Colin Firth and the Strategy of Actors

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Colin Firth is a British actor I never tire watching even if his films are tiresome. His vulnerable, winning portrayals are due to his inquisitive eyes, expressive facial features, and an overall countenance that is understated yet pervasive. His gift combines the trials of an uncomfortable male while exuding a gentleman persona that captures the heart of his leading ladies. Initially you saw him in period comedies and dramas — Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC television series of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare in Love (1998), or in the flamboyant film version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest (2002) come to mind. Contemporary characters such as Mark in Bridget Jones’s Diary or Jamie in Love Actually, continue his trend of playing the conservative Brit in a wacky situation representing British dry humor for which he is a leader. And he deserved to be nominated for his performance in The King’s Speech (2010) for which he won Best Actor at the Oscars. He has the luxury to pick modern dramas or comedies. So then….

This brings me to ponder, in general, the strategy of the actor and his career. Let’s assume they all crave a forty-year career with stats bearing longevity and accolades to clutter the walls and mantles of their homes, and if British, to be a Sir or Dame would be an honor.

Let’s face it. Firth is a fine actor who plays in too many mediocre films. Does that help or hurt him? Consider Anthony Hopkins. He, too, is a fine actor who has starred in a life time of mediocre films. He’s knighted. He’s prolific. His performances are predictable. I can count on one hand superior performances while sixty others are forgettable. Counter that with the strategy of British/Irish Daniel Day-Lewis (and arguably Leonardo DiCaprio who is adopting DDL strategy) of selecting few roles. Quality vs. quantity. I remember every film DDL has made (and Leo) while the amount of films Colin Firth has made–well, can you remember more than a handful? But is Mama, Mia good?

Nicole Kidman is the female version of Firth.
Nicole Kidman is the female version of Firth.

I recently watched Railway Man. It had all the promise of an outstanding film. It had the cast. The story. And yet, there was something missing. The film was about Eric Lomax’s struggle with PTSD. Decades later. It debilitated not only him, but his mates who survived the torture of the infamous Burma Railway and the Japanese labor camp. Some are suicidal and most are incapable of sustaining emotional connections. The true story has a fantastic twist of forgiveness and closure; it’s the best ending that borders on a fairy tale. How amazing that Takeshi Nagase and Eric Lomax as the torturer and the tortured could become by the end of their lives friends. It’s incredulous, and yet, there it is, nothing short of inspirational.

When you have Firth, Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård in a film portraying true events, I wonder and hope the film has potential to be stellar. But this film is nothing compared to the classic, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). In The Railway Man, the acting by Firth is fine. Everyone’s acting in the film is strong. So is it the script by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson that seems lackluster and paling in comparison to other World War II films like Schindler’s List and The Pianist?  If you want to know the history behind Eric Lomax and The Railway Man, check out this site for differentiating Hollywood truth and fiction HERE.   My point is, The Railway Man is a magical story, and it didn’t come off that way to me. It felt mediocre. That’s a crime.

It made me squirm for Spectre this winter.
It made me squirm for Spectre this winter.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Did you like it? I saw some British dark humor in it that had me chuckling. Like Shaun of the Dead (2004), the scene where Galahad (Firth) swings through a radical congregation with a sword and decapitates the zombies to the tune of “Free Bird”.  Well, it was funny, in a sick way that had me recollecting Monty Python and the Black Knight scene in forest. “Tis but a scratch!” Dark British humor. Gotta love it.  However, the entire time I am watching Kingsman: The Secret Service, I kept wondering why Colin Firth chose to be in it? It was an awkward film. Samuel L. Jackson was horrible. It was a mediocre film at best.  

Because Firth can play comedy and drama smartly, like a favorite doll, I want to pick him up and place him in only great films. He’s a gifted actor who seems to stick out awkwardly in mediocre films. What do you think?

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