Joaquin Phoenix, the great­est ac­tor of his gen­er­a­tion?

Amer­i­can ac­tor at the height of his fame.

Vocable (All English) - - Édito | Sommaire - GUY LODGE

Joaquin Phoenix has had a very busy year. Af­ter the sur­pris­ing films, You Were Never Re­ally Here and

Mary Mag­da­lene, the Amer­i­can ac­tor is once again com­ing to our screens with The Sis­ters Brothers, a mag­nif­i­cent western by Jac­ques Au­di­ard. He plays a hit­man, Char­lie Sis­ters, who, with his brother, Eli (John C. Reilly), is chas­ing a gold prospec­tor across the coun­try. This could be a defin­ing role for this ac­tor…and pos­si­ble Os­car nom­i­na­tion?


an ac­tor who has cul­ti­vated an im­age of rel­a­tive Hol­ly­wood her­mi­tude, Joaquin Phoenix has been aw­fully vis­i­ble lately, fid­get­ing un­com­fort­ably in a spot­light that nonethe­less keeps land­ing on him. This week, his star­ring role in Gus van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot hits cin­e­mas in the US – and de­pend­ing on where you are in the world, it’s his third ma­jor re­lease of 2018 so far.

2. In the UK, the March cin­ema sched­ule gave us a par­tic­u­larly dis­con­cert­ing Phoenix dou­ble-whammy. One week, he was a tac­i­turn, tor­tured as­sas­sin ex­act­ing griev­ous vi­o­lence on toxic men in Lynne Ram­say’s bru­tal stun­ner You Were Never Re­ally Here. The next, he was lit­er­ally Je­sus Christ – still tac­i­turn, def­i­nitely still tor­tured, but os­ten­si­bly a more benev­o­lent pres­ence – in Garth Davis’s pret­tily so­porific re­li­gious drama Mary Mag­da­lene. The per­for­mances may have had more in com­mon than they would in the hands of most other ac­tors – you’ve never seen the son of God quite this blearily emo – but the ide­o­log­i­cal whiplash be­tween the projects was still strik­ing.


3. Phoenix isn’t done for the year, ei­ther: this au­tumn, we’ll see his star­ring role in the darkly comic gold rush western The Sis­ters Brothers, the first English-lan­guage film by the es­teemed French au­teur Jac­ques Au­di­ard. By any mea­sure, that’s a ro­bust quar­tet of projects, at least in terms of pres­tige and in­tent.

4. Phoenix would have to be pretty spec­tac­u­lar in the Au­di­ard film to sup­plant You Were Never Re­ally Here as the high point of not only Phoenix’s year, but just about any ac­tor’s: as Joe, the silent-storm hit­man con­ceal­ing ti­dal waves of trauma be­neath a griz­zled, un­giv­ing exterior, he brought sore­souled com­plex­ity, psy­chic pain and a stoic streak of gal­lows hu­mour to what would oth­er­wise be a fa­mil­iar noir type. It’s a char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion that ranks with his rad­dled, feck­less so­ciopath Fred­die Quell from Paul Thomas An­der­son’s The Mas­ter as per­haps the rich­est of his ca­reer so far, and it justly won him best ac­tor at Cannes last year; by rights, it should net him a fourth Os­car nom­i­na­tion.


5. Now in his 40s, the ac­tor has long shown a knack for crin­kling and dark­en­ing the edges of even the most straight-and-nar­row films, since well be­fore he gave us cin­ema’s scuzzi­est Je­sus. We saw it as early as 1989, in Ron Howard’s bright fam­ily dram­edy Par­ent­hood, in which the 14-year-old Phoenix (then still go­ing by the Chris­tian name Leaf) qui­etly dis­rupted the sit­com tone of pro­ceed­ings with his por­trait of a with­drawn, nascently porn-fix­ated ado­les­cent. Eleven years later, he was a thrillingly strange, sin­u­ous span­ner in the ro­bust Hol­ly­wood works of Glad­i­a­tor; it was a per­for­mance in­spired and un­set­tling enough to earn him his first Os­car nom­i­na­tion.

6. It was the per­for­mance that es­sen­tially made Phoenix – then 26 and skew-whiff sexy – a star. Yet aside from a loopy pair of M Night Shya­malan projects and the hand­some, tro­phy-chas­ing biopic duty of Walk the Line, he rarely acted ac­cord­ingly. For­go­ing stu­dio cin­ema, he opted for a mixed bag of indies and de­vel­oped a solemn, bur­nished col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Cannes-beloved, 1970s-in­spired Amer­i­can au­teur James Gray, cul­mi­nat­ing in a bit­ter­sweet ro­mance, Two Lovers, that was a vir­tual paean to his anx­ious, an­tiHol­ly­wood-lead­ing-man qual­i­ties.


7. That, of course, was the lead-up to I’m Still Here, the am­bi­tious mock­u­men­tary stunt that for too long had the world con­vinced Phoenix was ei­ther a buf­foon or a crit­i­cally dam­aged ego­ma­niac, and over as an ac­tor ei­ther way. The con­ve­nient nar­ra­tive would have had crit­ics declar­ing Phoenix’s self-par­ody as his crown­ing glory, if not for the un­ex­pected up­shot on the other side – as Phoenix re­bounded from the lark with the most dis­ci­plined, de­tailed, straight-up act­ing of his ca­reer in TheMaster.

8. Since that wa­ter­shed, there’s been no fool­ing about, even when the projects have been play­ful: An­der­son’s In­her­ent Vice may have been a shag­gy­dog stoner odyssey, but Phoenix’s spaced-sad de­liv­ery in it was per­fectly stud­ied. His del­i­cate, neb­bishy ro­man­tic ache in Spike Jonze’s Her was an un­ex­pected, em­pa­thetic twist on his tal­ents, while his Gray col­lab­o­ra­tion hit an op­er­atic peak with his 1920s El­lis Is­land pimp in The Im­mi­grant.


9. There have been mis­steps, al­beit not thought­less ones. He was sad­dled with one of the rot­ten mod­ern- era Woody Allen scripts in Ir­ra­tional Man, while as in­ter­est­ing a pick as he is to play Je­sus, he seems more glazed than in­tense in the beige, taste­ful sur­round­ings of Mary Mag­da­lene. But if these are the blurry spots in Phoenix’s fil­mog­ra­phy as he heads into his mid­dle age, he’s do­ing well — he’s even toy­ing with the main­stream again, with his cast­ing as the Joker in an up­com­ing ori­gin story. With Daniel Day-Lewis sup­pos­edly re­tired and the con­sen­sus ti­tle of Great­est Work­ing Ac­tor up for grabs, Phoenix’s lat­ter-day CV makes as good a case as any.


Joaquin Phoenix.

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