Once in a blue moon a performance comes along which is so excellent it forces me to completely re-examine what it is I’m doing in my own work, and Peter Mullan’s in My Name Is Joe is one such performance.
Mullan plays Joe Kavanagh, a recovering alcholic, who has got himself onto the straight and narrow with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Although broke and unemployed, Mullan seems happy enough, especially so when managing a hopeless and hapless amateur football team, which gives him a real sense of purpose and joy. And it is through the football team Mullan meets and falls in love with Sarah, a healthcare worker, who is helping ex-junkies Liam and Sabine with their new born baby. Liam plays for Mullan’s team, and Mullan has a bond with him, he’s protective of Liam, offering support and helping Liam stay clean. But it is also through Liam that Mullan’s new found and hard won happiness begins to fall apart. Sabine starts using heroin again and racks up a £1500 debt with McGowan, the local gangster, who gives Liam the choice of having his legs broken to pay off the debt, or putting Sabine on the game. Mullan steps in and agrees to do a job for McGowan, which involves picking up a couple of cars within which heroin is stashed. Sarah, who has seen many young families destroyed by drugs, finds out and finishes with Mullan, who, in turn, frantically tries to get out of his deal with McGowan in a bid to win Sarah back.But what is it that makes Mullan’s work in this film so special? I could mention that it is of true technical brilliance and not the result of some flukey bout of inspiration, and I don’t mean technical in the Charles-Laughton-Hunchback-Of-Notre-Dame sense, Mullan’s performance is simple and direct, but technical in the sense that it is immensely disciplined and precise, he never allows, what is a ferociously emotive role, to descend into some kind of “actory emotional showcase”, no, Mullan is always serving the film, scene by scene, and in the end delivers a whole series of wonderful, provocative moments economically and truthfully and with control. All of this alone would add upto a great performance, but what puts it among the top handful of performances I have ever seen is the sheer force of Mullan’s intentions, which are so great that they reveal acting to be poetry and Mullan a poet. Mullan’s character is a tragic hero whose efforts to do good bring about the very disaster he sought to avoid, the problem lies within his own nature, he is the cause of the plague on Thebes as it were. There is a scene where Mullan beats up some of McGowan’s goons with a basball bat, then turns and smashes up a nearby Vauxhall Cavalier, and he does so with a force so great that the action goes beyond emotion, beyond reason, beyond the material, beyond the individual, and can only be expressed poetically, as when our love is so great we might say; “my love is like an ocean”. It is an attempt to comprehend the awesome. Mullan gives form to mankind’s rage brought forth by the knowledge that we are helpless in the face of circumstance and that even our best intentions may lead to tragedy. No mean feat. What an actor.
I’ve nothing to add, James. You nailed this. Mullan’s performance is masterful. You know that Jack Nicholson quote, “The actor is the most modern litterateur, in the sense that no matter what goes into a film, the product can only become objective through the actor’s individuality. You’re the person that’s going to do this gesture." When one witnesses a performance such as this, Nicholson’s quote clicks and resonates. Well done, man.
RUS—Don’t flame, please.
KVN—Only removed your comment to clean up after the initial moderation. Please disregard the abuse warning email you’ll receive.
my point was valid.
let’s not abuse poetry by lazily comparing everything to it.
Why is James being “lazy”? If we accept Nicholson’s proposition, and I do, it is not therefore “lazy” in the slightest to characterize Peter Mullan’s performance as “poetic”. Of course, James didn’t cite the Nicholson quote as a basis, however, he did describe clearly, in precise terms, how concrete gestures and actions chosen by Mullan to express this character, evoked in James’ mind the presence of something poetic. You’re not going to suggest that poetry, as a sensation, be limited to the printed word, are you? You comment was snarky and trite, RUS, and I believe that you know that. It’s typical of you. And while it has come to be expected, some will not tolerate it.
That’s true if you use a broad, generic, and essentially all-encompassing definition of “poetry.”
In which case James has the cure for the common idiom.
That Nicholson quote is astounding, where does it come from?