May 22, 2015

Alexander Knox, Wilson

Won: Golden Globe - Best Actor

The Role: For some reason, Darryl Zanuck had mad love for President Woodrow Wilson, so much so that he set out to make what was at the time the most expensive film ever made (more so than Gone with the Wind for christ's sake). And on top of all that, he cast a second-string actor to carry the whole thing. Just think about how that would be roll out today. But as the head of Princeton who'd go on to become the 28th President of the United States and lead our country past the first World War, I can justly say that Knox proved my doubts wrong.
Wilson is still a pretty boring flick more than half of its running time. But it's Knox, a man who comes off as graceful yet ever-so slightly meek, who really takes ahold of the picture and makes it worth watching. His performance is a slow-burn; he starts off docile, slowly escalating until he becomes this vivid, fiery, passionate leader. And once he gets to that point he is quite a sight to see. It is said that Knox had 1194 lines in 294 scenes--a fat chunk of them coming towards the film's latter half, with him spewing out spirited oration after oration, roaring like a lion--and he does such a supreme job at breathing life into this man who, while a great President, tends to be forgotten amongst larger and more notorious names. Knox makes someone who I had only known in passing from a high school history lesson really, truly intriguing, and that's to be applauded given that the film is just your standard, stuffy, unexciting prestige flick. I thought he was plenty touching in a pivotal emotion moment in the film, and while the entire performance in and of itself goes by the books and is baity as all hell, I can't help but feel affection towards it. Perhaps it's because this was Knox's one and only "moment" of his career--he'd never have another like this again. Sometimes you watch other actors' big moments (like say Jennifer Jones) and you don't get the hype. In this case, nailed his moment. It might not have won him the award that counted, and his flick might have been a big fat flop at the box office...but he excelled at what he was tasked to do, elevated it from what many other baity fluff-flicks end up being, and stayed with me once I was done. And that's pretty great, no?

1 comment:

  1. Holy mackerel! This is one big batch of Academy nonsense. 'Wilson' was deservedly lost in the Oscar run-ups of 1944. Too big, too preachy, too patriotic (by half) and too arch in its ever-so-noble recreation of a president with as much flaws as substance. Oh brother.

    And yet, there is Knox. He gives a rather sedate yet resonant performance that neither overcomes or detracts from the film's fatal flaws. He is completely believable at all times but still does not jump out from all the hitherto of biopic-itis to make his performance memorable. It's unfortunate because this film needed a dynamic center from which to build from its inner solemness and, as good as he is, Knox did not provide that. He still deserved an Oscar for this performance for his yeoman-like work but it was a weak year and he's been forgotten ever after. I still like his work, though.