Category Archives: Memorable Film Characters

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #4 – WITHNAIL

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #4 – WITHNAIL

Written and directed by: Bruce Robinson

Produced by: Paul Heller

Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Ralph Brown, Richard Griffiths


***CONTAINS SPOILERS***



“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!” Withnail


I am not one to believe in fate, but there has to be something magical about the random moment, at the age of seventeen, I was perusing my local video shop looking for a film to rent, and the cover of low-budget, British independent character drama, Withnail and I (1987), shone amidst the variety of Hollywood produced fodder. I picked up the box and for some reason the story of two unemployed actors mooching about at the fag end of the 1960s called to me. Perhaps it was the front cover featuring the debauched and worse-for-wear looking character of Withnail which drew me in? Or was it the casting of Paul McGann as the eponymous ‘I’, an actor I recognised from excellent TV drama, The Monocled Mutineer. Whatever the reasons, I rented the film and a special bond was formed forthwith. It lasts to this day.

Firmly in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, Withnail and I (1987) simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners, and speeches. Another major strength of Bruce Robinson’s elegantly profane screenplay is the relationship between permanently inebriated and cowardly ‘thespian’, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and his buddy, ‘I’ (McGann). It is a strange friendship full of mutual disrespect, petty bickering, and envy, but by the end of the film a kindly form of love is revealed. Withnail may seem an angry man, but ultimately, he’s using that ire to hide pain, sadness, and disappointment.




“I feel like a pig shat in my head.” Withnail


Richard E. Grant is incredible as the paralytic, pathetic and cowardly Withnail, who, along with ‘I’, laments a lack of career opportunities. Such bitterness, jealousy and ranting make him hugely obnoxious. However, Robinson’s exquisite writing and Grant’s subtly empathetic performance actually create an incredibly poignant character. Well, that and he’s absolutely hilarious, Indeed, it’s a hedonistic joy witnessing Withnail drinking every liquid known to humanity as he attempts to obliterate the now and tomorrow. Unbelievably, Richard E. Grant was teetotal, so director Bruce Robinson had to get him very, very drunk in preparation for a role he never bettered in his whole career.

Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I (1987) again, although he does have other impressive writing credits. But this screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time. Lastly, his often quoted but rarely bettered work is one of the greatest I have ever read, brimming with towering poetry, bilious insults, and drunken repartee. I mean there is little plot to the story of two actors getting drunk, going to the country, getting drunk and coming back. However, it remains one of my favourite films of all time, with one of the most memorable characters in Withnail.


MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #3 – LOU BLOOM – NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #3 – LOU BLOOM

Written and directed by Dan Gilroy

Produced by: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Michel Litvak, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****



Along with Toni Collette in Hereditary (2018) and Lupita N’yongo in Us (2019), Jake Gyllenhaal’s failure to be nominated for a Best Acting Oscar for his performance as Lou Bloom never fails to astonish me. His committed acting in the thrilling and violent social satire, Nightcrawler (2014), is one of the greatest of this century so far. He inhabits the skin within this sociopathic, self-starting capitalistic hustler with such energy it’s a film I can watch over and over again.

With so many films about superheroes, it’s rare to see one about an anti-hero that is done so brilliantly and without redemption. Lou Bloom’s conniving, planning and preparedness to go the extra mile and expand his media business via sabotage and eventually murder is expertly rendered in Dan Gilroy’s stupendously good screenplay.  Bloom is a drifting social outsider until he becomes a “stringer”; a “nightcrawler” filming bloody events to sell to news stations. Bloom then becomes a monster of ambition. A monster of obsession. A monster of humanity. He’s a symbol of a monstrous media and of a bloodthirsty public searching for the next violent clip to trend or share on Twitter or Facebook over their morning coffee. Bloom is an anti-anti-anti-hero of our times. A personification of capitalist evil.

Dan Gilroy’s cutting script makes no attempt to make Bloom likeable or even sympathetic. But you kind of admire his drive, linguistic charisma and thirst for success. That is until he goes way too far filming death and selling it for profit. Ultimately Lou Bloom is a vampire; a night creature creeping between the shadows. Through Bloom, the parasitic Media New Networks and public are also shown to both be vampires draining the life out of humanity. Gyllenhaal’s performance, as I say, is one of physical, verbal and mental brilliance. In some ways it foreshadows Joaquin Phoenix’s stunning acting work in Joker (2019). Phoenix was rightly rewarded by the Academy, with Gyllenhaal’s Bloom cruelly overlooked.



MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #2 – KING KONG

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #2 – KING KONG



**CONTAINS SPOILERS**


In the second of this series which looks at great film characters, I want to explore one of the most memorable monsters of all time: King Kong! In this short piece I will consider the original classic film creation in RKO’s King Kong (1933). It’s fascinating to examine the technical feats required to bring the character to the screen, the characterisation and narrative aspects which make Kong so memorable; and finally, the sociological and cultural impact of the film.

Working with a story by mystery writer Edgar Wallace and co-director Merian C. Cooper, the script was developed in 1932 by James Creelman and Ruth Rose. They structured this big adventure around filmmaker, Carl Denham, and his obsessive desire to shoot the legendary Kong on the ominously named Skull Island. What follows is a film of spectacular power and great innovation. In order to create Kong and the other prehistoric creatures the production team developed groundbreaking techniques such as stop-motion, rear projection, matte painting and miniatures. To this day the effects are breathtaking and still more emotionally engaging than most modern CGI.



As well as the incredible stop-motion photography painstakingly rendered by Willis O’Brien and Buzz Gibson’s team, the character of Kong is quite unique. Here is a monster in a horror B-movie who is in fact the most sympathetic character of the whole film. Moreover, the script builds suspense and dread with a long wait before we even see Kong. And what a sight it is! At first it would seem he is a merely a large ape, but he is revered as a god and protector. However, it is the humans who are the actual monsters. They steal Kong from his natural habitat and proceed to shackle him and treat him like an exhibit. But this exhibit has teeth and is about to bite back.

On release and in more recent years King Kong (1933) has rightly received much critical praise. It’s often ranked in the top horror films and all-time favourite 100 films of all time. More importantly, it’s actually gained attention as a film that subtextually reflects notions of colonialism, racism and the slave trade. In Quentin Tarantino’s superb revisionist war film, Inglourious Basterds (2009), a Nazi Officer reflects on this issue with specific reference to Kong. Similarly in this fantastic article, From Spectacle to Elegy: The Cinematic Myth of King Kong, Ross Langager, opines eloquently on the power of King Kong (1933) even now. Thus, while he may be a model made from clay, paint and metal, rendered real by the magic of cinema, Kong’s character is so much more than the sum of his parts. He is not simply a monster, but the ultimate tragic hero.


MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #1 – SARAH CONNOR

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #1 – SARAH CONNOR



**CONTAINS SPOILERS**


Having briefly explored what makes up film character personas in this article here, I thought it would be fun to start a new feature which looks at memorable film characters. So, with Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) in the cinema, I wanted to look at one of the greatest character narrative arcs ever in my opinion. When I say character arc, I am talking of the transformation of a character throughout a film or films. Because for me, the arc of Sarah Connor is absolutely brilliant.

I haven’t seen Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), as for me, the Terminator franchise is a spent force narratively speaking. I’m sure it’s a great spectacle, but I am more interested in speaking about James Cameron’s first two genre masterpieces. I am specifically intrigued by Sarah Connor movement from timid waitress to hardcore rebel fighter. Thus, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke’s turns as the character are ignored here.



The genius of James Cameron’s original film The Terminator (1984) is how it is both simple and complex at the same time. It takes time travel tropes, which while very familiar today, were extremely fresh and exciting back in the 1980s. Mashing up ideas from literary science fiction, Star Trek , The Twilight Zone and films like Westworld (1973), Cameron gave us one of the greatest bad guys and heroines ever committed to film. Plus, he did it all on a $7 million budget!!

At the heart of the sci-fi, war and thriller genres is an intriguing character study and even a love story. The Terminator (1984) introduces Sarah Connor as a waitress who is having a bad day. It’s about to get worse. She has been murdered and it’s on TV. Well, it’s not her, but someone with the same name as her. Very quickly she is confronted by a man from the future, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), claiming she is the mother of the person who will be a future saviour. How do you process THAT?!? Mind blown!!



Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor then find themselves pursued by a futuristic cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger), hell bent on her destruction. Here she learns more and more about the future and how machines will take control, but her son, John, will lead the resistance. Thus, over the course of the film, as Sarah learns about her fate, the audience learns too. Sarah begins as a conduit and passive, before transforming slowly into an aggressive and battle-hardened fighter.

When the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), come around we meet a whole different kind of Sarah Connor. She has transformed into a muscular and angry revolutionary. Not surprisingly, her narratives about future robots and the apocalypse find her sectioned. But, we know she is telling the truth. Moreover, due to her toughness, guile and resourcefulness, she is now very capable. No four walls will hold Sarah Connor.

Finally, Linda Hamilton’s performance must be praised too. In the first film she is a small character, quiet, likeable and lacking confidence. Over the course of the two films her physical, mental and emotional transformation is very impressively rendered. Cameron’s writing and Hamilton’s commitment to the role make Sarah Connor a highly memorable film character for me.