Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Top 10 Scenes of Edward Norton Battling the Legal System

Edward Norton spends a lot of time in jail. Or at least his film characters do. And if they’re not in jail, then they’re thinking about jail. Or they’re sitting in courtrooms, or fighting cops, or any number of legal things. So, for a little fun, here are my 10 favorite instances of Edward Norton’s characters battling the legal system.

10. Death to Smoochy (2002) – “I hope I’m dreamin’.”
Enraged that Smoochy the Rhino (Norton) has become the premiere child entertainer, Rainbow Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) disguises himself as a kind man taking Smoochy to a large gig. Smoochy excitedly rushes on stage and begins his act. But when the house lights come up, he discovers that he’s performing for a massive group of neo-Nazis. The cops soon raid the joint and Smoochy is thrown in the slammer and labeled as a racist scumbag. Death to Smoochy isn’t a very good film, but that shit is funny.

9. The Illusionist (2006) – “A lucky guess, perhaps?”
The Illusionist is full of elaborate tricks, one of my favorites being one of the simplest. The first time famed magician, Eisenheim (Norton) meets Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti), the magician challenges the inspector to a playful game. If Eisenheim cannot guess which hand Uhl places a small red ball in, then he will give the inspector the secret to his most revered trick. Eisenheim turns his back and instructs the inspector to hold the ball to his head. He tells the inspector to put his hands down and conceal the ball. He turns around and guesses which hand it’s in right away. A lucky guess…? Perhaps.

8. Pride and Glory (2008) – “This isn’t gonna go how you want it to.”
Soon after a.) watching his brother-in-law torture an innocent man to death and b.) watching his brother-in-law frame him in said murder, veteran NYPD cop Ray Tierney (Norton) is being interrogated by internal affairs about the crime. They ask him what happened, and Norton shoots those dark, sunken eyes their way. “This isn’t gonna go how you want it to,” he stoically says before telling them next to nothing. I’m not even sure that line was needed, actually. Those eyes speak volumes.

7. Stone (2010) – “I don’t want no beef with you, I’m just gonna be vegetarian.”
You have to watch Stone all the way through once before realizing how great of a manipulator its title character is. The first time incarcerated arsonist Stone (Norton) meets with his parole officer (Robert De Niro), he acts the way he’s expected to act. Stone is unintelligent, angry, crude, and so on. He’s acting how he thinks the officer will think he will act. But as their conversations continue, Stone slowly starts wearing down. Compassion creeps into his voice. Regret. But it’s all part of the plan. And Norton plays it perfectly.

6. The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) – “Don’t look at me… ask for bail, counselor.”
As Larry Flynt’s longtime lawyer, Alan Isaacman, Norton had to constantly display emotions of hopelessness, anger and resentment, all while selling himself as a very good attorney. Norton has many splendid scenes in the film, but my favorite is when Flynt fires Isaacman in court, while a case is actually happening. Isaacman throws his hands up and slides his chair back, pleased that he’s getting a break from his wild client. And after Flynt makes an ass out off himself in court (again), he looks at Isaacman for help, in which the young attorney smugly tells him to ask for bail. It’s priceless.

5. Rounders (1998) – “You leave me no choice, the way you play.”
Everything you need to know about Les “Worm” Murphy (Norton) can be found in his first scene in Rounders. When we meet Worm, he’s minutes away from being released from prison for credit card forgery. And how does he choose to spend his last moments inside? By playing cards, obviously. He nabs a shitload of smokes off a few fellow inmates, and promises to use them as collateral in an upcoming game. An officer comes to fetch Worm, telling him he’s being processed, and Worm shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Who knew?” Seriously, who the hell would be playing fucking cards right before they leave prison? This guy, that’s who.

4. Fight Club (1999) – “You’re making a BIG mistake, fellas!”
“You said, if anyone ever interferes with Project Mayhem, even you… we gotta get his balls.”

That about sums it up.

3. American History X (1998) – “I’m just gonna put up a flag and hope a friend sees it.”
In American History X, Norton’s character, Derek Vinyard spends a little over 20 film minutes in Chino, all of which are essential to the story. The sequence culminates in a line of dialogue that defines what the movie is. When Avery Brooks asks Norton if anything he’s done has made his life better, Norton’s silent tears say everything we need to know. But really, the entirety of Norton’s prison time in this film is one of the best, most fluid depictions of prison life I’ve ever seen. From scared shitless fresh fish, to protected gang member, to victim, to scared shitless loner, to, finally, changed man. Picking one scene is impossible, it’s all just flawless.

2. Primal Fear (1996) – “…that was just a fuckin’ work of art.”
Let’s see, how can I best sum this up without being too revealing?

Clap.

Clap.

Clap.

Clap.

1. 25th Hour (2002) – “You are miles from home.”
Edward Norton’s Montgomery Brogan doesn’t spend one second of 25th Hour in prison, instead, the entire movie is about his immense fear of actually going to prison. This fear shows itself best when Monty imagines aloud to his best friend, Francis, what prison life is going to be like. 

Monty describes a haunting scenario of his first night it Otisville (which, for the record, will be tomorrow), and, to generalize for a moment, his description is essentially the fear shared by most every young guy who thinks about prison. Part of the mysticism of 25th Hour is that it forces the viewer (the male viewer…?) to put himself in Monty’s shoes. How would I behave the night before I spent seven years inside? I haven’t a clue, and I certainly hope I never do. But Montgomery Brogan knows, and it’s written all over Norton’s tortured face.

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20 comments:

  1. He's such a fantastic actor. I would watch him in everything. Great pics.

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    1. Thanks. Same here. I'd watch him read the phone book.

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    2. *picks (curse modern lingo!)

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  2. God, he was amazing in Primal Fear. How he didn't win that year is beyond me.

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    1. In hindsight, it's actually rather ridiculous that he didn't win, isn't it?

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  3. Norton is so fantastic. Where has he been lately?

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    1. Oh I agree, he's one of my favorite actors. And yeah, shame he hasn't been in more. I thought his last truly great role was Pride and Glory, but a lot of people would not agree.

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  4. OH....!!!!!!!!!! The clap in Primal Fear... you can't get anymore perfect than that. Seriously, I don't know why he or William H. Macy (for Fargo didn't win the Oscar that year. Especially as it was Norton's film debut. He knocked it out of the fuckin' park.

    Oh, and I'm in the minority that actually liked Death to Smoochy. It's a silly-ass film with Robin Williams spouting "I'm Rainbow Fuckin' Randolph!!!!" "What are you blind? That's a cock! It's a cock-rocket! He made it, he made it from dil-dough!". Edward Norton was so adorable in that film.

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    1. Yep, still stunned that neither Macy nor Norton won that Oscar. Damn shame, really.

      I may have misrepresented myself about Death to Smoochy. I don't think it's masterful or anything, but I certainly do enjoy aspects of it. As a satire it works really damn well. Williams and Norton killed it.

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  5. I feel like Stone is such an understated movie. It's long and weary and it does seem to have a lot of dialog which isn't very common in Hollywood.. but it's still a gem. I still remember the movie and the great performances there but I don't know if I'd revisit it.. just because it did take a lot out of me.

    PS: Love Edward Norton!

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    1. Nice to hear some appreciation for Stone, a movie I've always considered pretty underrated. I also agree that it doesn't play like a typical Hollywood flick. Shame that it never received more attention.

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  6. I saw Primal Fear over and over when I first discovered it, it became one of my favourite films at the time. Norton's so fucking great in it, no wonder he found success so quickly. Also, it seems like every single new post you put out makes me want to go and rewatch 25th Hour. Haha

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    1. I kind of got on a 25th Hour kick, didn't I? I rewatched it 2 weeks ago, so it has been on the brain lately. I had no idea you loved Primal Fear that much. That is a great fucking film.

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  7. Fuck, I love this guy. Ed Norton is great. I'm still amazed that Primal Fear was his first movie, he just totally stole the show from everyone and since then he's either been great or good (unfortunately I've felt it's been more of the latter lately - here's hoping for a comeback or another great, big role soon!) Love him in American History X and 25th Hour (thanks for the recommendation by the way) probably the most out of all of these, but I look forward to new stuff from him like I look forward to breakfast in the morning - weird analogy I know - which is a lot!

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    1. So glad you're such a big fan of his work. It's just kind of a shame that his choices have ventured to just good as of late. He used to be so selective in his roles, but post-The Incredible Hulk... I dunno, there hasn't been an Ed Norton caliber performance since. Definitely hoping for a major comeback soon. Just takes that one great role.

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  8. What a great idea for a post! I didn't know he was in Larry Flynt. I saw that movie ages ago, long before Norton was on my radar. (In fact, I saw it so long ago, I thought of Woody Harrelson simply as "That guy from Cheers.")

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    1. Thanks! I remember seeing that movie when it first came out as well, and I was wondering who that lawyer was. What a skilled pro Norton turned into. Love him in that flick.

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  9. Norton is aces. Love your top 5, and Pride and Glory is an interesting choice. I thought it was underrated when I first saw it, but I need to give it another look. I also need to see Stone and Larry Flynt.

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    1. Can't argue that Top 5, right? Solid films, solid performances. He is perfect in Larry Flynt. A great, somewhat overlooked role.

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