By John H. Foote
In a week that has seen Christian Bale and Clint Eastwood shake up the race for Best Actor, Rami Malek joins the race for his performance as rocker Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of the rock band Queen.
One week ago the major contenders for Best Actor were Viggo Mortensen in Green Book, Ryan Gosling in First Man, Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun, Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born and the relatively unseen Willem Dafoe in At Eternity’s Gate. Those lucky few who have seen Dafoe as Van Gogh, say the sixty-three-year-old actor surpasses all his careers work as the tortured artist. But now those five have some serious competition.
Eastwood is much more beloved by the Academy than Redford, with two Oscars for Best Director, two for Best Picture (producer), two other nominations for Best Director, and two nominations for Best Actor. There is a thinking he was robbed of a nomination for Best Actor for Gran Torino (2008) (he was), and it could be seen as a makeup nomination for The Mule, which he also directed. To be clear, anytime Eastwood makes a film, it needs to be taken seriously as a major work. Yes, he has made some weak movies, but they are few and far between. The trailer suggests a great performance from the nearly ninety-year-old actor.
Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Vice in two minutes of a trailer stunned anyone who saw it. He is not just portraying Cheney, he is inhabiting the character, he is Cheney. But now we have to be used to Bale being astonishing in anything, but here he goes a step further. I doubt they can ignore him for this one.
And now we have Malek as Mercury.
Gripers stated the obvious, he was smaller than Mercury, shorter, but he inhabited the role with a ferocity rarely seen by young actors. For all intent and purpose for two hours, he was Mercury. Mercury had a startling presence onstage, and I think Malek recreated that to perfection. Yes, it is Mercury doing the singing, who could possibly mimic his voice? That Malek performs and appears to be singing, capturing the essence of what Mercury was, is exceptional. Often lip synching is more difficult than actually singing!
Should Malek, Bale, and Eastwood join the race, who gets bumped? Redford for sure, because he is a minor performance and he has been better before. Gosling internalizes his performance, which the Academy often misses, but I think his film First Man soars into the heavens and he will be included, leaving Dafoe as the odd man out. If they snub Malek, and they might count on Dafoe getting in.
But at this point, Mortensen appears the winner, and that is OK with me, he was terrific.
Going to be a helluva race.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.