These days, it seems as if the collective voice of moviegoers echoes the
And for once they're not talking about me or my fellow critics.
The discontent and, in some cases, the disdain is directed at some of our most delightful actors, beloved ones such as
None of which comes close to the mess poor
The directors —
It's not the actors and filmmakers themselves fanning the flames but the characters — a royal rash of unlikables appearing in edgy stories that have a dark heart and dark humor. Whether it will become an age or an era — or just a spiking fever — is yet to be seen, though
I am hopeful the pique persists. For inside the most irritating and irascible characters that Hollywood's top-flight talent has undertaken to portray is also some of the finest work we've seen on screen in years. Instead of irritation, the idea that films are doing such an excellent job of exposing so many baser qualities should be applauded. I take heart that so many made it onto the
The unlikables were not always such anomalies. Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles certainly felt no need to soften their blows. A few decades later, uncomfortably defining work was being done in films such as "Midnight Cowboy," with Dustin Hoffman's gritty, needy lowlife Ratso,
Meanwhile, TV has not simply embraced but become entrenched with antiheroics — "The Sopranos,"
The changing mood represents risk — real creative and career risk. Taken by the established, the entrenched and the rising alike, it could well be a game-changer if we allow it. For years, the grumble has been that Hollywood and filmmakers in general should take more chances. So why not redirect the outrage at the mediocre — there are plenty of choices on that front — and back the risk-takers even when it's uncomfortable?
Let me take a moment to distinguish between a villain and a dislikable.
Movie villains will not only always be with us, frankly we can't do without them. Where would the tension and conflict come from? Would the good guys even matter without the bad? A Batman without a Joker? A Valjean without a Javert? A 007 without, well, you get the point.
So not villains in the traditional sense. Consider something more in the vein of DiCaprio's audaciously awful Wall Street fleecer in "Wolf." Baroquely amplifying the already tawdry tale, his Jordan Belfort wallows in money and depravity, the normally sweet Jonah Hill going dark right alongside him as his depraved partner, Donnie Azoff. If anything, DiCaprio is creating an excellent body of work out of bad. Last year, it was
Consider the caustic matriarch Streep plays in
Take Blanchett's wonderfully insufferable turn in
Irritants all. Exceptional also.
If you seek the merits and set aside expectations, it might help diffuse the distress. Watching Fassbender and Paulson as a sadistic slave owner and his vengefully jealous wife conjure up evil and hate in luridly brutal ways in "12 Years A Slave" is horrific, yet they also make the unimaginable imaginable.
Less onerous but still prickly are Bruce Dern and
Let's return to the film that has borne the brunt of the burn — "Inside Llewyn Davis." It carries the double burden of being deemed by many moviegoers as a depressing tale as well as having an ungrateful, egomaniacal leading man. They seem to miss that Llewyn Davis is also a charming and obsessive artist, his brusqueness a barricade against deep emotional wounds.
Greenwich Village in the '60s was not an easy place. For aspiring singer-songwriters it was a caldron of disappointment. Yet a generation was defined by the failures like Davis as much as the successes, like Dylan. The Coens' have rendered the time beautifully, Isaac has realized it remarkably, an acutely incisive performance of a man stumbling through his wasted ambition.
Are these protagonists likable? Not always. But these artists are reaching for greatness. It's a risk. They are taking it. Shouldn't we?