I mean, you can’t exactly say that John Malkovich, who turns 65 today, fades into the background. In Eragon,a movie I did not like, he was the one most obviously aware of how to have fun with the film, which he seemed to know wasn’t good. Douglas Adams, in the early stages of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film he wouldn’t live to see complete, wrote Humma Kavula for him. The role, which is divisive, is unthinkable portrayed by anyone else. And, of course,there’s Being John Malkovich.
At the same time, he doesn’t come up enough in conversation of actors. Perhaps it is that very over-the-top sensibility, something of a thinking person’s Nicolas Cage—they both do absolutely insane roles, but Malkovich’s tend toward more intellectual fare. Except things like Con Air,which I’ll admit I’ve not seen. But my goodness Malkovich has a lot of credits in other languages. It’s hard to picture Nicolas Cage in Dangerous Liaisons or Mary Reilly, though I’ll admit there are some roles Malkovich could do that Cage would also manage handily.
But beyond those roles, there are also things like The Glass Menagerie and Of Mice and Men, ones where he plays considerably more subdued. He’s not called on to do that much anymore; it seems as though his Great Midcentury American Literature phase burned out when they started casting him in things from an earlier period. Even in things like Empire of the Sun and The Killing Fields,there was a hint of madness to the roles, someone who was driven mad by an insane world but also didn’t seem as ridiculous as he would in later roles.
Likewise,I cannot fault the Academy for not giving him the award, the two years he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. In 1984, his Mr.Will from Places in the Heart lost to Dr. Haing S. Ngor, his costar in The Killing Fields, who frankly carried the film and was arguably the lead role. And amazing at it. In 1993, he lost as Mitch Leary from In the Line of Fire to Tommy Lee Jones as Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive. I grant you that I don’t think he should have, but that’s because I think he should have lost to Leonardo Di Caprio for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List instead!
I think there are still fine performances in John Malkovich. Both of the ridiculous, Coeny type and of the subdued, Steinbeckish type. It tells you something that he can do either. And certainly he’s not afraid of work; he’s got six upcoming credits on IMDb for the next couple of years. I just feel as though too few people want him for his genuinely skilled acting and too many want him for his Caginess.
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