Friday, September 4, 2009
Perfectly suited to television
Normally, describing an actor as "perfectly suited to television" might seem like a slap in the face. It's alright to be on television, and in fact, it's increasingly respectable in its own right. But being "perfectly suited" to television? That sounds harsh.
Ever since The Sopranos hit the air ten years ago -- and possibly before then, though that seems like a good benchmark -- cable television has been giving both the networks and the movies a run for their money. Hour-long television shows on HBO and Showtime are uniquely positioned to provide audiences the best of both worlds. Take the uncensored sex, language and violence of the movies, and TV's ability to develop characters and storylines over multiple seasons, and voila! True Must See TV, NBC be damned.
One of the kings of this form has been actor Michael C. Hall. First making a splash in our consciousness as David Fisher, the uptight homosexual baby brother in Six Feet Under's clan of funeral home directors, Hall quickly proved that this character was going to be a lot deeper and more complicated than some of his initial whiny antics suggested. When that show ended after five seasons (and what a final episode), Hall might have been perfectly content saying "I've had a good run," and slipping into supporting work. No one would have blamed him. Yet instead he became an even more indelible character, Dexter Morgan on Showtime's Dexter, now entering its fourth season. As a serial killer who follows a moral code of murdering only bad people, Hall's blood spatter specialist always has an exquisitely flimsy grasp on his secrets, which threaten to spill out and stain him, like so much blood.
So why would this talented actor, who has excelled so marvelously in his current arena, want to branch out into the movies?
That was my first thought when I saw a trailer for Gamer, due out on Friday. It's an action movie with a social message, as it seems to parody the gaming culture that has possessed our youth. Gerard Butler plays some kind of soldier of fortune trapped in some kind of game, only his decisions are not his own. Some kid on the outside world is actually "playing" him, and whether the soldier lives or dies is based entirely on the kid's dexterity with a joystick.
At least, that's what I can gather from a trailer I saw two months ago.
Michael C. Hall appears to play some kind of villain. Smart casting, to be sure, as Hall's Dexter can be plenty terrifying when he wants to be. (When he isn't being a good surrogate dad or bringing donuts to his fellow police officers, that is).
I should say, it's smart casting for the producers of Gamer, but I don't know if it's smart casting for Hall.
See, movies involving fights-to-the-death as reality shows/public entertainment have never exactly been critical darlings. Looking back on the undistinguished list of The Running Man, The Condemned and Death Race, one can pretty much predict Gamer's future. It'll open to a respectable $15 million in its first weekend, but word of mouth won't carry it. It'll have left all theaters within a month, with little more than $30 million in total earnings. Such is the fate of movies released on September 4th -- that's why they were scheduled for that date in the first place.
But will Gamer help us predict Hall's future? Is he going to go from extremely smart decisions on TV to extremely dumb ones in the movies?
Maybe not. There's an actual website that can "predict" Hall's future: IMDB. It shows two more movies on the horizon for Hall, Peep World and East Fifth Bliss. Both are comedies. Well, at least he isn't interested in becoming some kind of typecast big screen villain/killer.
But what roles he'd play in the movies is not really the point, is it? The point is, we like our David/Dexter on the small screen. We like him as a character about whom we learn more and more as the seasons of his shows unfold. We like his ability to surprise us, but not because he can show up in Gamer. We like to be surprised by the risks he takes within those roles, not because he's popping up in the damnedest of places on the big screen.
Unfortunately, few actors are satisfied with "just" being television stars. Even when he was an indisputable TV icon, Ted Danson wanted to try his luck on the big screen, without much success. Same can be said for guys like Kelsey Grammer, David Caruso and David Schwimmer. TV was so good to them, there was little chance that movies could do the same.
And so I worry it is with Michael C. Hall. But I really don't want to think of Michael C. Hall as a David Caruso or a David Schwimmer. It sounds strange to be saying this on a movie blog, but I want him to be bigger than the movies. I want him to be that rare actor who realizes his perfect calling -- and never allows the seductive lure of the cinema to spoil that, to make him seem "less than," to make him seem like he struck out.
But I suppose that if it's rare that lightning strikes twice -- as it has for Hall -- that thrice is even less likely. And I also suppose that Dexter Morgan can't go on narrowly escaping getting caught killing people for ten seasons. The movies will beckon. They always do.
Well, maybe after this weekend, when we're lined up to see Gamer for our second attempt to hit the drive-in, I'll think of Michael C. Hall as David, as Dexter ... and as the surprisingly awesome villain in the surprisingly awesome movie about dystopian fight-to-the-death reality video games.
Because as much as I like Hall's TV shows, I also want the guy to be happy. If marrying the shrill actress who plays his sister on Dexter (Jennifer Carpenter) makes him happy, so be it. And if the movies make him happy, so be it.
He's given me enough over the years to deserve it.