Saturday, January 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Hackman

Today, Gene Hackman became an octogenarian, believe it or not. I found some clips on Youtube of his appearance on Inside the Actors Studio. The episode is split into five parts, and unfortunately, part four is missing. But still, it's a good watch, well worth the time if you like Hackman. Despite his success and many accomplishments, he remains a truly humble human being. He comes across as personable, thoughtful, shy, and at times vulnerable.

Hackman may just be my favorite actor of all time. The guy has tremendous range and managed throughout his career to be both a huge box-office draw and a serious actor. He won the Oscar twice, the first time for bringing Popeye Doyle to life in The French Connection and the second time for his turn as Little Bill Daggett in Unforgiven. What's neat about these two roles is that they're almost the antithesis of each other. Popeye Doyle is the tough cop who bends the rules to see that justice is done; Daggett is a tough sheriff who adjusts the rules as he goes along to see that the status quo isn't upset.

He's given many great performances, but I think my favorite scene of his comes in French Connection II. (I tried to find it on Youtube, but couldn't.) The scene takes place within the tiny confines of some dingy cell in a French police building, and Hackman has just spent the last week or so tied to a bed and being forced to take heroin by "Frog One," the guy he's spent the last one-and-a-half movies hunting down with little success. In order to help the French police, and obviously himself, he has to get off the junk that he's become involuntarily addicted to, and what follows is a gut-wrenching, harrowing performance as Hackman goes completely cold turkey. It's so good it's painful to watch.

By the way, I think French Connection II is one of the finest sequels ever made. It's a taut police thriller with wonderful acting, great locations, some nice action set pieces, and it has one of the most satisfying endings ever put on film. I won't spoil it for you, but I will say this. The ending is brilliant because it plays against your expectations, as established by the ending of the first film.

As an added bonus, here's the car chase, the one that needs no introduction. I listened to a commentary once by William Friedkin, director of The French Connection, and he said that yes, that was Hackman behind the wheel of the car, doing about seventy under the El.

14 comments:

Nick Hughes said...

OK, you sold me. I'll have to finally put The French Connection in my DVD player and watch it.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Nick,

I'll be interested to hear what you think about FC. Most people who watch it for the first time nowadays think it's "boring." For me, it's a riveting, gritty film that's every bit as good as all the other great pictures from the 70s. The FC has been often copied over the years, but never really duplicated.

And Hackman is the man.

Phil Stiefel said...

How can you write something on Hackman and not mention his finest hour as Coach Mcginis (spelling??)... One of the best worse movies of all time.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Phil -

I think you and I might be the only two people on the planet that enjoyed The Replacements.

In case anyone else is reading this, just kidding.

seana said...

Hesitated in responding to this post in order to think about what I know and remember about Hackman. I have seen him in everything, just like everything else. He seems to be one of those actors who don't have to be center stage to do their work.

And, as my dad would have said, he has a good face.

Phil Stiefel said...

Brian
Funny mentioning The Replacements it was on Sunday afternoon! And I watched it... well some of it.

Rita Vetere said...

Oh yeah, I've enjoyed pretty much everything he's been in since I first saw him in French Connection. And let's not forget Heist or his role as the lady-killing U.S. President in Absolute Power,. Loved both those movies as well. Also, didn't you think he made a perfect Lex Luthor in Superman II? The guy can mould himself to any character. Very versatile. Another actor I feel much the same way about is Robert Duvall.

seana said...

Robert Duvall is a good comparison, Rita.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana,

Yeah, he really can do it all. Anybody who can pull off that role in The Conversation then go on to play the part of convincing hard-ass submarine captain in Crimson Tide has got some serious chops.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Rita -

I'm a big fan David Mamet fan also, so Heist was like a dream come true.

And you're right, he was the perfect Lex Luthor. I felt bad for Spacey, having to fill those shoes in the sequel/reboot/what-have-you Superman Returns.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Phil -

Be careful about admitting that in a public forum such as this. You know I love the flick, but I can't protect you from others...

Brian O'Rourke said...

Phil -

PS - Whatever happened to Orlando Jones? The guy is hysterical, but his career never really took off like everybody thought it would.

adrian mckinty said...

Goddammit if I'm that well preserved at his age I will be a happy man.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Adrian -

Yeah, the guy's a machine, though I hear he's finally retired from acting.