The First 10+ Titan and Reigning King of 3Rollerdom
Barring a margin of error in that (A) I haven’t exhausted researching the work of Olivier and Guinness and (B) I am not omniscient, I’m firm in my belief that Edward Norton is the finest actor alive, and probably ever.
come came close: Philip Seymour Hoffman (holy cow, pain) and Meg Ryan (I know!) can match the distinction between Qualifying Roles, but they don’t dissolve into them qui-i-ite as completely ~ I spend half my time marveling at the performance, whereas with Norton I find myself forgetting who I’m looking at and instead melt into the story (and marvel at the performance the next ten times).
Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman can reach the numbers and even touch the “melt factor” on occasion, but not with Norton’s level of concentration ~ hitting a seventh role with his fourteenth performance a mere nine years out of the gate is simply astonishing. (Not to mention two of which landed him Academy Award nominations.)
He distinguishes himself in another way I’m noticing as time goes on. Oldman’s work started me on the exhilarating habit of Role-counting beyond the requisite three. That was plenty exciting and has kept me happily occupied for over ten years ~ yet I’m now sensing that Norton’s work may demand a second classification.
Usually, an actor seems to plug into a certain resource for a Role, and then draws from it in various ways on future outings ~ hence, the “variations on a theme.” But Norton manages to pull from a single source in ways that defy mere variation.
To wit: in most cases Monty Brogan (25th Hour), Eisenheim (The Illusionist) and Walter Fane (The Painted Veil) would fall under a single Qualifying Role (King Baldwin IV, Kingdom of Heaven) ~ but with Norton they really can’t. Same for Brian Finn (Keeping the Faith) and Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk) under Will Graham (Red Dragon). Though similar, watch the whole film and you’ll see they can’t be switched.
Thus, I’m thinking I may have to start counting “variations on a Role” or some such. (?!) I suspect Ryan has had this capability, but I’ll have to go back and check ~ stay tuned (update: not anymore). In any case, Norton joins (and surpasses?) Oldman’s illustrious company in setting a new standard.
It isn’t often I meet such a brilliant actor with a penchant for justice. That’s deadly.
I predict three Oscars. (2014: What is up?? It’s the gift basket thing, isn’t it?)
Edward Norton’s Qualifying Roles
Aaron Stampler, Primal Fear
His film debut, his first Oscar nomination.
Lester “Worm” Murphy, Rounders
NSFW: R for Language
I’d swear I picked up something hilarious in one scene; if I ever get a chance to speak with him, I’m definitely asking.
Will Graham, Red Dragon
Here’s where he won my undying adoration. Red Dragon is my favorite novel of all time, and Will Graham my favorite character of all time, and Norton brought him perfectly to life ~ a little differently than I’d imagined in some ways, but that’s due to the De Laurentis’ [2013-rectified] insistence that We Can’t Handle the Truth. Norton’s Will actually surprised me a bit (rendering me Smitten in a single moment), and he did a brilliant job of including the excised trait though the screenplay allowed him to skate over it. I can’t imagine that wasn’t deliberate, but if I’m mistaken, bravo anyway, Mr. Norton, for creating the space in which I could be.
Variations on a Theme: Monty Brogan (25th Hour), Brian Finn (Keeping the Faith), Retired Col. Eric Byer, USAF (The Bourne Legacy).
Brian, The Score
I remain mystified that the world in general never seems to speak of this performance. If he’d played it exclusively, he’d probably be nominated for an Oscar (Tropic Thunder, I know, don’t even start going there…). As it stands, it seems to have run completely under the radar.
Walter Fane, The Painted Veil
Here we are in 2006. Range established, thus dawns the era of nuance. (This may look like Graham, Brogan, and Eisenheim; it’s not.)
There’s a better illustration, but it’s a pretty big spoiler if one’s paying attention.
Variation on a Theme: Nelson Rockefeller (Frida).
Derek Vinyard pre-enlightenment, American History X
There’s a better illustration, even, but it’s simply too incendiary to be shared here, and showing it without its context would be a crime against the film and everything it stands for.
With all due respect, Geoffrey Rush had nothing on this performance. Sunday dinner will leave you speechless.
Sheldon Mopes, Death to Smoochy
People really missed the boat with this film. It’s not a comedy, it’s a satire, and a biting one at that. Norton’s Sheldon delivers the guileless with aplomb (and prompts my second question for him…)
Variations on a Theme: Scout Master Ward (Moonrise Kingdom ~ and my 3rd question…).
King Baldwin IV, Kingdom of Heaven
This sublime performance captured [almost!] everyone’s attention ~ revealing not the complexity of his talent (as said one critic), but rather its magnitude. Beyond being able to play through the mask, Norton simply obliterated our need for a visage, period. In being unable to see Baldwin fully, we see Norton in clear relief (at the second viewing, that is ~ he was one step away from invisible the first time around!). Magnificent.
Variations on a Theme: Eisenheim (The Illusionist).
Brady Kincaid, Leaves of Grass
At this stage of the game (2010), we’re past his established ability to define disparate types of individuals, and well into his uncanny ability to channel individuality itself. (And what is up with the Academy by this point?? …It’s the gift basket thing, isn’t it?)
And this is why Johnny Depp’s array, while indeed remarkable, still to me ranks below Norton’s: Depp gets much creative leeway from the very nature of his fanciful characters, while Norton plays actual people, people we have to be able to recognize, people we might run into on the street. He plays with a substantially higher bar.
Gerald “Stone” Creeson, Stone
NSFW: R for Language
Edward Norton’s 10th Qualifying Role. Brilliant.
As Harlan in Down in the Valley. It’s really quite something to watch this unfortunate soul cycle through a variety of the ones above and display one or two of his own. Though not singularly distinct as a Qualifying Role, Harlan stands in his own right, and as such deserves mention.
On the Roller Watch
As Steve in The Italian Job. Steve would usually fall in step with Monty Brogan, who very definitely falls into the Will Graham theme… but Steve and Will are distinct. And wait ~ Monty also resembles Eisenheim, who resembles Baldwin, who’s diametrically opposed to Steve. So where does the role fit? I think Steve is his own unique role, but we haven’t seen the one yet who claims it beyond debate. It’s coming!