Tag Archives: James Gandolfini

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

James Gandolfini meant a lot to Hollywood, cinema and myself as both an actor and lover of film. Yes he was the Italian gangster archetype incarnate, and a lovable teddy bear in comedic turns too. But his talent and wish to explore his craft went deeper than that, and even in roles that seemed outwardly to be one thing you could sense opposites, contradiction and a deliberate desire to subvert the obvious choices in his work. A tough guy he played could display disarming notes of vulnerability that takes one off guard, or a loving family man might show glimpses of volcanic darkness. It’s that understanding of complexity and juxtaposition within character that made him such striking, relatable and deeply loved presence in film and television for decades. Here are my personal top ten favourite performances!

10. Eddie Poole in Joel Schumacher’s 8MM

This is one intense film to sit through, one that even for its time and even now pushes the boundaries of extreme. Private investigator Nicolas Cage is looking for the dark origins of a possible snuff film, and the trail leads to shady small time pornography Eddie, who is an unrepentant, obnoxious, amoral scumbag. James finds the animalistic notes in him and the eventual pathetic fear he devolves into when secrets are threatened.

9. Lou in Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen

Denzel Washington, John Goodman and Gandolfini play three homicide detectives hunting an elusive supernatural serial killer in this fantastic, underrated horror/noir. Lou is the mouthy one of the bunch, the cop in the precinct who is always chatting, shooting the shit and firing off jokes. James could fill a room with his presence in terms of gregarious humour but he’s also terrifying when the evil entity possesses him and intimidates Denzel in a chilling scene.

8. Tony Soprano in HBO’s The Sopranos

The big daddy of Italian monsters in film and television, Tony is a complex, scary, insecure, cunning and well rounded human being given the consistently brilliant talents of Gandolfini, who makes this guy someone you root for even when he’s being a piece of shit.

7. Colonel Winter in Rod Lurie’s The Last Castle

The ultimate battle unfolds between a decorated General (Robert Redford) and military prison warden Winter, who perceived insulting behaviour from him and makes it his mission to wage psychological warfare against him and any inmates standing with him. Gandolfini makes this guy simultaneously terrifying and pathetic, a failed officer who twists his resentment in not succeeding into a bitter, self destructive streak of self pity and anger.

6. Detective Joey Allegretto in Sydney Lumet’s Night Falls On Manhattan

I like it when films show police corruption as not necessarily an established routine or inherent trait but something that sneaks up on the characters through circumstance and makes them do things out of desperation that they never meant to do. Joey and his partner (Ian Holm) are two NYC cops forced to make some crazy split second decisions that lead to bad blood and dire consequences. James handles the arc fantastically in an early career turn displaying haunting moral complexity and much of the talent that would carry him on to fame later.

5. Al Love in Steven Zaillian’s A Civil Action

As a David vs. Goliath environmental lawsuit unfolds in a small rural community, many blue collar lives are caught up in the struggle. Gandolfini’s Al is a husband and father who much make the tough choice whether to risk his job by testifying against a company that is dumping toxic waste. There’s a quiet, understated moment at the dinner table where he looks around at his family with love as they eat, and he realizes he has no other choice but to protect other families like his own in the region. It’s a stirring, low key performance anchored by that important moment.

4. Mickey in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly

The ultimate antithesis of his classic Italian tough guy archetype, Mickey is a a sad sack ‘hitman’ brought in from out of town to kill a disloyal wise-guy (Ray Liotta). What he does instead is spend time drinking a bunch of booze, fucking multiple hookers and bitching about the way things used to be. It’s an interesting portrait of a guy long passed his prime who may or may not have one more killing in him, but certainly has a bad attitude, hedonistic habits and a bleak worldview to spare.

3. Bear in Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty

The strong, silent stuntman type, Bear never goes anywhere without his adorable toddler daughter, which proves to be dangerous when he gets embroiled in a tricky hollywood crime standoff. I like James as Bear because he’s laidback, not incredibly smart but sharp enough to know where to invest his considerable talent and resourcefulness when shit gets real.

2. Virgil in Tony Scott’s True Romance

Another early career turn and probably the most ruthless character he’s ever taken on, Virgil is a Detroit mobster with a sadistic streak out to retrieve a suitcase full of coke for his kingpin boss (Christopher Walken). His explosive, ultra violent confrontation with Patricia Arquette’s Alabama has since become a legendary sequence of over the hill madness. He gives Virgil a gleeful menace and predatory relish in his actions that amp up a traditionally constructed villain character into something beastly and horrific.

1. Winston Baldry in Gore Verbinski’s The Mexican

Another mob hitman, but of a completely different sort than ever before. Winston is tasked with babysitting Julia Roberts all over the states and winds up becoming besties with her, in a completely charming yet ultimately believable arc. Winston may be a seasoned professional killer but he’s entirely in touch with his feelings, haa romantic yearnings of his own and isn’t without a good dose of compassion. It’s a brilliant, well rounded performance in an underrated film and the one performance that is the most beloved and memorable for me.

Runners up: Surviving Christmas, Zero Dark Thirty, The Drop, Where The Wild Things Are.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Rod Lurie’s The Last Castle

It was news to me that they have special military prisons in the States for court martials, dissidence and other forms of unruly behaviour in the ranks, but Rod Laurie’s The Last Castle gives insight aplenty into it. It’s basically prison but more intense, a penitentiary inhabited by only ex-soldiers and ruled over by one stubborn brat of a Warden in the form of James Gandolfini. Robert Redford plays a highly decorated, legendary general who is sent up for insubordination in circumstances that any rational personal should find understandable, but the US Government didn’t see it that way, so here he is. He’s a proud man who doesn’t back down in the face of bullies or tyrants, which immediately puts him at odds with Gandolfini. The warden initially shows admiration for him that turns sour after he can’t tame him to his way of thinking, after a which a sadistic streak emerges and nearly turns into all out warfare behind bars as the two let their personal natures run over into chaos. Redford, being a natural leader, forms ranks of his own from anyone who has the balls to deny authority and leads a minor rebellion, and although it all kind of gets overblown by the end, it’s nonetheless a fascinating and mostly character driven story. Support is given by a fine roster including Mark Ruffalo, Frank Military, Delroy Lindo, Steve Burton, Paul Calderon and the excellent Clifton Collins Jr. as an unfortunate rookie who becomes collateral damage in this very personal war. Gandolfini never ever half assed or phoned in a role, he was always focused, intense and specific and his character here fascinated me. This is a guy who is massively insecure and it’s evident from his behaviour that he didn’t have what it takes to engage in real life war games like the rest of them, therefore relegated to playing toy soldiers in military jail. There’s a bitter resentment in his body language and you get the sense that this guy was ready to snap for a while and the arrival of someone as prolific and headstrong as Redford’s character finally pushed him over the edge. It’s a brilliant performance in a good film that could have done without so much big budget Hollywood fireworks, but is still strong enough in the dramatic aspects to be affecting.

-Nate Hill

Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty

Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty could also laterally be called Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, since star John Travolta fought tooth and nail to keep all of the author’s dense, intelligent and pop culture soaked dialogue intact. The film is not only better for it but comes out a glowing gem, a giddy crime/comedy classic that’s as special to me as a comfort blanket to a toddler. A rainy day film, a lazy Sunday go-to DVD, I could watch the thing anytime and not only be consistently entertained with each revisit, but notice something I didn’t the previous couple hundred times. Travolta has never been cooler as Chili Palmer, a silver tongued Miami mobster who is propelled on a meta odyssey to Los Angeles after his boss dies and a whirlwind of confusion is whipped up. There he gets a taste for the film industry after meeting sad-sack B movie mogul Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman, priceless), scream queen actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo, never sexier) and a host of others. It’s a Hollywood satire, a pulpy crime thriller, a brilliant dark comedy and ensemble screwball piece that comes as close to the shores of perfection as movies can get. Dennis Farina gives one of his timelessly precious, angry wiseguy turns as Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni, another Miami hood and the barbaric, obnoxious answer to Travolta’s cool cucumber gentleman act. Delroy Lindo has further villain duties as crime kingpin Bo Catlett, who also has his sights set on celluloid and will intimidate, kill and extort his way there at any cost. Danny DeVito does a sly, biting send up of method acting as Martin Weir, a lovable thespian with his head just a wee bit jammed up his own ass. James Gandolfini is pure class as Bear, the stuntman who moonlights as an enforcer and carries his adorable daughter around anywhere he goes. Rounding out the cast are perfectly pitched turns from Jon Gries, David Paymer, Bette Midler, Martin Ferrero, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Conley and a special surprise cameo that I won’t spoil. Although not my favourite Leonard adaptation (Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight holds those honours), it’s definitely the most fun, and by far the most entertaining. The cleverness of offhand Hollywood jargon, peppered with obscure references that expect the cinephile in you to keep up are pure bliss, not to mention the tongue in cheek tough guy banter, the playful music by John Lurie, the lighthearted, whip crack editing from Jom Miller/Ted Woerner and the showcase performances from all actors involved, feasting on Elmore’s fine dialogue like steak & lobster. There’s a sequel called Be Cool which I have been reluctant to see, so I can’t weight in on it but apparently it doesn’t measure up, so you could always divert and check out Sonnenfield’s 2001 comedy Big Trouble, which is fun too and shares some costars with this (Farina and Russo appear in both). Or you can just pop this masterpiece in for another visit, and let it be it’s own sequel. I do all the time.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Mexican

Gore Verbinki’s The Mexican has always been a huge favourite of mine. It’s sort of a diamond in the rough in the sense that it didn’t meet very explosive box office or critical acclaim, but upon closer inspection is actually a uniquely structured, sexy, dangerous, eccentrically funny romantic black comedy. It’s one of those laconic yet feisty crime flicks, the kind that Elmore Leonard writes and Soderbergh directs, but this one is given the trademark oddball humour and distinct flourish that Verbinski brings to all of his films, the guy is so undervalued in Hollywood. Brad Pitt, in one of his scrappiest turns, plays perpetual fuck-up Jerry, a low level mob package boy who couldn’t deliver a pizza without dicking it up. He’s tasked by his freaky boss (a scary Bob Balaban) to deliver an ancient antique pistol across the Mexican border. Of course everything that can go wrong does, like the Murphy’s law of caper flicks. His high maintenance, wired girlfriend Samantha (Julia Roberts) tracks his course and ends up in quite a bit of danger. It’s all a breezy affair that goes from one episodic, densely written and excellently acted scene to the next, with redundant complexities of plot less important than character development and singular instances of violence and dark comedy. I won’t ruin the surprise cameo near the end but it’s someone who you’d always expect to find in smart ass films like this and shows up like he meant to be there the whole time but got caught in border traffic. J.K. Simmons is hilarious as a slightly odd colleague off Jerry’s, but the best performance of the film by far comes from the late James Gandolfini as Winston Baldry, a gay contract killer with both a soft and a dangerous side who kidnaps Samantha and holds her ransom until he finds Jerry. The brilliant script by J.H. Wyman focuses on and develops their relationship beautifully until we believe both as human beings in full colour and personality, as opposed to just characters on the page. Gandolfini could play a barstool on camera and still have enough depth and human spirit to win over an audience, the guy was just that good and this remains my favourite character he has ever created. There’s always a qualm people have with this film, and it’s that despite billed as a romance, Pitt and Roberts barely share any screen time together, instead running around the southwest and Mexico trying to find each other. Well, perhaps the poster shouldn’t have shown that image of them sharing a moment like that, but to me this story was never about them together, but the journey they take finding each other, all the crazy people they meet along the way and the strange parable of the pistol Jerry must deliver, which gets it’s own black and white aside flashback sequence that has a Robert Rodriguez feel. This one is a charmer, has enough action, wit and warmth to fill it’s leisurely two hour runtime, and languishes in each minute of it like any good, well thought out story does.

-Nate Hill

Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen


A demon angel. A Badass Denzel Washington. Tony Soprano singing the Rolling Stones. Creeping psychological dread. Browned, burnished production design. A deliciously mean spirited, ballsy twist ending. All this and more can be found in Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen, an atmospheric spook-house of a flick that gets tone, fright and suspense just right. Nestled in that sweet spot of the 90’s where detective stories often had a neat supernatural twist (The Prophecy is another dope one), it’s a film that demonstrates the power of storytelling and atmosphere done right, like a campfire tale that cops tell their youngsters. Denzel is Hobbs, a detective who oversees the graphic execution of serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas, terror incarnate), a monster he once caught. Case closed, right? Not so much. Soon after he kicks the bucket, one or more copycat killers show up, and once again the crimes happen under Hobb’s watch. Coincidence? Paranormal? It’s a neat, eerie game of cat and mouse with an antagonist who possesses a few unearthly methods of skulking around in the dark. Hobbs is helped by his two colleagues, salt of the earth John Goodman and hothead James Gandolfini, bumps heads with the obstinate police captain (Donald Sutherland), and runs into his foe at every turn, each time in a new vessel which gives the actors, right down to extras, an opportunity to have some devilish fun. Embeth Davidz is her usual withdrawn self as a woman with ties to the killer’s past, and watch for Robert Joy and Gabriel Casseus as well. Composer Dun Tan’s unearthly drone of a score compliments the drab shadows, oppressive nocturnes and threatening frames of the film eerily as well, creating a mood-scape that drips ambience. The end is an acidic kick in the nuts, and I admire a film that has the stones to chuck in such a shock tactic, embracing the dread that has been built up to that point with one last sardonic, hopeless cackle. Film noir to it’s roots, subtly mystical, a perfect one to settle down with as we move into the Halloween season. 

-Nate Hill

A Civil Action


A Civil Action is a quiet, sobering tale of gross corporate evils and one lawyer with the stones to stand up to it all. John Travolta can be the skeeviest slimeball, the most affable Everyman, terrifying arch villain or unwavering hero in his work, he’s just that adaptable. His character here is a small time lawyer in a four partner firm that can barely afford a collective pot to piss in, and are in dire need of a case. In a local county, there’s suspicion of a factory dumping lethal toxic waste into the nearby rivers, causing the death, illness and birth defects among many children. Problem is, it’s a ruthlessly expensive case that could bankrupt their entire firm, and the rival lawyer (Robert Duvall) is an Ivy League bigwig who could bury them. Travolta is steadfast though, calmly and methodically tackling one obstacle at a time with compassion for the victims, determination to smoke out the corruption and a reserved charm that puts the film in a relaxed yet pressing groove. The cast here is absolutely unreal as well. Standouts include James Gandolfini and David Thornton in heartbreaking turns as blue collar workers affected by these misdeeds, Dan Hedaya as a malicious perpetrator, William H. Macy and Tony Shaloub as Travolta’s firm partners, Daniel Von Bargen as a belligerent witness, as well as further work from John Lithgow, Harry Dean Stanton, Zelijko Ivanek, Mary Mara, Sydney Pollack, Stephen Fry, Paul Ben Victor, Michael P. Byrne, Josh Pais and more. It’s never too hectic though, despite having so many characters and being a courtroom drama, a sub genre usually steeped in fire and brimstone melodrama. There’s a sad, quiet aura to the proceedings here. The damage is done, and all these people are looking for is a little recognition, compassion and a settlement to ease the strife thrown at them by a very callous and uncaring bunch of people. Travolta is the harbinger of catharsis, a warmhearted man who gets invested in so deep that it isn’t about the money anymore for him, it’s about helping those in need. Powerful, understated stuff. 

-Nate Hill

Romance & Cigarettes: A Review by Nate Hill 

Romance And Cigarettes is the strangest musical you’ve never heard of. Strange as in awkward, because most of the songs are just too overdone and absurd to work, but I’ll concede that that very quality makes them unforgettable, if for not quite the same reasons the filmmakers intended. Going for a sort of pseudo Jersey Boys look, they set their cluster of stories in working class New York City, focusing on a number of hot blooded Italian American scamps and the mischief they get up to, all set to a raucous medley of musical numbers, some pleasant and others pretty darn tone deaf. James Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, a rowdy blue collar construction worker who finds himself between a rock and a hard place when his long suffering wife Kitty (an even rowdier Susan Sarandon) finds out about his secret mistress Tula (kinky Kate Winslet). This seems to be the last straw for Kitty as far as their marriage goes, and it all erupts into a series of volcanic confrontations and spats as only New Yorkers can spectacularly stage. In Kitty’s corner are her three handful daughter’s (Aida Turturro, Mary Louise Parker and adorable Mandy Moore) and her helpful Cousin Bo (Christopher Walken). Nick turns to a co worker Angelo (Steve Buscemi), is scolded by his stern mother (Elaine Stritch) and receives advice from an ex military tough guy (Bobby Cannavle). The film sides with both parties for one long and often chaotic look at marriage, infedelity and extremely short tempers, peppered with songs that, like I said before, are hit and miss. Walken has the best bit (doesn’t he always?) when he gets to a rip roaring riff on Tom Jones’s ‘Delilah’ that jazzes up the film quite a bit. Not destined to go down in history as one of the best musicals ever made, but worth it for the spoofy fun had by the impressive cast.