Monday, August 31, 2009

Eric Bana-nanza

Dave from Victim of the Time here, wondering why Eric Bana isn't a legitimate movie-star yet. I don't like to be an undue influence, but if I were in charge of Nat's Film Bitch awards for this year, Eric would be the current front-runner for the 'Body of Work' award. You'll all remember Star Trek, of course, where Bana played the main villain, the Romulan Nero, and put a lot of energy and zest into a role that wasn't given as much attention as it probably should have been. Since then, he's recently had two more roles that amply show off both his acting chops - in strikingly different ways - and his almost limitless charisma. (He also starred in the Australian film Romulus, My Father, but who knows when that'll reach my eyes...) In a coincidental move that surely inspired this post, I happened to see both of these Bana-starring films within the last week.

The Time Traveler's Wife is a disappointing adaptation of Audrey Hiffenegger's immersive, emotional novel, but you can't blame the cast (or indeed the casting director). Rachel McAdams is tender and sympathetic as Clare, perhaps missing a bit of the fierce passion and independent spirit of the book's Clare, but then the script goes for the romantic heartbreak rather than the book's mixture of romance and intellectualism. There's only so much you can fit into two hours, I suppose. But Bana is really the star here. Working within the script's slimmed down plotlines, he effortlessly conveys the bizarre difficulties and odd pleasures of the time travelling concept, instantly makes you comprehend why he loves Clare, while maintaining the book's unspoken edge that part of his love for her might be the simple need to have a purpose. Bana provides the movie with an emotional weight it would otherwise lack; the movie provides him with a chance to prove he is the romantic leading man the industry seems to be without at the moment. (Feel free to challenge me on this, but I can't think of anyone.)

But he saved the best for last. Or, for you Americans, he served up a rather lovely sandwich (choose your own filling for this metaphor), for Funny People, despite what the poster might pretend, is Bana's film. He steals it from under the noses of more seasoned film comedians (admittedly not particularly good ones) and jolts the film out of the odd, pitiable funk it's descended into. It's well-worn trivia that Bana was a stand-up comedian before he was spotted for his break-through performance in Chopper, but, despite Funny People's premise, Bana's character Clarke asks a different kind of comedic poise from Bana. Clarke is a stereotypical Australian dominant male figure with a rabid business sense and an aggression in both his humour and his temper. Bana displays impeccable comic timing in his interactions with Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann and Seth Rogen (as well as his on-screen children - their Chinese conversation provides the film's biggest laugh) as well as fine balance in keeping Clarke out of the realm of caricature. It's not a stretch to say his work here is a film-saving turn.

Bana's filmography since Chopper is a selective bunch of films, and it has to be said he's not always saved it for the best roles - Troy was a disaster (Bana emerged as the best thing in it), as were Lucky You (again, not his fault) and The Other Boleyn Girl (I don't who to blame for this), and, despite my opinion being that it wasn't half-bad, Hulk was hardly the vehicle to stardom anyone would have wanted. Maybe this terrific year will propel Bana to better things. He has the charisma, the talent, and the looks. Now he just needs to be allowed to use them more often.

16 comments:

Ryan said...

Ehhh I feel his character in Funny People was not very sympathetic and he made him more of a one-note character.

Glendon said...

I love him in Munich and Black Hawk Down.

countrycat said...

Most Americans have no idea about Eric Bana and his comedic talents. He had his own sketch show in Australia which is hilarious. Also if you can, check out The Nugget and The Castle. If there's one actor working today that's not a bigger star but should be IT'S THIS GUY! The looks, the charm, an ease for drama and comedy. After all, he got me to sit through Lucky You.

I do have to agree with you on TTTW. There was something lacking even though I enjoyed the movie. And I would not have minded being Rachel McAdams in that bed with him.

Jake D said...

I don't think anything could have saved Funny People

Alice said...

Any Bana love is fine by me! I agree with countrycat that you've got to check out The Castle, and on an entirely different note, his performance in Romulus, My Father is simply superb. Surely with region free, finding this film on DVD is an option?

Also worth putting on your radar is Bana's directorial debut in a wonderful, personal documentary Love The Beast. After seeing that, I hope spends more time behind the camera, as well as in front of it!

You can read my review of the doco here: http://www.onyamagazine.com/film/film-review-love-the-beast/

J said...

He hasn't found a true breakout role. He's like Clive Owen...

Danny King said...

I agree that he wasn't given enough screen time in Star Trek. He was terrifying when he was on screen, and I wanted to see more of him. It was a great performance and he could've had something special if it was a meatier part.

Belle said...

I think I'm the only person in the world that would have nominated him for "Munich." Sigh. As talented as Eric Bana is, I think he seriously needs a crash course in script selection. So many off choices that did him no favors. Saying he's the best part of "Funny People" is like saying what's the best part of having the flu -- the swollen glands, the sore throat, the runny nose, the chest congestion, etc. And "Time Traveler's Wife" could have soared his career, but it so didn't with that awful screenplay. His time is coming, and all it takes is the right role. I'm always hoping.

Alice said...

A post from The Guardian that echoes your thoughts:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2009/aug/27/eric-bana-funny-people-chopper

countrycat said...

J...I loved "The International" really hated "Duplicity". Chemistry does not make up for the fact the film makes no sense. He's another one that should have more success. But I think Bana's ability at drama and comedy makes him the total package.

I still haven't seen "Munich" but it's on my list. "Funny People" was bad but Bana in the trailer got me to see it and he was the only thing in the film worth paying attention to.

Less Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, more Eric Bana people! :-)

Alex F. said...

Uh, have we been watching the same Bana movies? No doubt he's got the looks and the acting chops, but the charm? No. Sorry. He just does not exude that presence. He's likable enough, but I don't think he'll ever break through as true movie "star". He's had a couple of huge breaks and it hasn't happened. And what's wrong with that? He's working regularly and in movies that I'm sure look good on paper.

Dame James said...

I have nothing against Eric Bana but I really don't see anything special about him. Anytime I've seen him on-screen there is always someone else that is 100 times more interesting. Natalie Portman stole The Other Boleyn Girl and Leslie Mann and Seth Rogen were the heart and soul of Funny People, not the uninteresting Bana character. Good looking guy but he's not enough to get me to buy a ticket.

Keith said...

Thank you for this post! Eric is a fantastic actor, but as is the Australian way, he seems a little bit of an underdog against people like Brad Pitt in Troy, wher Eric clearly outshone his big buck colleague. Unfortunately, it seems you American's believe your actors are the best. For some reason, Tom Cruise is a little generic, as is other top names.

Eric Bana and Hugh Jackman should be held in MUCH higher regard than most current hollywood pretender's.

Although, Johnny Depp is really something else.....

lylee said...

Aw, thank you for this. I heart Eric Bana. I haven't seen "Funny People" but I'd really like to see him do more comedy.

Also, that picture is yummy. Rowr.

Slayton said...

His performance in Chopper is really best-of-the-decade material and one of the most unassumingly complex, disarming biopic performances I've ever seen. Too bad America hasn't been able to really capitalize on his talents. And I was one of the people who wrote him off as a B+ pretty boy with C+ talent until I saw this film.

Anonymous said...

what is this about 'you americans'? there are plenty of big name aussie stars. banna.... he is likable enough, but something about him in 'serious' movies just doesn't do it for me. but yes, the castle owns.