Friday, March 20, 2009

Humanizing the Villain

Living in America, the first time I ever saw Sean Bean in a film was in 1990 in The Field where he starred alongside such acting stalwarts as Richard Harris and John Hurt. Seeing him play a mentally slow son of a bullying father (Harris) drew me in from the start. Here was a young man who wanted to please his father but was led to do bad things, usually through the guidance and coercion of others. On the surface, one could look at the character of Tadgh as played by Sean as a one-dimensional entity especially since he had very little dialogue throughout the film. However, it was an early hallmark of his talent and skill to convey conflict in a myriad of emotions that flickered across his face and pulsed in his body language as he struggled to convey his inability to understand and obey his father’s inexhaustible demands.

That emotional conflict is what drew me back to see him again and again. The next time I saw Sean Bean was in 1992 in Patriot Games with Harrison Ford. Here he played an IRA terrorist who goes after Ford and his family in retribution for the killing of his younger brother. The first glimpse of the simmering hatred on Bean’s face as he stared down Ford in the courtroom was enough to scare the living daylights out of me. Yet I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sympathy for the man who had lost his younger brother to a cause he fervently believed in. This is Sean Bean’s forte. The ability to play a villain and no matter how bad, how corrupt that character may be, he manages to find something in them that makes him human and therefore relatable to those who watch him onscreen. He breathes uncommon life into villains that normally one would find despicable and entirely unsympathetic. It can be a small hesitation in the way he delivers a line, a palpable swallow, a look that flickers across his face for a fleeting second that makes you sit up and have second thoughts about whom you are actually seeing unfold before you on the screen. He makes his characters real. He makes his villains in particular, more human and three-dimensional than most of the good men you see played onscreen.

Many movie goers know Sean as “that bad dude” in films such as Golden Eye, Scarlett, National Treasure, and more recently, The Hitcher. In The Hitcher he came into the role of John Ryder which brought with it literally no background. A man bent on killing as much and as savagely as he could until somebody stopped him. But why? Only Sean’s flair for conveying the unspoken could he communicate a man with a death wish so fervent that he was pleading for his own violent end, as savage as any he had committed. It was what Ryder felt he deserved and Sean proved he could portray this villain without explanation or apologies for his behaviour.

His most recent turn as real estate developer John Dawson in the 1974 and 1983 installments of The Red Riding Series is a new achievement for Bean, as vile and nasty a character as any he has portrayed to date yet gilded with a sense of open magnanimity that betrays the evil that lies in wait.

And these are only some of the reasons that I am eagerly waiting for Ca$h! to come out. The thought of seeing Sean Bean play two roles, perhaps two sides of the same coin is yet another new feat for him and a challenge I am certain he'll excel at. When it comes to playing bad, no one does it so very good.


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