Friday, September 04, 2009

façade: Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges does his best W.C. Fields opposite border collie Devon in HBO's otherwise unwatchable "A Dog Year," directed by George LaVoo
Jeff Bridges has appeared in 65 feature films to date and has four Oscar nominations to his credit. Therefore, according to logic, to say that he's underappreciated or overlooked makes no sense at all, right?

So why exactly do I feel he's underappreciated and overlooked?

Perhaps, just perhaps, it's because, like the actors of whom he is so reminiscent - Robert Mitchum and Sterling Hayden - Bridges is a character actor/leading man hybrid. And hybrids have this tendency to confuse studio executives and the public alike, sneaking in under the radar with killer performances that only critics and buffs seem to "get."

The leading man roles now in his past, Bridges has relaxed his way into an eclectic assortment of roles in a compelling array of movie choices. He's worked on eccentric projects for eccentric filmmakers (Terry Gilliam's "Tideland" and Larry Charles' "Masked and Anonymous"), cult films (Michael Traeger's "The Amateurs," aka "The Moguls"), blockbusters (Jon Favreau's "Iron Man"), art films (Tod Williams' "The Door in the Floor"), teen flicks (Jessica Bendinger's "Stick It") and mainstream Oscar bait (Gary Ross' "Seabiscuit"). I'm impressed but I've a hunch that, in Hollywood, such careeer crisscrossing is considered social suicide.

And like Mitchum and Hayden, Bridges is something of an adjustable wrench as an actor. Most recently, he turned in a suitably disagreeable performance in a disgreeable HBO movie, "A Dog Year" (based on one of Jon Katz's dog books). He played the role of a toxic writer the only way it could be played - as if he'd rather not be in the film. Strangely, it worked.

I imagine Mitchum or Hayden in the same exact cranky performance.


Sean said...

The one thing curious about Bridges' career is the relatively large output, considering that he is something of a renaissance man. Acting seems no more important to him than his photograhy and music. He's artistically scattered and that, I think, makes him an exceptional actor.

Glenn said...

I adore the sheer affectlessness of Bridges’ acting and especially his reacting - he makes it all look so easy. Like the two icons you mention, his style is practically radical for an art that likes to draw attention to itself.

Heather said...

Interesting observations on Bridges which help "explain" his presence on the movie landscape - part leading man, part character actor. Yes, Hayden and Mitchum are good comparisons. It is doubtful if a comparable performer/character type could be introduced in modern films these days without banal justifications or reservations.

wwolfe said...

Bridges has been my favorite actor for a long time. If anyone asks me who I think the best actor of his generation is, DeNiro or Pacino, I always answer Bridges. Jeff has somehow avoided the vanity and cynicism that have strangled his two exceptional colleagues - perhaps, as Sean notes, because acting is not Bridges' only artistic outlet. I loved "The Amateurs," among his recent movies, but was unable to get through more than five minutes the HBO movie. If I ran a rep house, I'd love to put together a career retrospective of Bridges' work: at last, a chance to shine a spotlight on "Hearts of the West"!

joe baltake said...

Yes, "Hearts of the West"! And "Rancho Deluxe"!

jbryant said...

Supposedly, he'll be playing Rooster Cogburn in the Coens' remake of True Grit. Now that would be something to see!

He really is amazing. And it seems that people either love him or have no opinion. Never seem to find any haters.