1 July 2009

WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU (Dir. Brian Goodman, 2008, US)

Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo as dysfunctional friends

The saving grace of this noirish genre piece is Mark Ruffalo’s extraordinary central performance as a drug addicted petty criminal. The character of Brian Reilly is not only a neglectful husband but also a difficult father to his children, consumed by the rough edges of a wintry South Boston urban milieu. The film itself is very conventional and perhaps a little too formulaic to succeed as worthwhile genre material, having been directed with a blandness that immediately compels one to position it within the realms of television drama. Though at times, the film feels like an extended episode of ‘The Wire’, what maintains interest is the emotional investment of Ruffalo into the part of Reilly. Mark Ruffalo’s career started in the horrors of miserable American television shows and his breakthrough role opposite Laura Linney in the indie hit ‘You Can Count On Me’ attracted critical acclaim for his abrasive yet warm performance as the estranged brother. I think it was mistake for Ruffalo to entertain the possibility of him emerging as a leading man with the romantic comedy, ‘Just Like Heaven’ in which he was cast alongside Resse Witherspoon.

Like Russell Crowe, I guess Ruffalo is fearful of being typecast (though he has played the troubled detective on a number of occasions now) in roles that present him as a moody, anti hero but his performances in films like ‘We don’t live here anymore’, ‘Zodiac’ and ‘Blindness’ sort of prove that he is better placed in those darker roles that demand both a stoic physical presence and a certain unpredictability. Like some of the great American actors before him, Ruffalo’s real strength as a performer seems to lie within his emotionally connected voice, which is able to relay a constant anguish and frustration at those around him. It’s only a matter of time before a director with some perception casts Ruffalo as the doomed noir protagonist, a role which he would be able to execute with great conviction. Above all, it is the neurosis one can detect in the trembling voice that makes Ruffalo a cut above the typical American film actor. Here are in my opinion some of his best performances to date:

Mark Ruffalo as Detective Toschi in Fincher's masterful 'Zodiac'

1). YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (Dir. Kenneth Lonergan, 2000, US)

2). ZODIAC (Dir. David Fincher, 2007, US)

3). COLLATERAL (Dir. Michael Mann, 2004, US)

4). IN THE CUT (Dir. Jane Campion, 2003, US)

5). WE DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (Dir. John Curran, 2004, US)

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