Tag Archives: Contact

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten John Hurt Performances

John Hurt was recognizable, prolific, immensely talented, stage trained and an all round terrific artist. To me in observing his work I always saw a calculated, measured style, he never showboated or filled up the space in the extroverted sense but in that deep set gaze, his quietly intense eyes always found the core of whatever character he was bringing to life, not to mention that steady, delicate yet brittle speaking voice. Here are my top ten performances from this extraordinary actor!

10. Old Man Peanut in Malcolm Venville’s 44 Inch Chest

This is one of those hard boiled British gangster flicks with a weirdo edge that I can’t quite describe. Anyways, every character in the ensemble has an oddball quirk, Peanut’s being that he’s a near biblical level, savagely misogynistic, chauvinist piece of shit. It works for the role and the film and there’s nothing quite like seeing this good natured actor spout off sexist rhetoric like a teapot full of fire, brimstone and rancid piss.

9. Hrothgar in Howard McCain’s Outlander

A noble Viking king in times of great turmoil, Hrothgar and his people join forces with a strange being (Jim Caviesel) from a distant galaxy to fight off a nasty neon space dragon that followed him there. Hurt makes this guy a fair but pragmatic king who fights tooth an nail to protect his settlement from the creature.

8. John Merrick in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man

A gentle soul with an unfortunate facial disfigurement during a less enlightened time than we now live in, Hurt got an Oscar nomination for his compassionate, heartbreaking and researched role here.

7. S.R. Hadden in Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

I’m not a huge fan of this film overall but John is one of the factors that help it, playing an eccentric billionaire who secretly funds Jodie Foster’s search for alien life and when his cancer advances he just fucks off to space because the zero gravity helps his symptoms. It’s a sly encore supporting turn that undermines some of the more show-boaty performances (I’m looking at you McConaughey) with wit and genuine inspiration.

6. Jellon Lamb in John Hillcoat’s The Proposition

A cantankerous, half mad old British fuck marooned alone in the Australian outback, Jellon provides acidic, dark comic relief to this grim, no nonsense western when Guy Pearce’s stoic outlaw comes across his hovel in the middle of nowhere. After being told not to insult Irish people he promptly makes a potato peeling joke that causes Pearce to draw both guns, then swiftly talks the man down. Hurt was just so good at backhanded, knife-in-the-ribs dialogue like this.

5. Lawrence Fassett in Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend

This is a near incomprehensible spy film with a terrific cast stuck in the world’s most over complicated plot, revolving around John’s rogue MI6 agent who is up to something, exactly what isn’t clear. He’s steely, cold and ruthless though as his intentions sort of become clear and his performance, calibrated just right, is the films strongest point.

4. John Schofield in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man

The most patronizing and sarcastic factory clerk in the old west, Schofield is personal assistant to Robert Mitchum’s thunderous metalworks tycoon and insults anyone who walks into his office with an attitude. Wry, thinly veiled cynicism play at the edges of his performance, and his semi-alarmed, morbidly curious expression when Mitchum barks at someone to shut up is just priceless. Also the fact that Jarmusch chose to cut to Hurt mid conversation when the scene didn’t really even have anything to do with him just cracks me up big time too.

3. Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm in Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy

“In the absence of light, darkness prevails.” I remember his words in the trailer for this film so clearly, his character is the perfect harbinger of paranormal events, mentor and surrogate father to Ron Perlman’s Red, classy gentleman of otherworldly knowledge and one of the last individuals standing between our world and oblivion.

2. Garrick Ollivander in Harry Potter

“The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter..”

His appearance in the Philosopher’s Stone as the placidly intense wand maker is a scene of terrific gravity that lulls both Harry and audience alike into a hypnotic place as he outlines important historical events. It was nice to see him again so many years later in The Deathly Hallows as well, still with a keen, observant edge.

1. Kane in Ridley Scott’s Alien

No other scene is as synonymous with cosmic dread as when we see that horrific little Xenomorph pup burst out of poor Kane’s chest at the dinner table. Hurt sells the scene with adept terror, wide eyed disbelief and heart stopping panic with his work. The fact that his fellow cast members weren’t aware of what was going to happen in the scene prior to shooting it just makes his performance ring all the more clear. An iconic moment, character and film.

-Nate Hill

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact is a periodically good film that suffers from over-length, clutter and sideshow syndrome, as in it doesn’t trust itself to stick to the effective core story without throwing in all sorts of other hoo-hah just for for the sheer hell of it. At two and a half hours it feels more stretched than Bilbo did before leaving the Shire, and would have been way better off slicing out a good half hour to streamline. What does work is really captivating though, especially a fantastic Jodie Foster in a performance of striking determination as a woman who never loses the sense of wonder she had as a child, and strives to make contact with anyone that may be out there in the vast universe. Of course her efforts meet budget cuts, skepticism and sneers from the government and fellow colleagues like Tom Skeritt’s prestigious researcher, a sadly one note character whose allegiance turns on a dime when she actually receives a message from a faraway galaxy. Speaking of one note characters, get a load of chest puffing James Woods as an obnoxious NSA prick with all the depth a kitchen sink has to offer. John Hurt fares better as an eccentric billionaire who offers Foster funding and support, as does always terrific David Morse as her father. Matthew McConaughey is sorely miscast as a spiritual man and love interest, William Fichtner is excellent as her loyal colleague and friend, Jena Malone great as nine year old Jodie Foster, while Jake Busey, Angela Bassett and a whole armada of unnecessary tabloid celebrity cameos show up too, leading right up to Bill Clinton, who I’m convinced is an alien himself. The thing is, so much of the film is just commotion and nonsense, geared towards wowing audiences instead of trusting the fact that they’ll be at ease with just Foster’s story, which is the connective tissue. The elaborate and drawn construction of a machine based on alien blueprints, pesky religious extremists, theological fanfare that falls flat and incessant faux tv newsreel footage that buzzes around like unwanted house flies and kills the atmosphere, there’s too much in the way. My favourite scene of the film takes place somewhere deep in the universe Foster has travelled to through a wormhole, in which a mysterious being tells her that “human beings are capable of such beautiful dreams, and such terrible nightmares”, a sentiment that parts the clouds and gives the story clarity, as does her arc, relationship with her father and desire to know what’s out there, who we are as a race and where we came from, and it’s in that wonder that the film finds its strength. Much of the rest is just lame earthbound noise.

-Nate Hill