Despite his consistent appearance and demeanor, that of a bald, soft-spoken, kind, trusting middle aged man, there simply is no role Stanley Tucci cannot play. And play effectively. Wall Street whistler blower, conniving adulterer, serial narcissist, Holocaust architect, psychopathic killer, flamboyant art director – damn near every role Tucci steps into is executed with utter conviction. His amount of outstanding performances is certainly greater than the number I’m about to highlight here, but all told, these are the ones that have stayed with me most.
There’s something horrifying about watching an actor play a horrible man doing horrible things, but with uncommon restraint. Adolf Eichmann was one of the pioneers of the Holocaust, and to watch him and a handful of other German leaders sit around a very large table and coolly orchestrate an ordeal that would ultimately murder millions is simple mortifying.
Hardly any of the Nazis in Conspiracy talk above their normal speaking voices, and it is the simplicity and ease in which they dictate the terms of the Holocaust that proves to be the film’s most haunting aspect. Tucci is here to play lapdog to Kenneth Branagh’s cold and calculating Reinhard Heydrich, and he plays it extraordinarily well. Are the men depicted in Conspiracy villains? Of course. Do the actors play them as such? Not at all. Haunting.
Sidewalks of New York (2001)
Edward Burns’ Sidewalks of New York is filled with desperate romantics doing desperate things. Some lie, some love, some cheat, some steal. I find all of the film’s many stories entertaining, but there’s something about Griffin’s slimy philanderer that amuses me to no end.
Griffin is a successful dentist sleeping with a woman half his age. And, because he has already lived through one failed marriage, he can’t bring himself to tell his wife that he’s stepping out on her with a college-aged coed. There’s a scene where Griffin’s wife, Annie (played viciously by Heather Graham), finally confronts Griffin and asks him to explain. Explain the late-night gym trips, the showers, the perfume – explain it all. The result is one of Tucci’s best scenes: scrambling to wiggle his way out of the mess he’s in. Like a rat in a maze.
The Terminal (2004)
There’s just something about Frank Dixon that I love to hate. He’s a kind of harmless, middle aged codger who has done what he’s done for so long, it’s as if he’s blinded by false purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the job of the head of Customs and Border Protection at one of America’s largest airports isn’t an important gig, but it’s the sense of entitlement in which Tucci gives the character that makes the role as pleasing as it is.
In trying to keep harmless Viktor Navorski off American soil, Dixon humorously (and rather pointlessly) stops at nothing to make an innocent man’s life a living hell. Whether he’s stalking Viktor with a security camera, intimidating him with a bag of potato chips, or chasing after him with his diffident little shuffle, everything Dixon does is perfectly dialed in. It’s hard to explain, but simply put, Tucci is Dixon.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
The Devil Wears Prada ain’t my kind of movie. Sure, it’s one of the better contemporary romantic comedies I’ve seen, but that’s rather faint praise. A few things help make it worthy in my mind. One is Meryl Streep’s deservedly lauded performance, the other is Tucci’s perfectly flamboyant magazine art director, Nigel.
A pillar of style, class, and elegance, Tucci’s work here can be summed up by just one scene. After he warmly introduces his boss at a swanky, Parisian dinner, he sits giddily in high anticipation for the promotion he’s about to receive. When grade A bitch Miranda Priestly publicly announces that someone else is getting the job, Tucci’s face melts in devastating acceptance. It’s like watching the hopeless expression that comes over an actors face when they lose the Oscar to someone else. Yeah, like that. But times 10.
The Lovely Bones (2009)
I didn’t like Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. At all. I was quite taken with the source material it was based on, but I found the movie to be… ah, well, shit, let’s try to be nice. What I mean to arrive at is that although the film did next to nothing for me, Stanley Tucci’s role as killer George Harvey made the movie worth it.
While reading Alice Sebold’s book, I painted a very clear vision of George Harvey in my head, and I can’t explain how thrilling it is to witness the character on screen damn near exactly how I pictured him. Many are to thank for this, certainly, but beyond mere looks, it’s the way in which Tucci played Harvey that made him so effective. He’s the perfect Ted Bundy – that kind man who, while helping you down a flight of stairs, may or may not put a cloth laced with chloroform over your mouth. His balding blonde hair, his cowardly voice, his beady little eyes: Tucci’s performance here is a fine example of an actor making a bad movie beyond bearable.
The Best of the Best
Big Night (1996)
Big Night is a simple but no less endearing movie about two Italian brothers running an authentic restaurant in New Jersey. Tucci plays Secondo, a boisterous businessman desperately trying to keep his establishment afloat with his brilliant chef brother, Abruzzo (Tony Shalhoub). Abruzzo prefers to let his food do the talking, so most of the rat-a-tat verbal musings in the film are brought on by Tucci, who turns an honest man trying to make good on a hustle into a perfectly humorous, thrilling, and ultimately heartbreaking character.
Honestly, Tucci deserves mention based solely on this film’s final scene, which is as moving and modest a scene of mutual understanding as I can recall. It works for a number of reasons. Tucci’s tight script and reserved direction certainly helps, but on screen, the man is a beacon of subtle intimacy. It is truly marvelous to watch the moment play out.
Other Essential Roles
|In Margin Call|
It Could Happen to You (1994)
Kiss of Death (1995)
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
The Imposters (1998)
Road to Perdition (2002)
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004)
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
The Hoax (2006)
What Just Happened (2008)
Julie & Julia (2009)
Easy A (2010)
Margin Call (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The Hunger Games (2012)
Michael Clarke Duncan
Philip Baker Hall
Philip Seymour Hoffman
William H. Macy
John C. Reilly