Thursday, December 19, 2013

Harrison Ford really likes being in movies these days

And I for one am grateful, because he's back to being good at it.

Having spent the first decade of the 21st century making less than one movie per year, Ford was for all intents and purposes retired. His appearance in a movie would prompt an involuntary raised eyebrow. You'd wonder what set of circumstances had caused him to dignify the set of Hollywood Homicide or Firewall with his presence.

Not that we should take digs at Ford for not choosing the career path of Nicolas Cage, but in truth, we do sort of resent actors who feel like they don't need to act anymore. You're supposed to keep making movies until we, the audience, are done with you, not until you have enough money to buy a small island. Anything less is a failure to appreciate the people who got you there, the fans.

Well, Ford is a fan-appreciating muthafucka these days.

Having just completed 42 -- which I finally gave up trying to get from the Hoyts Kiosk and the video store, and rented from iTunes instead -- I have now seen two of Ford's four 2013 releases, after catching up with Ender's Game last week. I may see Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues on Monday, though his work in that may be of the surprise cameo variety (and if so, I'm sorry about spoiling the surprise). Paranoia is the only film that remains likely to elude me, given that I heard it wasn't all that.

If he was good in Ender's Game, he was great in 42.

See, there's a difference between returning to acting and returning to acting effectively. If you're a star of Ford's caliber, you can start being in movies again whenever you want. It's being good in them that's the trick.

Having just completed 42, not only did I think Ford was good, but I'm rooting for him to get that Oscar nomination I've heard discussed as a possibility. I might even be rooting for him to win it. 

The current state of affairs seemed highly unlikely back when Cowboys & Aliens came out in 2011. Boy was that a stinker. Not only was it a stinker, but Ford was one of the main reasons it stunk. He mumbled his way through that movie and frankly seemed lost. Old Man Ford seemed to have taken over the once vital young symbol of masculine virility. He was a septuagenarian dressing up like a movie star. You could imagine someone off set yelling his lines to him, and him still repeating them back incorrectly.

Not anymore. Harrison Ford has poured his heart and soul into the role of Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodger owner who made the trailblazing decision to offer a contract to Major League Baseball's first black player, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman).

It's not just that Rickey has the choicest lines of dialogue, putting into words the anger and frustration over society's reaction to Robinson. It's that Ford delivers them with a quivering fervor that makes you want to get up out of your seat and cheer. But it's not just a performance of raging righteous indignation. Ford also does really subtle work with just small changes of expression upon hearing an ugly N-word come out of someone's mouth. He's a man with an optimistic view of society, one that is dying by a thousand cuts.

What's more impressive is that it's one of the actor's few performances that cannot be described as Ford playing Ford. Ford has been called a good actor, but he's rarely been called a versatile one. Here, he's adopting a gruffer voice, he's picking up mannerisms that may not belong to him. And when he points -- as Ford is wont to do -- he's pointing downward, with the crooked, arthritic hands of a man past his prime.

Turning into an old man has made Ford a good actor again. He spent years looking like he was uncomfortable in his skin, but now he looks quite comfortable.

This is not to say that it's smooth sailing for Ford from here on out. He is in the next Expendables movie, and he is unlikely to know the best way to play Han Solo again.

So maybe now is the time for that Oscar. It's one thing to start acting again, but it's quite another to keep doing award-worthy work.

At least Ford has given himself good odds by becoming a Hollywood regular again. Five years ago, it's not something I knew I would want to happen quite this much.

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