Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Day Three: The Unrestrained Expression of Affection

| by Justin Thomas |

If you say “method” to me I wind up getting upset about living in the suburbs and not in the city. “Method” means madness, which makes me think of Lawrence of Arabia and the Music Box and I wind up trying to find the cheapest bottle of wine to drown the sorrows because I can’t just open the door and walk there. Or I’ll think of Brando because along the way I picked up he was a method actor, which makes me think of the little twin screen theater in Libertyville, Illinois, where he once worked, which makes me think about my hometown movie theater and its impending doom and I wind up trying to find the cheapest bottle of wine because The Man in the Rearview Mirror will never screen at the corner of Grand and East Fifth Street. If you say method, even if I give a quick thought to method acting, I’ll wind up blitzed and stumbling about in my boxer shorts wondering why my phone isn’t ringing off the hook with social engagement invitations even though, as a drunk idiot stumbling about in my boxers, I probably know the answer. My train of thought jumps the track. Sorry.

I know absolutely nothing about the art of acting. Nothing. I know Bill Paxton can’t do it and I think Kevin Spacey can but I don’t stack one Spacey role up against another for fear of finding similarities. Daniel Day Lewis seems to be able to because he wins awards and they’re always different roles, but I don’t know how he does it. Sometimes I can spot a great performance – laugh if you will but I include Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz in that category in a paragraph that includes the name Daniel Day Lewis because Danny Butterman is not Nick Frost – and sometimes I can spot a bad performance – every single time Bill Paxton appears on screen in anything – but the hows and whys? You might as well ask me to split the atom.

“Talk about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang you dope.” I’m getting there.

The characters in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang aren’t characters for which actors are given statues. It likely has to do with the type of movie and that the movie doesn’t “say” something. They’re characters actors seem to do well with because they’re great characters. Does that help the process? Does that matter? To whom am I even addressing these questions? Where’s that wine...?

If I attempt to evaluate the performances in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang I’d say my inability to distinguish between what would have been in the script and what might have been improvised has a lot to do with why I say they’re great performances. The improvisation question comes through in the reactions, particularly Harry, because in the Harry example I just don’t believe every single nervous twitch is in the script. That has to be the actor adding to the character through performance, right? Understanding the character on the page and adding to it through the performance?

Harry/Robert Downey, Jr.

Harry’s pretty cool but Harry’s also a complete idiot and he doesn’t appear to get what’s happening even when he gets what’s happening. An example: he figures out the clue to the underpants but then expresses disappointment when Perry can’t find the brilliance in theorizing about destiny but will go nuts over that clue. He’s a complete idiot but he also appears to know it. Perry spends a lot of time questioning Harry’s intelligence but Harry doesn’t lift a finger or utter a word to argue.

After Perry finally comes to grips with the idea he likes Harry, and is willing to let Harry know it, Perry tells Harry to stop stealing because he’s not a punk. Harry knows he’s not a punk and behaved in just such a way through the entire movie. He’s on the case when the sleeping girl at the party needs someone to protect her virtue. He cares for the dead girl in the lake when she needs someone to protect her modesty. He lets Harmony know copping a feel is a biggie and she should know it, too. He’s such a thoughtful criminal when he breaks into the toy store that he carries the bullets while his partner carries the gun. So while he might not have understood he’s not a punk he can look back on the story and see it. Bad narrator? Yes. Punk? No.

There’s one moment where it appears as though Downey really gets Harry. He’s in the airport, talking to Flicka, and he comments on how smart her suit looks. How smart her stewardess suit looks. She gives a look like “what the Hell are you talking about” and Downey doesn’t exactly shrug his shoulders or roll his eyes but a brief little motion says he knows it was an awful line. That little reaction makes it, and those little reactions run throughout the entire movie.

Gay Perry/Val Kilmer

If you watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with the commentary, in which Kilmer participates, you’ll hear he’s vastly different from Perry. That doesn’t necessarily indicate to me he’s completely gone in the Perry performance but only indicates he’s able to perform two different characters. That’s a long way of getting to the idea I’m uncertain the Kilmer on the commentary is the Real Kilmer, but it’s completely different to Perry so one or the other is a great performance. What? Concisely, Kilmer appears to disappear into Perry as well as he did Doc in Tombstone.

What I appreciate most about Perry is his ability to think quickly and react as well as he can to get to the right course of action as quickly as possible. When Harry’s hooked up for electric shock, Perry knows not only how to goad their captor but also how to goad their captor in such a way he can retrieve his hidden gun. Notice I said as quickly as possible and not quickly, which I’m sure wasn’t quick enough for Harry during the electroshock therapy.

I have a criticism of Perry and it’s around him finding a way to like Harry. When does it happen and what causes it? It’s a little too subtle and it’s bothering me. I can’t find what caused it.

Harmony/Michelle Monaghan

Michelle Monaghan joins Donna Reed and Cloris Leachman in the long line of Hollywood hotties hailing from the Hawkeye State. More importantly, she finds a way to bring enough to her performance as Harmony to be able to hang with Downey and Kilmer while they’re at the top of their game. That’s a tall order to ask of anyone and, maybe if I understood acting, I’d have the thought someone being on their game completely causes the others to elevate their own. Or maybe she’s a great actress and it comes through in Harmony.

Harmony’s a tricky character because she has to believe with complete conviction she’s living a Johnny Gossamer novel or it doesn’t work. It’s set up well with a younger Harmony reading Gossamer to her mom and paid off when older Harmony never questions the ridiculousness of how she’s trying to tie the cases together. She’s the one who finally puts the pieces together, which leads to a great joke when Perry can’t find her because she’s decided it’s ridiculous and has gone to work.

There’s a lot going on with Harmony and Monaghan plays well the shifting of the gears between femme fatale and the dream girl from high school. And, well, if you want to start a forest fire you’d only need to find a clump of brown bushes and toss her in. Monaghan being easy on the eyes doesn’t hurt Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Dabney/Larry Miller

There’s one other moment needing mention here. When Harmony appears on the news, Dabney sees her and takes issue with the fact they only ever show people from the waste up. You know, like a Playmate from 1964. It’s not a throwaway moment because it’s defining a minor character in an enormous way, gives a little bit of who the writer is because that type of connection can only come from previous experience and Miller pulls it off so well. So genuinely, it doesn’t look like he’s acting at all. It’s quick so don’t blink.

Chemistry 101

Over nearly six years at my current job, I know who I hate. There are people that get under my skin, rub my rhubarb the wrong way and generally annoy me. There are also people with whom I just click and better work is typically the result. Downey, Kilmer and Monaghan didn’t have the luxury of time to get to know one another, to know the ins and outs of what they want to do and play to it. In a short span of time they gelled and their chemistry together, regardless of what “method” they used for the parts, seals the deal with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It’s something that’s there and works, like it did with Lemmon and Matthau, or it’s not.

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