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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Acting Reference - We Own The Night

I hadn't heard too much about this movie so when I finally saw it I was actually pleasantly surprised. I really liked it. Unfortunately going through reviews afterwards it seems that half of the general audience really liked it and the other half really didn't. Either way, there is a fantastic car chase in it and (to me at least) very good performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg (poor guy is still fighting the Marky Mark stigma). The drug lords, Robert Duvall, even Eva Mendez were good. It was one of those movies where the evolving character arcs sucked you in. The performances were overall great, which gave me a hard time to pick out something isolated that would help you guys in your shots.

My goal of posting these acting references is to showcase single acting moments that add texture to a character, a defining gesture or attitude that gets you inspired for your shots. Saying that Marlon Brando is a great actor and telling you guys to watch "On the Waterfront" isn't bad, but will it help you right now with your single shots? I have my doubts (but you should still watch the movie). You don't have the benefit of a full length movie (or multiple movies), in which the audience gets to know your character or where you can surprise an audience with a new role. You're stuck (right now) with single shots or a sequence at most which has to showcase creative and unique acting choices. And one thing to remember is that animation (at least in feature animation) is an exageration of character, a stylized version of reality. An animated feature mimicking real life is boring. Why not shoot it life-action instead? So don't get sucked into live-action movies and trying to emulate scenes that you like or that I recommend. I'm recommending the essence of a particular scene or acting choice.

"We Own the Night" is a tragedy and the overall feel of the movie isn't exactly a cheerful one (not exactly key ingredients of animated movies in the U.S.), but here's a scene that cracked me up because of Joaquin's face and body acting.

Context: Joseph, played by Mark Wahlberg, and Bobby, played by Joaquin Phoenix are having a fight (obviously...) because Joseph just raided his brother's nightclub. One brother is a cop, the other is circulating in more shady territories, so conflict is a given. The scuffle ends with them insulting each other's wife and girlfriend. This is the end of that as they are being separate by Joseph's cop buddies.

What I liked about it was the moment after "Get out of here!", where Joaquin is being pushed away physically and verbally, yet he still defies his brother through that smile and body posture. It's just a "YEAH?! Whatever." attitude, trying to regain the upper hand in a way. I just love the face he makes. If you guys would animate a verbal fight between two characters and end it like that, it would be sooo cool! It's just a great character moment to me and one that works taken out of context. You don't need to have seen the whole movie in order to understand or appreciate that scene.

The next shot is definitely more context heavy. Joaquin and his girlfriend Amada, played by Eva Mendez, are under protective custody. Amada has a hard time with it because as the story unfolds Joaquin, his brother and their dad are forming a tighter and tighter relationship and Amada feels left out. So in this scene Joaquin is getting back to the hotel they are staying at in order to pack his things, but Amada has left already.

You see him being really in love with her at the beginning of the movie, so you would expect him to read the note she left him, but he's gradually accepting the fact that he won't get the support and love from her that he needs. Again, context heavy, but it's interesting to do things that play against people's expectations. So let's say this is your dialogue and you're animating to it, you could exchange the note with flowers and when the cop says " She said to give you this." have your character throw them away or discard them without emotion or something like that. The fact that your character would not care about pretty flowers (or whatever object you'd choose) says something about his emotional attachment to it. To me it's interesting to see acting choices outside the confinements of your audio clip. Not that this one is really limiting you to do something specific. But let's say you animate to an audio clip where someone is on the phone. You don't have to stick to that. You don't have to have your character act out the lines and emotions your hear in the audio clip. What if he/she is pretending? Have the character say/act out the line but during the pauses he/she could address someone who's with him/her and give him/her a look of "I can't believe I'm saying this!" or "Oh my god, he's totally believing what I'm saying!" or "How much longer do I need to be on this damn phone?!" while the audio line delivery is all polite, etc. I hope I make sense. Don't feel trapped by the audio clip, think outside the box and be creative with it.

On a more serious note I like how Joaquin pauses a bit (even freezes a bit) after hearing "...left about an hour ago.". It is a surprise/shock/disapointment to him, but yet he doesn't read the note. And when he's packing his clothes, I like how he's fighting against his emotions. He is disapointed and sad after all and even though no one else is in the room with him (which might force him to keep his composure), he doesn't want to cry and break down. I think it's a more powerful scene when you watch the whole movie, but I still wanted to include it in this clip.

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clockwerkz said...

Wow, I need to watch that movie. I really love the latest movies with mark Wahlberg.. I liked him a lot in Invicible, and that Scorcese (sp?) movie.. the name escapes me. With Matt Damon?
Anyhow, I also like Jaoquin's facial expression and head tilt on that first clip right after he says "You're not POP!" and just before the camera cut.. his expression is like he just took a verbal jab at him and he's gloating there. I need to check this movie out!
I also wanted to say I really dig your blog, keep it up!

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Hey "clockwerkz", thanks a lot!

Invincible is in my queue, the other one was "The Departed". Good one!

Graham said...

Hmmm...second clip seems to be down....

Jean-Denis Haas said...

2nd clip is up and running! Sorry again.