magical car that ferries him to this other world, Gil (Owen Wilson), a mild mannered novelist, stumbles into this dream decade and meets Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and many others. One of Gil’s most memorable exchanges with Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dali and his fellow surrealists. In a brief 3-minute scene, Brody shines as Dali, babbling about his artistic vision as he draws Gil’s portrait, complete with a Rhinoceros and a Christ-like face. Mastering the art of speaking French with a Spanish accent, Brody embodies all the quirks of the famous surrealist Dali, and fits in beautifully with Luis Bunuel and Man Ray who join him companionably. Brody plays the self-absorbed Dali with glee, and it is a joy to watch him flex his funny bone. The resemblance between Dali and Brody is remarkable, especially with Brody sporting the trademark mustache.
What's your favorite Adrien Brody performance? Tell us in the comments below.
Detachment is now playing on nationwide VOD. The film will open in New York on March 16; in Los Angeles on March 23; and in Dallas and San Diego on March 30, with more cities to follow. Find out how and where you can watch it.
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