Sunday, May 22, 2016

In Character: Mark Ruffalo

No matter what role Mark Ruffalo is playing, he embodies his characters so specifically, that he immediately convinces us that they’re are real. What a joy it has been to watch Ruffalo’s career morph from obscure independent wasteland to wildly revered character actor. One of the things I respect most about Ruffalo is that he has the capacity to be one of the biggest actors in the world. He’s continually offered major roles in massive movies, but instead of solely taking those, he chooses his roles based on the strength and complexity of the character. Six such characters are listed below.

Five Essential Roles
We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004)
Jack Linden
Jack Linden is an unhappy man. He’s bored by his work, fed up with his drunk life, jealous of his friends – hell, the only time he seems happy is the few minutes every week he spends sleeping with his best friend’s wife. And even those moments are short lived. There’s a certain brand of emotional torture that Ruffalo can exemplify so well. It makes characters like Jack instantly compelling. I certainly wouldn’t want to be friends with Jack Linden, but I love watching Ruffalo navigate Jack’s infinite contradictions.

Zodiac (2007)
Dave Toschi
Ruffalo has the least flashy role of Zodiac’s three leading men. But playing opposite Jake Gyllenhaal’s obsessed, spastic Robert Graysmith and Robert Downey Jr.’s antagonistic, flamboyant Paul Avery allowed Ruffalo to demonstrate his great capacity for restraint. Don’t get me wrong, Dave Toschi gets angry. He gets frustrated by the years-long hunt for an elusive serial killer, he gets upset when his partner bows out, and he gets annoyed with Graysmith and Avery’s feverish antics. But he cares. Dave Toschi cares about keeping the bay area safe. He cares about catching the killer. He’s a cop, and a good one. I believe in Toschi’s conviction, which is thanks to the believability Ruffalo brings to the character.

Begin Again (2013)
Dan
Dan is one of the most playfully outrageous characters Ruffalo has played yet. His unkempt (yet somehow fashionable) appearance, smoking those ridiculous cigarettes, calling everyone “babe,” asking his underage daughter to pick up his tab, recording a song on a subway platform – it’s all so silly. And if a lesser actor played Dan, the performance would come off as just that. But Ruffalo embraces Dan’s eccentricities, all while welcoming his earnestness and genius. It’s a fun role, but a tricky one. Push the silliness too far, and you’re a clown; leave too much out, and you’re dull. Ruffalo finds the balance in a way that’s equally entertaining and endearing.

Foxcatcher (2014)
Dave Schultz
Everything about Ruffalo’s work in Foxcatcher feels real. It’s the way Ruffalo’s Dave keeps his hand on a shoulder for a few seconds too long, the way he convincingly carries himself on the mat; it’s his shaky speech pattern, his soothing reliability. One of my favorite scenes in Foxcatcher is when Dave’s brother, Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave’s wife, Nancy (Sienna Miller), get into a brief spat in a hotel room. Mark storms out, and Dave goes after him. In any other movie, Dave would lecture Mark – “You need to calm down, brother,” “Don’t speak to my wife that way,” etc. Instead, Dave catches up to Mark and immediately begins coaching him on Mark’s upcoming competition. That’s a man who knows his brother. He knows a lecture will solve nothing, so he goes right to work. It’s a short scene, but certainly one of the most real in the movie.

Spotlight (2015)
Mike Rezendes
This was a tough call. My final pick for Ruffalo’s best roles came to an even split between his Oscar-nominated turns in The Kids Are All Right and Spotlight. But I suppose having a hard time deciding between two stellar performances is a good problem to have. I ultimately went with Mike Rezendes because I really believe (there’s that word again) everything Ruffalo does here. I believe in the physicality of Ruffalo’s portrayal (he speaks exactly like the real Rezendes), I believe his sincerity, his anger, and his dedication to the written word. Mark Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes was a newspaperman’s newspaperman. The department store clothes, the scrambling around, the shit box apartment, the tireless dedication. I believed it all. And I’ll admit, when Patricia Arquette opened that Oscar envelope and said “Mark R…,” I really wished it had gone the other way.

The Best of the Best
You Can Count on Me (2000
Terry Prescott
Everyone reacts to trauma differently. Even if the traumatic event is shared. We first meet Sammy and Terry as children, moments after their parents are killed in a car accident. When we catch up with them decades later, Sammy (Laura Linney) is a responsible, working, single mother and Terry (Ruffalo) is a selfish burnout, aimlessly walking back into Sammy’s life to score some quick cash. But there’s more. As Kenneth Lonergan’s small, exquisite film, You Can Count On Me, develops, we learn more about Sammy and Terry as siblings and as individuals. Perhaps Sammy is far more bored by her small town life than she leads on. Perhaps within Terry, there is an abandoned heart praying to be noticed.

There’s something about You Can Count On Me – an earnest melancholy, an inherent truth – that makes it some sort of small masterpiece. The film made Linney and Ruffalo stars and their performances remain the best work of their respective careers. When I first saw the film, I was a kid, closer to the age of Sammy’s son, Rudy (Rory Culkin), than Sammy and Terry. Now the opposite is true, and because of this, I understand the plight of the siblings so much better. The first time we see Terry, he’s hitting his girlfriend up for cash, and telling her she should move out by the time he gets back. He looks like he hasn’t showered all day, if not all week. I won’t tell you the last time we see him, but to say he’s changed would be an understatement.

Other Notable Roles
in Collateral
The Last Castle (2001)
In the Cut (2003)
My Life Without Me (2003)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
13 Going on 30 (2004)
Collateral (2004)
Reservation Road (2007)
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
What Doesn’t Kill You (2008)
Shutter Island (2010)
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Margaret (2011)
The Avengers (2012)
Thanks for Sharing (2012)
Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)
The Normal Heart (2014)

40 comments:

  1. Totally agree that his work in You Can Count on Me is his best. Why it took him another ten years to get an Oscar nomination is beyond me.

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    1. So happy you agree! Ugh, don't even get me started on Zodiac's complete Oscar snub. Absurd.

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    2. The sad part is...he wasn't nominated for You Can Count on Me!

      It's just stunning work.

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    3. I know right?! Such a bummer. Strong category that year though.

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  2. Glad to see Begin Again on this list. Ruffalo is such an oddball in that movie, but he makes it work so well. No arguments on the top pick either!

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    1. So glad to see all this Begin Again praise. I adore that film, and his work in it. Thanks for the comment, Dan!

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  3. Whenever I see Mark Ruffalo in any film. There is something in every role about him that I see in him and it's that here's a guy that comes in and plays the role without any sense of vanity nor ego. He really comes off as very genuine and cool. I'll cite The Avengers as an example in the scene where the team are arguing and he talks about the dangers of turning the Hulk where he has this monologue about wanting to kill himself only for the Hulk to spit the bullet back. An actor with such mastery could've played it with such anger or bravado while a lesser actor would've tried to sell that moment. Ruffalo does neither as he just says those words and be reserved about his situation. I admit, I was sort of taken aback by it as I realized "holy shit. He's stealing the fucking show from everyone and not showing off." That's acting 101.

    I have yet to see him do a bad performance. I think he's one of those guys who just can't suck. Here is what I think are his best performance so far:

    1. Foxcatcher
    2. Zodiac
    3. The Avengers
    4. We Don't Live Here Anymore
    5. Spotlight
    6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    7. Collateral
    8. Begin Again
    9. Shutter Island
    10. The Brothers Bloom
    11. In the Cut (if he was paired up with another actress instead of Meg Ryan and a few more tweaks on the script, the film would be more watchable)
    12. My Life Without Me
    13. Margaret
    14. The Kids Are All Right
    15. 13 Going on 30
    16. The Avengers: Age of Ultron

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    1. I could not agree with that paragraph more. So well said. The dude just is. Such a natural performer.

      Love your list. Always great to see We Don't Live Here Anymore getting some praise. Also agree with what you said about In the Cut. Have you seen You Can Count On Me? Be very curious to hear your thoughts.

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    2. I haven't seen You Can Count on Me, that is a film that I really want to see. Maybe I'll include it as a Blind Spot for next year.

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    3. I really think you'd like it.

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  4. I enjoyed your list and insight into each role. It's this simple for me...if Mark Ruffalo is in the credits, I see the film in the theatre!

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    1. Thanks! And how many actors can you say that about?! That's such high praise.

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  5. Great write-up! Ruffalo is so good in almost everything he does, whether it's small indies or Marvel movies. My favourite performance of his would definitely be in The Kids Are All Right, followed closely by You Can Count On Me and Foxcatcher. I also like that you mentioned We Don't Live Here Anymore and Begin Again, both great movies people don't talk about enough. Unfortunately, I have some reservations about his Spotlight performance. He's good, but I just couldn't fully get into it. My MVPs from that cast were Stanley Tucci and Rachel McAdams.

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    1. Also, another film and performance not talked about enough: MARGARET. Talk about a masterpiece!

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    2. Thanks! Margaret... what a criminally overlooked film. Such a shame that it got mangled by the studio. I still don't think I've seen the theatrical cut actually, only the Director's cut. Fun little bit about me, I'm currently directing a play by that filmmaker, Kenneth Lonergan. I love that guy's ear for dialogue.

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  6. I love Mark Ruffalo. He is one of my all time favorite actors and picking a favorite role from him is impossible. They are all fantastic. I love every one of you choices, but i actually haven't seen You Can Count on Me yet though, so i will definitely try to find that one now. Sounds great.

    But of the ones you didn't mention, i will probably go with Collateral as my favorite. He is just so slick and cool there. Unlike anything else he has done i believe. He never really gets to play the cool guy like in that movie. Spoilers for Collateral here, but I also love the way they build his character up as the one who is gonna take down Tom Cruise at the end, but then suddenly out of nowhere he gets killed with no kind of build up or anything like that. Just as if he was another extra in that club scene. Not a lot of movies has the guts to do something like that.

    Another great performance from him that not a lot of people saw despite him getting a Golden Globe nod for it was his role in Infinitely Polar Bear. Playing a father with bipolar disorder perfectly. I had a father just like that growing up and pretty much everything Mark did in that movie reminded me of him. It really made me miss him in some strange way.

    Mark Ruffalo is definitely one of those actors that i try to watch every movie released with him in it. I'm even planning on watching Now You See Me 2 because of him even though i can't remember a single thing from the first one.

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    1. Oh yeah, he was awesome in Now You See Me in that scene where he's trying to chase the Four Horseman only to realize that he's chasing himself. On a re-watch, you realize the genius of his performance. I hope the new one would be good although I'm worried because it's helmed by Jon Chu.

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    2. I LOVE how he goes out in Collateral. Fuckin' Michael Mann, man. That dude just knows how to do it. I love Ruffalo in that film too. Also appreciated his work in Infinitely Polar Bear. Was happy he got the GG nom.

      Void, that is a really rad scene that you mentioned from Now You See Me.

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  7. Ah, I'm so happy to see this. I remember watching him in Just Like Heaven (not the greatest movie I know) but I just was so charmed by him and then in 13 Going on 30 and Eternal Sunshine just falling in love. But then seeing him bloom into Oscar success with The Kids are All Right and now a box office star, it sure makes me happy. Truly a remarkable actor.

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    1. I loved watching his career progress too. His success couldn't have happened to a more talented and cool guy, you know? He's an actor I always root for. Give him an Oscar!

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  8. Ruffalo is excellent in everything I've seen him in. Foxcatcher is probably my favorite performance of his. Begin Again isn't far behind. I haven't seen your top pick, You Can Count on Me, or Spotlight just yet. Hope to see the latter real soon.

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    1. He's so good in Foxcatcher. It's such a believable portrayal of who that guy was, and what he stood for. Would love to hear your thoughts on You Can Count On Me.

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  9. I don't think I've ever disliked a Mark Ruffalo performance. I'm glad to see Begin Again on the list, he was fantastic in it.

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    1. Same here. Loving all this Begin Again love!

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  10. Mark Ruffalo is so simply wonderful. I've hardly ever heard a bad thing spoken about him. I'm so happy for the attention he's received over the past few years. I've had You Can Count On Me on my queue for awhile now, and I'm really going to have to give that one a go soon. I've seen so much praise for it. The story sounds similar to The Skeleton Twins with the sibling dynamic.

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    1. You're so right, you never hear a bad thing said about the guy. I just love him. You Can Count On Me... so damn good. A quiet, perfect little movie.

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  11. I love the performances you've highlighted. I didn't see You Can Count on Me, so I'd throw Infinitely Polar Bear in there as one of his best. He's an actor I actually didn't care for until around 2009 or so. Same with McCanaughey, all of a sudden they started picking good movies and really showing off their talent. I love this guy now.

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    1. Thanks! I'd love to hear your thoughts on You Can Count On Me. It's such a special little movie. I'm glad you liked his Infinitely Polar Bear work too.

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  12. Solid post, Alex. Ruffalo is pretty magical in Begin Again :)

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    1. Thanks Courtney! He is one magical mofo in that flick.

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  13. Excellent post! I still haven't seen You can Count on Me, I really need to finally see this one, it's been on my watch list since forever. I loved his work in pretty much every movie he has done but my favorite is Begin Again, he was just so much and charismatic in that one

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    1. Thanks! He so so good in Begin Again. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on You Can Count On Me.

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  14. I think he's such a dynamic performer. Even in The Avengers movies, which could've easy been paycheck gigs for him, he still delivers. Although, I have to be honest, I found Spotlight to be his weakest performance. To me, he seemed like he was in a different movie from everyone else.

    I still have to see You Can Count On Me, though. Keep up the great work!

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    1. Thanks Matt! He was definitely way more fired up in Spotlight than the others were, so I get what you mean. Definitely check out You Can Count On Me when you can!

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  15. Nice spotlight! I'll be honest that Ruffalo didn't use to be one of my favorites. Over time, he really grew on me and I came to appreciate a lot of his performances. Of course as a superhero fanfreak, I'd love to see his own installment of Bruce Banner/The Hulk. It's a shame that the previous franchises failed because he does a wonderful job in balancing Bruce's struggle being the Hulk in the Avengers movies.

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    1. Thanks! I do wonder if they'll give him a solo Hulk movie. They're probably afraid, given the previous two. But I agree that he's great in the role.

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  16. Sorry Alex this isn't related at all but having just seen Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and finding out he's going to be writing/directing the new Predator movie- I've started to hope he'll put a kind of 'New Nightmare' spin on it. Agree? Disagree? Know what the fuck I'm on about? :P

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    1. Haha! Well, Black said he wants to make it a smaller scale movie and stay loyal to fans. I'd definitely be down for a New Nightmare situation, but I don't think that's what he'll do.

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  17. Spotlight. Hands down, my fav! Then again, for some weird reason, I haven't seen Foxcatcher yet!

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    1. Good stuff. Definitely see Foxcatcher when you can. Ruffalo is so, so good in it.

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