Friday, February 17, 2012

From Third Rock to Superstar

If there is any actor today whom I would call "the actor of our generation", it would be Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Believe me, if it comes as a surprise to you, imagine how shocked I am.  I am one of the people who never liked 3rd Rock From the Sun.  Truth be told, on occasion I did laugh, but for some reason, I kept wishing he'd get his hair cut.  Why this aspect of Gordon-Levitt's performance so irritated me I cannot say for sure. 

However, once he did get his hair cut, somehow I found he had transformed into not just a great actor, but one of extraordinary range.  I confess to missing his first few major turns in such films as Stop-Loss or Mysterious Skin, but it was clear that JGL was looking for parts that called on him to portray all kinds of characters.  In other words, he was passionately interested in becoming an actor, not a star.

I imagine this would explain his appearance in a very small independent film called Latter Days, which I did see.  I thought it was a documentary about Mormons, so I was surprised to find it's a feature film about a closeted Mormon missionary who discovers sexual passion in the arms of a wildly promiscuous party boy (one who in turn discovers true love with a man so conversely opposite from him).  His role as the straight Elder who is almost perpetually bitter about things but sincere in his faith is a remarkably small one, but his few scenes show his true acting ability.  His Elder Ryder isn't portrayed as a bad/evil person, but one who has a prejudice against what he sees as ungodly sexual attractions.  Even with that, in his final scene, he's shown to have a bit of a heart. 

It isn't until I saw him in (500) Days of Summer that for the first time I could see this guy will be a great actor (if not a major movie star).  His role as Tom, a man in love with Love, goes the full range of emotions from chipper (right down to a big musical number) to one sinking in despair over the end of the affair.  The film was a bit on the fantastical side, but in the human emotions that accompany love (from the euphoria to the despair), Gordon-Levitt brought the entire range of human emotion to light.  He made Tom a real person, one whom you understood, and one especially you related to. 

I never understood how (500) Days of Summer did not receive a Best Original Screenplay nomination since it was one of the most original screenplays that year.  The failure of Gordon-Levitt to receive a Best Actor nomination is all the more puzzling, given that his performance was so pitch-perfect. 

JGL isn't averse to big commercial fare, given some of his more curious roles.  Part of me wants to think he's a nerd at heart, because I can't understand why he would be in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a pretty lousy film.  Maybe he always wanted to play Cobra Commander, I have no way of knowing his mind.  However, even in something as silly as G.I. Joe, he certainly looked like he could make it work.   However, I wasn't impressed.

What I WAS impressed with was with his first collaboration with Christopher Nolan: Inception.  The star (apart from the trippy story) was Leonardo DiCaprio, but for me, it was Gordon-Levitt's performance as Arthur, the calm and professional criminal who places thoughts within the person's mind to pass them off as their own.  The extended sequence of him fighting off those attempting to block his team shows he can do action, and his role should have earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. 

Maybe he's just getting too good to be nominated for anything, which I hope isn't true given he's grown so much that I think he will eventually win an Oscar (if he doesn't screw up his career by being too artistic in his film roles or doesn't start indulging in the negative aspects of stardom). 

JGL is not afraid to commit fully to a role, as he did by shaving his head in 50/50.  Again, another performance that allowed him to go into the range of a young man facing death due to cancer: from almost casual acceptance to downright rage at how his body is attacking him.  The man can do just about anything.

I do mean 'just about'.  Sometimes his artsy side gets the better of him.  For example, even though Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite actors, Hesher was one of the few films I couldn't get through.  I thought it was horrible: pretentious and ridiculously unbelievable.  I disliked it so much I stopped it before it ended.  Somehow, I couldn't imagine wanting to spend any more time with this tattooed punk who was vulgar, dirty, and a pyromaniac who constantly beats on a child in more ways than one.  I figure that Gordon-Levitt is a true artist, and like all true artists he has to get self-consciously artsy films like Hesher out of his system. 

However, there are more films to look forward to.  He has the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises (his second film with Nolan), and given how good he is, part of the appeal for me is less about how Nolan wraps up his time with Batman than what role JGL has in the film itself.  More proof that he isn't against being in big-budget films.  I can't say that he'll only be in big films if it has a smart writer/director behind it (example: G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra).  He also is headed to the biopic (though there could be an argument that 50/50 could be a biopic of sorts) as Robert Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.  Given his range and penchant for the unique, I wouldn't be surprised if he had been Robert Todd Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer either/as well!

At the moment, Joseph Gordon-Levitt still looks like a young kid when he's already entering his 30s.  From what I see, his career is one that will be a great one.  Maybe his name will not guarantee great box office returns, but it will guarantee some great performances.  I think that he will have a long and great career, one geared toward more interesting scripts but with the occasional dab at a large film.  I doubt he would want to be the major lead in a large film, but rather in a smaller film.  For him, it's the role, the chance to expand his range and give a brilliant performance that will be the selling point. 

I look forward to seeing the career of Joseph Gordon-Levitt continue to rise and rise and rise. 

With that, I wish a Happy 31 (31!) Birthday to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

1 comment:

  1. Also, there's his tiny role in Halloween H20 in which he wears a hockey mask, because it was the 90s and we were all postmodern.


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