Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Top 10 Scenes of Ed Harris’ Career

I’m hard pressed to think of a living actor that is as continually intense as Ed Harris. Whether he’s screaming, shouting, punching or glaring, he gives off an immediate sense of fear that is impossible to take your eyes off of.

But there’s a flip side. The inverse to his trademark intensity is his genuine tenderness. He can play mean and he can play earnest, as good as any of them.

Because today is Harris’ 62nd birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to list my Top 10 favorite scenes of his career. From brooding to sensitive, here’s where Harris has been at his finest.

10. The Firm – “We’ll probably see each other again.”
There’s something so cool and eerie about the moment we meet Harris in The Firm. Bald-headed and fitted in a shitty suit, he strolls into a diner, sits across from Tom Cruise, and slowly begins to harass Cruise’s character. The words he uses, the slight smirks he shines, the way he eats saltines in one bite – it’s all so off putting. Who is he? Cop? Competing lawyer? Hit man? We have no idea, but damn if we aren’t counting the minutes until he comes back.

9. The Hours – “Just wait ‘til I die, then you’ll have to think of yourself.”
Harris is only in two scenes of The Hours, but damn if he doesn’t leave his mark. As a bitter man slowly dying of AIDS, his two moments with Meryl Streep mark some of the most gut wrenching work of his career. I suppose I’m more drawn to their first encounter together, in which Harris’ character lambasts Streep for her constant support. In one moment, he threateningly asks her what she’s going to do with herself once he’s dead. It’s a simple, heartbreaking scene of a life lost.

8. A History of Violence – “Put the popgun down, come over and talk to us.”
After Philadelphia thug Carl Fogarty has delicately harassed poor Tom Stall and his family, Fogarty finally decides to bring things to a head by kidnapping Tom’s son and showing up at the Stall house. Watching Harris here, scar faced and impossibly calm, you can’t help but know that shit is about to get very bad very quickly. Which… it does.

(Note: The clip below contains spoilers.)

7. The Truman Show – “Say something, goddamnit! You’re on television!”
Once Harris’ Christof is finally face to face (well… kind of) with his lifelong subject, Truman, we are privy to a unique scene in which Harris flexes fatherly warmth, avert narcissism, and vengeful pride all in the span of one gentle monologue. I mean, really, what is Christof expecting of Truman here? That he’s just going to turn around and continue with the show like normal? This moment is a hopeless, last ditch effort for Christof to attain all he’s worked for, and it is devastating to watch.

6. Glengarry Glen Ross – “FUCK THE MACHINE!”
The David Mamet-penned Glengarry Glen Ross is as fine an exercise in screenwriting as any film made before or since. The movie is filled with moments of heated exchanges, none more jaw dropping than the scene in which Harris’ Dave Moss attempts (and fails miserably) at attacking Al Pacino’s Ricky Roma. Moss’ futile attempts to unleash his pent up aggression results in him walking away with his head down in shame, dragging his feet across the shitty office floor. He tries to let out one final Fuck You, but by then, the battle has been lost.

5. Pollock – “I’m not the phony, you’re the phony.”
There are few scenes in Harris’ incredible film, Pollock, that hit harder than the moment in which Pollock, himself a helpless alcoholic, has his first drink in two years. His initial enjoyment in reveling in the drink, followed soon by a violent outburst, is some of the most powerful acting Harris has ever done. Watching him take two huge pulls of liquor, then slither around a dinner party, plotting his move – Christ, it’s just unbearable.

4. Pollock – Inspiration Takes Hold
No matter your preferred method of art, there’s nothing more terrifying than an empty canvas staring back at you. I’ve seen many movies that depict that EUREKA moment of an artist finally getting their inspiration, but I’m hard pressed to think of one more accomplished than this.

There’s Pollock, staring helplessly at a giant canvas that is to act as a mural for New York socialite Peggy Guggenheim. He stares and smokes and stares and smokes. Nothing. Then… BAM.

There are three masterful things at work here: Ed Harris’ flawless paint strokes, Jeff Beal’s lyrical score, and Lisa Rinzler’s seamless camera. A bravado piece of filmmaking.

3a. Apollo 13 – “I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”
A bit of a cheat here, but for me, these two scenes from Apollo 13 are completely inseparable. Soon before the astronauts attempt to make it back Earth-side, Flight Director Gene Kranz overhears his superiors talk about the fatal disaster that may occur. The camera cuts left, Harris turns to frame and delivers a line of utter conviction.

Tom Hanks’ “Houston, we have a problem,” always gets more play, but Harris’ delivery here deserves just as much credit.

3b. Apollo 13 – Sinking Tears
Once Jim Lovell and his two cohorts are back in Earth’s atmosphere, Harris let’s out a perfectly restrained sigh of relief as everyone around him celebrates in ecstatic jubilation. He slowly sinks into his chair, relieved to no end. After a brief moment, he stands up and wipes tears from his eyes while shaking the hands of those around him. If that’s not acting, then I don’t know what is.

2. Glengarry Glen Ross – “Because you listened.”
After being told off by Alec Baldwin’s crass Blake, Harris’ Dave Moss is pissed. Pissed and looking to get even. After some plotting, Moss spends several minutes verbally setting up Alan Arkin’s sorrowful George. Moss tells anecdote after anecdote, before finally getting to the point: he wants George to break into their office, steal the hot new real estate leads, and sell them to a competitor. George is stunned, and refuses to cooperate. Moss threatens blackmail, and George wonders why. Why him? Why now?

Why? Because he listened.

(Note: I couldn’t find a clip of the scene in question, so below is part of Moss’ setup.)

1. The Abyss – “SHE WANTS TO LIVE!”
One of the single best-acted scenes I have ever witnessed takes place as Ed Harris is trying to bring his wife back to life in James Cameron’s The Abyss. After forcing herself to drown so that Harris could swim them back to their submarine, Harris and his team attempt CPR, the use of a defibrillator, CPR, defibrillator, before giving up. No pulse.

But fuck that.

Harris has no interest in quitting, and what follows is a scene of such ferocious power, that it draws comparison to De Niro’s fight with a jailhouse concrete wall in Raging Bull. After another minute or so of mouth-to-mouth, Harris resorts to slapping her around and screaming, “Fight!” over and over until his voice goes hoarse. This moment, and what happens as a result of it, never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

Anyone with a remote interest in the acting art form – whether as a spectator or executor – needs to watch and study this scene. This is how it is done.

22 comments:

  1. I honestly think he should have won for those two scenes in The Hours. (But then again, the race that year was pretty tight.)

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    1. Yeah that is a damn tight year indeed. I could go for Harris, Walken, Newman or Cooper for the win. Great performances all around.

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  2. That scene in The Abyss is my favorite. That's why Ed Harris rocks.

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    1. Yeah man, no doubt. Scene rocks me to the core.

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  3. Nice Ed Harris write-ups!

    Love the scenes in Glengarry Glenross and The Abyss. Great movies.

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    1. Thanks man! He's so damn good in both of those flicks. Flawless really.

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  4. As I was reading and scrolling down I was wondering if the "If you see me coming, you better run, because I am gonna lay you the fuck down" scene in Gone Baby Gone was going to make the cut.

    Harris has been so powerful in so many movies, but this could almost have been his peak for me. Few actors sell intense conviction like Harris does.

    The film itself must be one of the most perenially underrated, you don't hear much about it, I have it marginally behind The Town and just ahead of Argo in terms of Affleck's work as a director, and all three were top five or ten for their year in my opinion.

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    1. That scene was, swear to God, number 11 on the list. I LOVE Gone Baby Gone and his performance in it. I'm a huge fan of Affleck's directorial work. If I had to rate the three... I dunno, that's tough. I think Argo is his most mature, Gone Baby Gone is his most accomplished, and The Town is his most entertaining. Tough to pick a favorite, love them all.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

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  5. Great post! I'm adding The Abyss and Pollack to my Watchlist. I also need to see Glen Glengarry Ross. I saw and liked another film, titled Homicide, written by Mamet.

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    1. Thanks! Okay, take it from me, you would love Pollock. I'm usually nervous in asserting for certain what people will and won't like, but you'll like that one.

      Homicide is fantastic; I'm a huge admirer of Mamet's. Glengarry is, inarguably, his best script to date. It just sings with venom.

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  6. Came in here to make sure The Truman Show was mentioned. Good to see you have it covered.

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  7. This is a great list man. Pollock and The Abyss have been on my watchlist for years, so I really should watch them soon.

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    1. Thanks dude. Harris makes Pollock good for so many reasons. It's one of the best acting performances I've ever seen a director direct himself in. Very intense.

      The Abyss, in my opinion, is James Cameron's best film. It isn't his best action flick, but his best overall film.

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  8. Great list, one of my absolute favorite character actors out there. Really wanted that scene in the Rock with him confronting the mercenaries in his group. It's not saying much but his General Hummel is the best acting job in any Bay film. The gag reel should also be considered as that is one of the best examples of how intense the guy is, off screen too. Dunno if you've seen it but it is pure Ed, intense and scary:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYN6t5xt0ps

    How does anyone on the crew not want to give it their best with that man acting, and he took the role just for a pay-check...

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    1. Oh man, whenever I'm feeling down, I watch those bloopers to give myself a boost. Fucking hilarious.

      "I don't know what you mean 'In the light,' SIR!" "From the window SIR!?" "GODDAAAAMIT! FUCK!"

      Priceless Ed. And I agree, best performance from a Michael Bay film, no question.

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  9. God I love him in The Hours (then again I love everyone and everything in The Hours). Also Truman Show. Have to rewatch Glengarry Glen Ross.

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    1. Great flicks all around right there. I could watch Glengarry on repeat.

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  10. The Abyss! Yes! Alex, nice job picking that scene from a movie that often gets forgotten. Harris is one of the most consistent actors out there, and his performances in Apollo 13 and The Truman Show are great examples. Cool list.

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    1. Thanks man! Glad you're an Abyss fan, great movie, great scene. I agree, Harris is consistent as all hell.

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  11. No THE ROCK? That was the first HARRIS film I saw,and loved his performance in it.Glengarry Glen Ross has been talked so often in the blogsphere,I don't know why I still haven't seen it yet.

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    1. Oh man, I love him in The Rock, but the other scenes I mentioned take precedence for me. Seriously cannot recommend GGR highly enough. A ferocious work of art.

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