Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Character: Peter Greene

Peter Greene is the ultimate creeper. In the mid-‘90s, Greene dominated popular American cinema with his dark eyes, skinny frame and sinister sneer. All of his best characters are subtly terrifying, mostly because they’re played by a man who isn’t physically imposing. Greene’s terror is all about the attitude. His characters have this relentless confidence that is impossible to ignore. When Peter Greene walks in a room, you pay attention, probably because you know something bad is about to happen.

Five Essential Roles
Judgment Night (1993)
Sykes
Greene’s work in the fun little thriller, Judgment Night, admittedly isn’t all that substantial. As one of the inner-city goons who terrorize a handful of yuppie suburbanites, Greene spends most of his time in Judgment Night standing in Denis Leary’s shadow. I don’t remember Sykes, the character, as much as I remember Peter Greene, the actor. I was young when I first saw Judgment Night, but I knew even then that Peter Greene was going to be a person to remember. He did what he could with a somewhat thankless role, and managed to turn it into a solid career of psychos.

The Mask (1994)
Dorian Tyrell
I’m surprised Greene hasn’t played more characters like Dorian Tyrell, the kind of cartoonish bad guy who terrorizes a family friendly film. We love to watch guys like Dorian in films like The Mask, even though we know he’s going to lose. And as Dorian, Greene chews the scenery with nearly as much gusto as Jim Carrey. Whether he’s having a golf ball driven out of his mouth, or stalking Cameron Diaz like feeble prey, there’s a captivation to Greene’s Dorian that helps elevate The Mask above other films of its kind.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
Zed
“Well… bring out The Gimp.”

“I think The Gimp’s sleepin’.”

“Well I guess you just have to go wake him up now won’t you?”

One of the most terrifying dialogue exchanges with one of the most terrifying movie characters I’ve ever seen. Period.

The Usual Suspects (1995)
Redfoot
I’ve always thought part of the allure of Redfoot was his choice of clothes. He’s an L.A. criminal dressed in cowboy boots, black jeans, and a bright tan leather jacket. The clothes, picked out by Greene himself, are as inviting as they are off putting. It’s as if Redfoot is a new guy on the scene we can trust, yet we know he’s going to fuck us over in the end.

Greene’s two scenes in this film create a brilliant juxtapostion. He’s initially a guy meeting up with his old pal, shooting the shit and proposing a new score. But once Redfoot is bathed in dark, chain smoking and shot from a low angle, we know things could pop off at any minute. For those two scenes, Peter Greene owned The Usual Suspects.

The Rich Man’s Wife (1996)
Cole Wilson
Here’s a rarity in Peter Greene’s filmography: a nice guy who is willing to do the right thing. The first time Cole offers Josie (Halle Berry) help, she knows better than to accept, and we silently cheer as she sends Cole on his way. But then she slowly opens up and gets to know Cole, a kind, quiet man with earnest intentions.

Cole truly is a good guy. Until, well… he’s not. Even though you may know where this is going, Greene always manages to heighten the suspense and shatter our expectations.

The Best of the Best
Clean, Shaven (1993)
Peter Winter
Peter Greene’s work in Lodge Kerrigan’s criminally ignored Clean, Shaven is one of the best performances of the ‘90s. In the film, Greene plays a schizophrenic man who has just been released from a mental institution, and is having a damn hard time trying to live in the real world. Peter Winter is a troubled, obsessive man. His days are filled with extended bouts of manic paranoia, fueled much in part to the voices in his own head. I’m hesitant to describe the actual plot of the film, as it clocks in at a brisk 79 minutes, and would be unfortunate to spoil.

Despite the film’s Criterion treatment, Clean, Shaven has never managed to attract a large audience. Damn shame. Because, aside from being expertly made, the film contains a performance of sheer dread. A fearless, paranoid portrayal of mental illness that measures with the best. Do yourself a favor and seek Clean, Shaven out. I promise the film, and Greene’s work in it, will rattle you to the core.

Other Notable Roles
In Training Day
Laws of Gravity (1992)
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)
Permanent Midnight (1998)
Blue Streak (1999)
Gentleman B. (2000)
Training Day (2001)
Confession (2005)
The Black Donnellys (2007)
Life on Mars (2009)
Justified (2010)

28 comments:

  1. I've seen the films you put in that list except for Clean, Shaven which I know very little about except that it's on Criterion. Still, he's one of those guys you just can't forget and he always brings it.

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    1. He's definitely one of those guy who always brings it. You'd really appreciate Clean, Shaven.

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  2. Greene is one of those actors who's instantly recognizable even if their name isn't. Clean, Shaven has been in my queue for, literally, years. I'll make it a priority now.

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    1. I love how instantly recognizable he is, part of his charm.

      Clean, Shaven is disturbing and fantastic. Hope you're able to get to it soon!

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  3. I was really scared of him as a kid because I used to watch The Mask like every week. Imagine my surprise when I watched Pulp Fiction on my 16th birthday and realised he's even creepier than I remembered.

    Nice list.

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    1. Yep, this is one creepy dude. Really a shame he's not in more today.

      Also, I used to watch The Mask every week too :)

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  4. He gives me Cillian Murphy vibes.. they even look a bit similar.. they would make a great serial killer duo in a film or something. :D

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    1. They definitely look a little alike. And hey, I think you're onto something. Serial killing brothers. I dig it!

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  5. For some reason when I first watched the Usual Suspects I thought that Greene was the actor who played Buffalo Bill since they looked really similar. I wasn't a big fan of the film but he's also really good in Laws of Gravity.

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    1. Ted Levine is another actor I want to cover in this series. Great, great actor.

      Haven't seen Laws of Gravity. I'll have to scope that one out.

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    2. (oh forgot to mention it's Dan)

      Laws of Gravity was a notable film in that trend of nihilistic independent movies that were coming out during the late 80's/early 90's so I think you would probably appreciate it more than I did. It's also interesting to see Greene before he got typecasted as the creep and actually plays the straight man compared to these other characters.

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    3. Awesome, love hearing that. I'll get on it right away. Greene not playing a creep would be a nice change of pace.

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  6. is he permanently wearing lipstick

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  7. Thanks for identifying "whats-his-face" for me. I've seen him in lots of movies and literally never knew his name.

    Haven't seen "Clean, Shaven." Not even sure I've heard of it. Sounds interesting, though. I'll have to seek it out.

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    1. My pleasure! I love bringing attention to actors like this.

      Clean, Shaven is intense, but very well done. Highly recommend it.

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  8. Nice choice. Greene is one of those guys who intimidates us and the characters on screen just by showing up. The one that stands out to me is Redfoot, but he's put together an interesting career.

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    1. Thanks Dan. He's definitely an intimidating figure, and he plays to that strength so well. Redfoot... I just love that guy.

      "Enjoy L.A., get yourself laid."

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  9. The role of Zed -- alone -- would make him an iconic creeper for all time. The first time I watched PF, I almost ran out of the room during "The Gimp" scene. And yes, at the time, I was forty-something and not ten. :-)

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    1. Haha. I think I was too confused to run out of the room. I didn't have the slightest clue what The Gimp was doing there. And, in fact, I suppose I still don't.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  10. Great write-up man. I didn't know Greene by name, but I've seen a few of his films. I need to check out Clean, Shaven.

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    1. Thanks man. Clean, Shaven is so unsettling. Very powerful stuff.

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  11. I waited to post on here because I had rented Clean, Shaven from the library but hadn't watched it yet when you first posted this... and I just finished it. Holy crap. Greene's performance is just incredible. It's just filled with such regret and sincerity that I couldn't help but be moved at the end of each of his scenes. How he doesn't get more work I'm not sure, with a performance as killer as this one he really should have been nominated for an Oscar or at least something major.
    Also, loved The Mask as a kid. I should probably revisit it lol.

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    1. Yessss. SO happy you watched Clean, Shaven as a result of this post. That's really great to hear. Also love that you appreciated Greene's work in it. He should have been nominated for tons of awards for it. Kind of insane that he wasn't.

      The Mask rocks!

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  12. I love this actor! By italian fan....

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    1. Glad to hear it! Thanks for stopping by!

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  13. Watch black cat run i love him in it

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