Monday, June 20, 2016
R.I.P. Anton Yelchin
I don't, or rather can't, stop to remember every cinematic figure we lose on my blog. But today I am compelled to give some attention to one of the most naturalistic young actors we had.
Not everyone I know was a fan of Anton Yelchin, but he grabbed me from the first time I remember seeing him. That was in Alpha Dog, Nick Cassavetes' 2006 dramatic interpretation of a real incident in which a teenage boy (Yelchin) was kidnapped and killed as part of a feud between twentysomething gangsters in California's high desert. Yelchin had been working enough already that I recognized him in an "Oh, that's that guy" kind of way, but I didn't really get a sense of what he could do until this performance.
And what he could do was give a preternaturally mature distillation of immaturity.
It's not that the character he played in the film was immature, but that he felt like exactly the age he was supposed to be -- not too young, not too old, filled with all the bluster and the joy and the fear of a 15-year-old, or whatever age he was supposed to be. Yelchin was only 17, so I don't want to make too much of him putting himself into a different mindset to play the role. Basically he just drew on his own real experiences, I would say, which is not always easy. He was just ... natural.
And his pleas with his captors, when it turns out they still plan to kill him even after basically partying with him for a couple days straight, are so painfully real and fully realized that I get chills even now just thinking of them. That would be true even if they were not now the pleas of someone who has actually died.
From then on I took an interest in Yelchin's career, considering his presence to be a feather in the cap of any movie. I had mixed feelings about Charlie Bartlett, but it wasn't Yelchin's fault. His 2009 films were a mixed bag, as he brought really winning charm to the role of Chekov in the first Star Trek reboot, but couldn't save Terminator Salvation. Actually, scanning through his filmography, the hits and misses continue to go like this, alternating with one another -- at least among the movies I've seen. For every Like Crazy, there's a Fright Night (both in 2011). For every Only Lovers Left Alive, there's an Odd Thomas (both in 2013). I really liked him in Green Room, but it's too early to tell which will be the alternating disappointment from 2016, as he has a couple films yet to be released. And actually, there's a lot more Yelchin movies I haven't seen than I have.
But no miss has ever taken the shine off of what I thought Yelchin could do. He was one of those guys who just instinctively understood the craft. He spoke in a kind of husky rasp that, when combined with the kind of post-pubescent cracking of his voice, just made him sound like a real person. I don't know if I'd say that each of his performances was realistic, because I'm sure there are times when he went for something intentionally stylized. But each performance was underpinned by an essential realism because of his natural manner, one that you're either born with or are not. And as Yelchin was doing this job since he was ten years old, it's fair to say he was born with it.
On Saturday night, some deadly mishap occurred where Yelchin's car rolled down his steep driveway and pinned him against a mailbox. I'm having trouble even imagining the logistics of it, and hope it was indeed an accident. It's far too sensational an ending for someone whose work was so grounded in truth.
I'm going to miss all the movies he would have made, even the ones that wouldn't have been so great.