Sunday, September 12, 2010

Take Three: Steve Buscemi

Craig here with Take Three. Today, one of cinema's the most recognisable, ubiquitous and hard-working character actors: Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi (seen here in Sally Potter's Rage)

Take One: Every dog has his day

Buscemi was the one who gave Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue much of its snap and vigour in Reservoir Dogs (1992). It’s not so much the opening Madonna chatter I recall first, rather Mr Pink’s “I don’t tip” diatribe that springs prominently to mind. His sneering worldview marked him out as the dog with the least reserve when it came to social conduct and the most contempt when it came to straight, work-a-day life. The rest of the colour-coded pack may have appeared harder, and with “manlier” nicknames, but Mr Pink was far craftier, and suspiciously nervy with it.

The dog days are just beginning for Buscemi as Mr Pink

Buscemi - an actor forever accustomed to playing numerous weaselly types - is of course perfect casting as the dryly sly bank robber. He’s the most unusual suspect in Tarantino’s heist line-up, and the one who, ultimately, sneaks off with the greenbacks. Hiding during the film’s bloody central shootout served him well: he's Pink by name, but yellow by nature. It’s in his quiet, underhand moments in Dogs where I best see the comparison people have often made between some of Buscemi’s and Peter Lorre’s characters: both have played people so slippery that the camera has to be quick to catch their cunning. Could Steve bulk up and play him in a biopic, perhaps?

Nothin' but a gundog: Buscemi fires off for Quentin Tarantino

Buscemi digs into his character to show some revealing aspects to the brightly-monikered gangster-lite he plays. From just before he’s made to tip the waitress, and for a long time after, we see the seeds of his shifty surreptitiousness grow. Buscemi’s often on the periphery, but each time Mr Pink re-enters the narrative his callous apprehension notches up a gear. The words, verve and audaciously-skewed slant on the bank heist movie belonged to Tarantino, but the freshest thesping honours went to Buscemi. He was top dog here.

Take Two: Buscemi in the Bay of Plenty... of destruction and carnage

Buscemi as 'that guy' in The Island

We’re going to... The Island (2005).When Buscemi, as James McCord, says, “Just ‘cause people wanna eat the burger doesn't mean they wanna meet the cow,” and other pithy lines in Michael Bay’s slop-fi extravaganza it’s clear that he’s the droll relief the audience will instinctively warm to. The role is far from the best of his career, but it is somewhat typical of it. It’s a genre staple character for high-concept Hollywood fare, too: like fellow character actors Lawrence Fishburne (in Predators) and Peter Stormare (in Minority Report) Buscemi’s McCord is that 'slightly dubious guy who helps the lead(s) escape when they’re on the run’. Nonetheless, Buscemi’s working relationship with Bay meant that another ridiculous role for him gets Steve’s seal of approval (he was also in Armageddon).

Three smile Island: Buscemi stares at Ewan McGregor's clone

Part of his character's strict duty is to spout exposition at just the right point so that we, the audience, can sit pretty knowing that all the daft techno-malarkey will play out accordingly. Another strict duty includes telling Scarlett Johansson apart from her clone. (Hint: the clone gave the better performance.) Characters like McCord are essential for the survival of expensive, bloated-but-fun mishaps like The Island - so I guess [spoilery sentence incoming... although, as if anyone cares about the plot of the movie now] we should be grateful, then, that McCord got killed off. He's clearly a meat-and-potatoes role, a bill-payer, for Buscemi. But it matters not, as he characteristically added some leftfield charm to proceedings, and in the process got to deliver all the film’s best lines. Both of them.

Take Three: The Coen Brothers x 5½

Buscemi adds the snivel and the savoir faire in Miller's Crossing

I could have stuck a pin in Buscemi's filmography and stood a fair chance of hitting a Coen Brothers movie. Buscemi’s comically absurd side flourished with the extended bit parts he banked for his five-and-a-half Coen collaborations. Their 1990 Prohibition-era crime flick Miller’s Crossing was his first time out with the brothers. He was Mink Larouie, a gay bookie involved with John Turturro’s Bernie Bernbaum. Buscemi plays the jittery double-dealer type capably. He has one big scene with Gabriel Byrne, but casts a minor spell over the remainder of the film. Hats off to him. A year later he was Chet, Barton Fink’s (1992) bizarrely chirpy bellhop, on hand to squint at the dubious goings-on at the strange hotel and cease that ever-reverberating desk bell.

Dude, where's my ball? Buscemi goes logjammin' in The Big Lebowski

A cameo as a beatnik barman in The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) followed, then came the nearest thing to a Coen lead with 1996’s Fargo. As talkative and "kinda funny-lookin'" Carl Showalter, one half of a criminal kidnapping duo, Buscemi essayed one of his best roles - a veritable showcase for his best onscreen mannerisms, and a memorable career centrepiece. The much-loved Donny in The Big Lebowski (1998) was next. He was lovably goofy but pitiable this time, and of course exited the film on a breezy note, posthumously providing a few laughs to boot. And in some folks' eyes his part equalled Fargo for Buscemi best. Lastly, he avoided eye contact with an awkward couple across Tuileries station in the 1st arrondissement in Paris, je t'aime's (2006) fourth segment; it topped off (for now?) the above quintet as a quick-paced and frothy footnote. But when are those brothers going to give him a proper lead role? Or is Buscemi best suited to continually add great characterisation to their creations? Either way, it’s a bankable combination.


Volvagia said...

I think he's going to be in The Yiddish Policemen's Union for sure. And the Lead? Considering George Clooney's wants to get skinnier, their best bet of the regulars is bit player Stephen Root. (Mostly because I think the character needs to be played by a surprising actor. Hollywood never bit on Root, and, outside of Office Space fans, no one has a full sense of his talents.)

Robert Hamer said...

Hm, a little surprising that you didn't do a write-up of his performance in Ghost World. I'd argue that Seymour is the ultimate Steve Buscemi character.

Clarence said...

OHhhhhhhhhhh God I love Steve Buscemi!!! He's one of my favorite actors ever!

Jason H. said...

I'm looking forward to seeing what he does in Boardwalk Empire. I think we'll find out if he can be a lead, or if maybe he's better suited for memorable supporting roles.

Alison Flynn said...

One of my favorite actors. He's so good. :)

I also loved Living in Oblivion, in which he co-starred with one of my favorite actresses, Catherine Keener.

Seeking Amy said...

I cannot believe he didn't that Oscar nomination he was on his way to getting for 'Ghost World', a film I have big love for. Easily among my top ten supporting actor performances of the last decade. Fit him like a glove.

Florence said...

have you not heard of Ghost World? I'm just saying if your gonna talk about Steve Buscemi's performances that's one to talk about.

/3rtfu11 said...

I find him physically attractive in a low key way. He's married --- I wonder if his wife sees what I see.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Man, I miss seeing him and John Goodman in a Coen Bros flick. If I could reach back into the past, Buscemi would have gotten a supporting actor nod for Fargo (and Macy would've been lead).

I do believe, though, that Mark Christopher Lawrence as Construction Worker has the best line in The Island: "Jesus must love you!"

DVD Infatuation said...

Buscemi is the quintessential character actor, and he was brilliant in Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Miller's Crossing. I still have to check out his directorial efforts.

SoSueMe said...

I'm gonna be the third person to mention Ghost World...probably Steve's most lauded performance and one of the worst Oscar snubs of the last decade...he won NYFCC and NSFC amongst other awards.

SoSueMe said...

Oops I meant the fourth person to mention Ghost World...and now the fifth!

Volvagia said...

On the Peter Lorre note: Yes, but it wouldn't be as a lead. It'd be in a Bogart, John Huston or Fritz Lang biopic. And in case you're wondering, yes, I'd line up to see a movie about the making of Fritz Lang's M.

Andrew R. said...

Yeah, he's awesome.

The Rush Blog said...

"THE ISLAND" was a slop fest? Mind you, some of Michael Bay's action sequences were over-the-top. But I rather enjoyed the movie. And especially the scene with Steve Buscemi.