I’m on a serious Liev Schreiber kick right now. Could be because his excellent Showtime drama, Ray Donovan, is nearing the end of its great fourth season. Could be because Schreiber is garnering excellent reviews out of the Venice Film Festival for his portrayal of famed boxer Chuck Wepner (i.e. the guy who inspired Stallone to write Rocky) in The Bleeder. Or it could simply be because Schreiber is one of my favorite contemporary actors. I’ve been a fan of Schreiber’s since he began popping up in indie films in the mid-‘90s. Since then, no matter if he’s in comedies or dramas, big films or small, I always make it a point to seek out his work.
Walking and Talking (1996)
Liev Schreiber is perhaps best known for portraying characters of great intensity. So I thought it was important to go back to the beginning of his film career and highlight his goofy, kindhearted Andrew from Nicole Holofcener’s debut film, Walking and Talking. Andrew is the former lover (and current best friend) of the film’s main character, Amelia (Catherine Keener). And watching Andrew and Amelia’s cute yet painfully human relationship remains one of the highlights of the film. It is impossible to not utterly adore their final scene together.
Scream 2 (1997)
Sandwiched between his barely-there cameo in the first Scream, and a killer (but brief) turn in Scream 3, Schreiber brought the shaken Cotton Weary to life in the series’ underrated second film. I love Schreiber’s nervous energy in this flick, the way he’s primping for the camera and twitching with anxiety in his introductory scene, his intimidation toward Neve Campbell in the library, and, of course, his impeccable fuck withery during his police interrogation. Cotton Weary is the type of performance that’s so good, it has no business being in a slasher sequel. Even one that I absolutely love.
RKO 281 (1999)
With a voice as commanding as Welles himself (seriously, have you heard Schreiber narrate an HBO boxing documentary?) it makes sense that Schreiber fit so seamlessly into Welles’ persona. HBO’s RKO 281 is about Welles’ struggle to bring Citizen Kane to life. For film buffs (and period enthusiasts), the film is a complete delight, stacked with wonderful supporting performances and many amusing set pieces. But ultimately, RKO 281 is Schreiber’s film, and he carries it dutifully.
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Remaking a classic is never easy, but there are certainly aspects of Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate that I enjoy. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography, Meryl Streep firing away (as always), but really, it’s Liev Schreiber’s brainwashed work as Raymond Prentiss Shaw that is most deserving of praise here. Shaw’s confusion, reserved paranoia and mental instability are wholly believable through Schreiber’s performance. Schreiber himself was still up and coming when this film came out; he was big in the indie scene, but Shaw was arguably his biggest role in a “big” movie thus far. To say he seized it is understatement.
If you’ve worked for a print publication, you know you’re damn lucky to have an editor like Marty Baron. He’s a writer’s editor; the first one there and the last one to leave. As Baron, Schreiber is supportive yet stern, relaxed yet brazen. Everything about this performance is real. His quiet suggestion, his fearlessness with the church and his publisher, his subtle bemoan of “…another adjective.” – it’s all perfect. And then, in the film’s best, most empowering moment, Schreiber delivers a monologue of such support and importance to his Spotlight team, that it brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. A bravado performance of great restraint.
The Best of the Best
Ray Donovan (2013-present)
I got really into Ray Donovan about a year ago, and since then, I’ve hailed it as my favorite show that no one else I know is watching. As a Liev Schreiber fan, Ray Donovan is a perfect vehicle to showcase the actor’s best qualities. Ray Donovan is a hardened Boston bruiser who makes a living as a “fixer” for the Hollywood elite. The seedy cases Ray takes on allows the show to be remorseless in its fury, while managing to attain a dark sense of humor. Everyone in the cast is universally excellent, especially Schreiber, who all but carries the show with his volatile intensity.
Whenever I choose a television character as an actor’s best performance, I try to hail one or two specific episodes to highlight the performer’s best work. That way it levels the playing field in terms of TV vs. Movie screentime. That noted, choosing Schreiber’s best episode for Ray Donovan is a no brainer. In the seventh episode of season two, titled “Walk This Way,” we watch as Ray slowly, drunkenly, painfully spirals downward during his son’s birthday. Ray Donovan is full of intense sequences involving screams and guns and blood and bats, but “Walk This Way” (which was directed by Schreiber himself) highlights a Ray we hadn’t seen before, or since. It’s also worth noting that I’m hard-pressed to think of an actor who has played a more convincing drunk than Schreiber does in this episode. Check the episode out if you have a chance, even as a one-off. Better still, fully dive into the world of Ray Donovan. I promise you won’t be sorry.
Party Girl (1995)
The Daytrippers (1996)
Big Night (1996)
A Walk on the Moon (1999)
The Hurricane (1999)
Scream 3 (2000)
The Omen (2006)
The Painted Veil (2006)
The Ten (2007)
Taking Woodstock (2009)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)
The Last Days on Mars (2013)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)
Pawn Sacrifice (2014)
The Bleeder (2016)