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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why I Love Film - #3

In 2006, a small film came out called Alpha Dog, and I was reintroduced to an actor I came to know when I was a kid watching the Disney channel. Ben Foster was in a goofy "sit-com" called Flash Forward with a girl named Jewel Stait, who went on to achieve her own fame through Firefly. She grew to be the same adorable actress I was used to, but... Ben Foster?

from the Disney channel?!

More after the cut --

The most fascinating thing about Foster, as an actor, is his intensity that he brings to everything he does. Hostage, 3:10 to Yuma, even The Mechanic. He's a powerhouse actor. And he can take a crap project, and raise it above its bar to become something to watch over and over. See: Pandorum. One of my friends refers to him as "ugly Ryan Gosling", but I'm not sure the comparison is fair. Both are intense actors, leading a wave of Brando impressionists for their generation, but Foster has a unique understanding of what works for him, and he works it harder than most people in the profession do. And even when he's dialed down the ferociousness, like in The Messenger, he's still an intense watch. 

Regardless, this is about a specific performance from the man - Jake Mazursky in Alpha Dog. It's a film filled with star-making performances from Emile Hirsch, Anton Yelchin, and Justin Timberlake, but Ben Foster takes the film and makes it his own. It's a powerful, brutal, sensitive, human, self-conscious, dark, brooding, and violent performance. 

The film is based on true events about a young boy who is kidnapped for ransom due to a drug debt from the boy's older brother. Soon, after what promised to be something that "was fun", everything goes horribly wrong and gets disturbingly violent. Ben Foster is at the center as Jake, based on a real man, who is a crystal meth addict, and a Tai Kwon Do blackbelt, with an incredibly short temper. What follows, is one of the best performances of 2006. 

Still gets me, even to this day, and I've seen the film countless times.

Why does it make me love film? It isn't just the performance, or the re-invention of Ben Foster from Disney nerd to vicious actor. It's the way the film itself surrounds the performance. Watch the film and note the directorial differences between Foster's scenes and everyone else's. There's an odd sense of calm when Foster is on screen, even though the action on screen might be frenzied and harsh. There's a certain way the camera moves, showing as much of Foster as possible, making him larger than life but still human. It's tricky stuff, but pulled off exceedingly well.

If you've never seen the film, do yourself a favor and watch it as soon as you can. Even just for Foster's work - just one more example of why I admire actors like this, and why I love film in general. Brilliant work.