Follow FilmMinion on Twitter  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Five Best: Tame, Yet Unsettling Performances

courtesy of

Sometimes the creepiest people on screen aren't the villain. They don't murder anybody on screen. They don't lose it and trash a convenience store. Sometimes, they just make you uncomfortable. These are the five best performances I can think of (this was a tough one to research...not much out there) in roles that just kind of "irk" me. They must be good performances - they sit with me for way too long after the film is over. They are subtly disturbing in films that aren't really about good vs. bad as much as pictures of a twisted reality. So, here they are in chronological order.

Dean Stockwell in "Blue Velvet" courtesy of

Dean Stockwell - Blue Velvet (1986)

Given the topic I chose, I obviously can't go with Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper); his performance is way too menacing to just be "unsettling." But Stockwell as local pimp Ben is quiet and terrifying against Hopper's insanity. He's calm, thoughtful, and even sings! But he's also an enabler for Frank, as they make Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) their guest of honor in a twisted cat-and-mouse game.

Dylan Baker in "Happiness" courtesy of

Dylan Baker - Happiness (1998)

There are about five people from Todd Solondz's twisted film that could qualify for this list. But I'll give the nod to Dylan Baker as Bill Maplewood, local psychiatrist and chronic pedophile. Pedophilia is a horrific thing altogether - it doesn't help that it's treated in an almost sympathetic light. Baker's performance is brilliantly controlled and shameful and his interactions with his son are the definition of uncomfortable.

Ellen Burstyn in "Requiem for a Dream" courtesy of

Ellen Burstyn - Requiem for a Dream (2000)

She a little more of a live wire than the rest of the characters on this list, but Burstyn's portrayal of a mother who slowly becomes addicted to diet pills is an exceptional achievement in a film with huge impact. It's worse than the other, if only because she transforms from normal to beyond paranoid and lucid. In a film where (SPOILER ALERT!) Jared Leto loses his arm due to drug addiction, Burstyn's reaction to addiction is much more significant.

Joseph Gordin-Levitt in "Mysterious Skin" courtesy of

Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Mysterious Skin (2004)

Gordon-Levitt has truly grown up on screen in front of us; to date, this is still his riskiest performance, but also one of his best. As Neil - a victim of childhood trauma - he lives out his pain and loneliness through a series of one night stands, eventually turning to male prostituion with older men. Whether his lifestyle choice is a reation to his past or simply a means of escape from the misery his life has become is up for debate, but Gordon-Levitt turns in a performance that will leave you more than a little uneasy.

Jackie Earle Haley in "Little Children" courtesy of

Jackie Earle Haley - Little Children (2006)

Long after he was Kelly Leak in the original Bad News Bears, Jackie Earle Haley inhabited the character of Ronnie McGorvey, recently released from prison after serving two years for indecent exposure. Haley received an Oscar nomination for the performance, and his work has a quiet desperation to it that keeps you queasy throughout. He's conflicted between what his mother wants him to be and what he really is, but he also isn't sure who he wants to be. It's dark, troublesome, and a stroke of genius.

There you have it. Anyone I forgot? Let me know.

No comments:

Post a Comment