Walter Mencken 9:15 a.m., March 28
What happened? Anthony Hopkins
My pal Scott was not impressed with Academy Award Winner Sir Anthony Hopkins' performance as Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock. He charges the actor with having "an oscillating accent," and with being unconvincing in general. I'd argue that the one leads to the other. Playing a famous person is more than a simple matter of imitating speech, but imitating speech is a major first step - so much of the person is in the words and their delivery. That kind of adoption/imitation, when done without slipping into caricature, is a real achievement, one I thought Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep managed rather well in Capote and Julie & Julia. Alas, not so, dear Sir Tony.
The failure got me to wondering what happened to the man who so mesmerized the world as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Remember that one? Oh, here it is, right here.
Wow. And he didn't stop there. The early '90s were very good for Hopkins. I admired him in Howard's End, but I adored him in The Remains of the Day. The scene where Emma Thompson attempts to wrestle away his book has stayed with me over the years. (Here is where, I fear, Scott will excoriate me as being hopelessly middlebrow. Ah, well.)
What followed is a pretty fine list: he couldn't escape the magnificent disaster that was Dracula, but he made a fine C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands, and then we get Legends of the Fall, Surviving Picasso, Nixon, and criminally underseen The Edge. So what started the slide? Was it The Mask of Zorro? Or the Lecter sequels? Difficult to say. But I'm trying to remember the last time I really enjoyed him in a film (which is not to say I've seen everything he's done). He was okay as Odin in Thor, I suppose. Maybe I'm just mad about his lazy portrayal of a Southern aristocrat in Sean Penn's disastrous All the King's Men. There, as much as anywhere else, I was reminded of this bit where he remembers receiving advice from Katharine Hepburn on the set of his first film, The Lion in Winter.
"'I'm gonna give you a few tips,' she said. 'Don't act. You don't need to act. You've got a good face, you've got a good voice, you've got a big body - don't act. You don't have to. Leave that to me. Watch Spenser Tracy; watch the great American actors who never act, they just do it, you know? Speak the lines and show up.' I took that advice as the best advice I've ever been given as a film actor."
Hm. Rewatching The Silence of the Lambs, I'm not sure I buy that. It seems to me that there, Hopkins wriggled into his character's skin and played around for a while.
More like this:
- Christmas jeer — Dec. 24, 2012
- Timothy Spall, the man who should be king — Nov. 30, 2012
- A closer look at the trailer for Hitchcock — Oct. 11, 2012
- 100 Best Movie Villians — July 17, 2008
- Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London — March 24, 2005