Tag Archives: Affliction

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten James Coburn Performances

James Coburn was an interesting actor for me because he flawlessly jumped the gap between old school silver screen Hollywood and the post mid 90’s Hollywood we know today, so you’re just as likely to spot him in a Turner Classic western flick as you are to hear his deep, comforting voice in a colourful Disney/Pixar film. He had a rumbling intensity that lent itself to alpha tough guy roles early on in his career and later on blossomed into a winking joviality that saw him land many roguish old rascal types. He was one of the greats, and these are my top ten personal favourite performances of his!

10. WitSec Chief Beller in Chuck Russell’s Eraser

He turns a quick extended cameo into something fun and memorable in this underrated Arnold Schwarzenegger SciFi romp. Arnie spends the whole film battling his treacherous former boss (James Caan) and just when Coburn’s big shot CEO shows up we think he’s going to be an even *bigger* bad than Caan but he turns out to be a pretty solid dude, acting as a Deus Ex Machina of sorts to bail the entire situation out.

9. Mr. Waternoose in Disney/Pixar’s Monsters Inc.

Here he explores his playful side as one of the antagonists of this animated classic. Waternoose is CEO of Monsters Inc., a cranky spider-crab thing who only has the company’s interests at heart and acts in a callous, unforgiving manner given blustery gusto by James and his baritone boom.

8. Thunder Jack in Disney’s Snow Dogs

Another Disney one! This is admittedly not the greatest film, a silly city slicker in the Arctic vehicle for Cuba Gooding Jr. James is a curmudgeonly surrogate father who whips him into shape and gives him a good dose of tough love along the way. I have a soft spot for this since it’s one of the first films I ever saw in theatres as a kid, James is terrific fun in it and the squabbling banter he has with Cuba is a treat for kids.

7. Derek Flint in Our Man Flint and In Like Flint

Long before Mike Myers ever spoofed James Bond in Austin Powers, Coburn starred as slick super-spy Derek Flint in these films and they are kind of all over the friggin place. Super 60’s vibe, full of sexy chicks and dastardly villains and James makes a simultaneously klutzy and suave parody of 007.

6. Sedgwick ‘The Manufacturer’ in John Sturges’s The Great Escape

This classic WWII flick sees a gigantic ensemble cast full of multiple big names try and get out of a German POW camp with James playing a logistical expert and tools provider with that classic sly glint in his eye.

5. Britt in John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven

Strong silent type and expert knife thrower, Britt is one of the less show-boaty and understated among this classic band of antiheroes, but definitely one of the most memorable. James looked like he had some First Nations background which adds to the rugged western flavour here. He’s kind of like the Mads Mikkelsen knife throwing character in Antoine Fuqua’s (who also coincidentally directed the Magnificent Seven remake) underrated King Arthur (a film I will always champion) : low key, man of few words, but deadly as all hell and super charismatic.

4. Jack Buchan in Joe Dante’s Second Civil War

Alongside Barry Levinson’s Wag The Dog this is one of THE most criminally overlooked political satires of all time, and I imagine that both films were deliberately buried in terms of marketing because they’re just a *bit* too close to the way things sadly actually work in the world and those in charge didn’t want too many people exposed to such dead-on, accurate material. James plays advisor to the president during a time of ludicrous crisis and his perpetual exasperation at having to rationalize postponing executive decisions because they interrupt POTUS’s favourite soap opera is priceless, as an actor he truly understood comedy and had a gift for it.

3. Justin Fairfax in Brian Helgeland’s Payback

This wry neo noir sees Mel Gibson’s career criminal Porter going on a cynical rampage to get some money he was jewed out of, and Coburn is one of the powerful underworld bosses in his way. Fairfax hilariously seems to have little interest in Porter or the serious situation though, he’s just returned from vacation and is more concerned about his fancy luggage than any intruders with guns. James makes hysterical work of line delivery like “That’s just mean, man!!” When Gibson blows a bullet hole through his suitcases. It’s a juicy, eccentric cameo and brings some comic relief to the table.

2. George Caplan in Michael Lehmann’s Hudson Hawk

Talk about an underrated, misunderstood gem of a film. Bruce Willis is Hawk, the worlds greatest cat burglar on his craziest mission yet and up against all kinds of kooky cartoonish villains. Coburn’s Caplan is an ex military prick with a huge attitude problem, a mercenary for hire who commands a private unit of weirdo operatives named after candy bars like ‘Kit Kat.’ James understands this bizarre material and turns George into a rapscallion of a villain, whether he’s terrorizing local town folk or reminiscing about his Cold War spy days where he was ‘getting laid every night.’

1. Glen Whitehouse in Paul Schrader’s Affliction

This is the role that landed him an Oscar and it’s well earned. Affliction is the bleak, difficult tale of the Whitehouse clan, an ill fated New England family presided over by Coburn’s volcanically abusive, black hearted patriarch, a man who seems to reap poisoned soul food out of terrorizing his own family. He’s a mean, crass, violent old fucking rotten bastard but James is too good of an actor to play him one note. Glen is a monster but there’s shades of humanity when his wife passes, albeit briefly. There’s gnarled self hatred, a booze soaked, misanthropic nature to him and many other carefully calibrated aspects that make this one of the best pieces of acting in film.

-Nate Hill

Paul Schrader’s Affliction

Paul Schrader’s Affliction is a terrifying, tragic and too-real examination of how one series of events, dating back to childhood abuse, can spark the kind of self destructive downward spiral that no well adjusted person could ever thing themselves capable of. At the outset Nick Nolte’s Wade Whitehouse does indeed seem, perhaps mostly in his own eyes, to be a fairly well adjusted person. He’s an auxiliary lawman in a small New Hampshire community with a daughter, ex wife and set of problems that could be chalked up as ‘everyday variety.’ But just underneath that is a simmering layer of trauma and violence that inevitably will be unleashed, given the right set of catalytic incidents. Wade has a volcanically abusive father (James Coburn) who drinks like there’s no tomorrow and terrorized his family no end for years. Wade’s brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) distanced himself from the whole implosive saga years ago but when their mother passes away and the dynamics of their family as well as that of the town begins to shift, forces align against all of them.

This is a sad, heavy, fucked up, heinously bleak and relentlessly downbeat piece of storytelling, no fooling around. Wade’s trajectory is just painful to watch, from hazy flashbacks to childhood horrors inflicted by the old man to slow, steady signs of mental illness, delusional breakdowns and unstable behaviours manifesting gradually like an incoming blizzard. His relationship with his father is a poisoned minefield, his brother stays at arm’s length while his ex wife and daughter are resentful of him, perhaps scared or both. He has one solace in the girl he’s seeing (Sissy Spacek) but once she’s drawn into the whirlwind that is his life she too frays around the edges and is tainted by the violence, bad luck and pain surrounding it all. If this sounds like anything but a pleasant experience, it totally is and you’ll leave the room feeling like you’ve been slapped in the face repeatedly. But it’s an important, well crafted, intelligent, vital film that explores in uncommon empathy and understanding how a cycle of abuse, alcoholism, dereliction of compassionate behaviour and violence can ripple throughout generations like a sentient force all its own.

Nolte is sublime in this role, he’s an actor who always seems on the edge of an explosive outburst, always restless or shifting around, possessive of a deeply uneasy tone of voice and a guarded gaze. He rocks this role scarily well and it could be the performance of his career. Coburn is a tower of terror as the domineering patriarch, an imposing force in flashbacks now reduced to a frail, brittle and sour parody of himself in old age, constantly swilling booze, pissing archaic rhetoric like a toxic fountain and continuously displaying what the very worst traits of the male image look like. Dafoe is quietly powerful, present briefly in person and then in spirit with haunting narration, the black sheep of this clan in the best way possible. Spacek is so sad as the poor girl dragged into all this as it’s achingly clear she has deep feelings for Wade which she must abandon as soon as it becomes clear the kind of black hole he’s headed for. The cast is rounded out nicely with folks like Chris Heyerdahl, Brigid Tierney, Jim True-Frost, Mary Beth Hurt, Wayne Robson, Joanna Noyes and the excellent Holmes Osborne who we recall as Donnie Darko’s dad. This is a grim tale, as rough and cold as the inland terrain these people make their home, and for the family here there’s no way out of the cold, save for perhaps Dafoe’s character. It’s essential work though, a film that doesn’t doesn’t shy away from taboos that we ignore and banish out there with the howling wind, but rises up to meet and bear witness to such atrocities so that we may better recognize them in our own realm, and whittle away at the block of empathy and compassion in the face of such horror. A stone cold masterpiece.

-Nate Hill