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« Box Office: Pirates, Having No Challengers, Steals All The Booty | Main | Film Bitch Nominees. Final Categories »
Monday
May232011

Take Three: Danny Glover

Craig here with Take Three. Today: Danny Glover


Over the last decade Glover hasn’t seen the prolonged exposure that he once enjoyed, yet mostly still deserves. But he’s been doing good work in a vast array of projects, both mainstream and arthouse none the less. In a quintet of artful independents The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Manderlay (2005), Bamako (2006), Honeydripper (2007) and Blindness (2008) he gave strong, varied turns. Barnyard, The Shaggy Dog (both 2006) and Alpha and Omega added family fare to his résumé. A couple of pay-the-rent Saws (first and fifth) and a thankless turn in Death at a Funeral (2010) didn’t harm his career. A couple of presidential engagements, Battle for Terra (2006) and 2012 (2009), kept him afloat. And finally some bona fide solid gold support in Dreamgirls (2006) and Shooter (2007) reminded multiplex audiences just how good he is.

Take One: Be Kind Rewind (2008)
But the most recent role in which he’s perhaps been most memorable was as the ageing, single, Fats Waller-loving video-shop owner Mr. Fletcher in Michel Gondry’s 2008 comic throwback Be Kind Rewind. He starts out like a kind of reluctant, but good-hearted curmudgeon unwilling to embrace DVD, but he ends up an accidental impresario of both old-school values and new ventures by joining the ranks of the neighbourhood “sweders” to make a community doc on Fats Waller. He typifies both the film’s antiquated side (VHS), but also its embracing of new technologies (DVD, digital) and social connection (people + cinema = growth). The scenes of him trotting off to memorialise Fats and snoop on his rivals would make an endearing film of its own. If Danny Glover could “swede” a film of himself doing just that, I’d be happy.

Two more takes after the jump including the Angry film for which we hope he will be remembered...

Take Two: Lethal Weapon (1987)
Danny Glover, as long-time staff Sergeant Roger Murtaugh of the LAPD, did say he was “too old for this shit” in Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon back in 1987. But he couldn’t have been that long in the tooth, all told, because he went on to reprise the role in three sequels. Despite rather, shall we say, diminishing returns as franchises go, the original film made a definitive dent in the Hollywood thriller mould. It was a key film in reminding the world of how entertaining the buddy flick can be when grafted to the cop drama or comedy. It was good cop/badcop crazy cop equation: Gibson was the manic one with a problem history; Glover was the settled one with a family and bills to pay.

The plot’s focus, and Gibson’s star power, ensured the frequency was tuned to Martin Riggs, but Sergeant Murtaugh was no less interesting. Now that Mel’s unhinged onscreen histrionics have faded, we’re left with Danny's arguably better performance. He's more than the sum of the many, many tired wisecracks about his age (Murtaugh’s just turned 50), and the regretfully wizened Glover convinces as an average but family man put to the test. His straightforward, fuss-free performance style, tinted with jovial amiability, was the chief draw of Lethal Weapon’s corny yet entertaining world. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who might say that the sequels required Glover to deliver little more than an extended parody of his original performance, but I’d also contend that he deserved closer attention for the first outing.

 

Take Three: To Sleep with Anger (1990)
To Sleep with Anger should ideally be the film for which we all remember Glover. though it’s unlikely to be the title that ultimately typifies his career (see Take Two above). Harry Mention is his best role to date. Though Glover doesn't get the most screen time he's the pivotal player. Anger is a domestic drama about a middle-class black family living in South Central Los Angeles. The enigmatic Harry, an old acquaintance of Gideon’s (Paul Butler), visits from the South and causes a series of minor revelations and major upsets: Gideon suffers a stroke; son babe Brother (Richard Brooks) indulges in gambling; Suzie (Mary Alice) is injured. It’s inferred that Harry is more a malicious force – pure evil? the devil? fate? – in the shape of a man, than a straightforward ‘figure from the past’.

Glover exudes a jubilant menace in the role. Watching Anger again -- watching any Charles Burnett film a first, second or even tenth time yields bountiful riches --  it’s evident from his first appearance that this is a unique performance. For one, Glover is entirely comfortable being slyly ambiguous something unseen in other performances of his.  We’re never quite sure who Harry is. This is part of Glover’s hazy, voracious charm in the role. He laughs a lot and infectiously over the film’s duration, but there’s always a worrying pause around it. Glover instils Anger with both zest and unease at the same time. It’s a savvy and confident piece of acting.

Three more key roles for the taking: The Color Purple (1985), Predator 2 (1990) The Saint of Fort Washington (1993).

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Reader Comments (10)

Great pick. He is so underused.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Just caught "Grand Canyon" on TV. Some very good parts, some preachy late '80s/early '90s kumbaya stuff. Glover was great in it, though. Odd watching it knowing the Rodney King riots were just months away.

And while I'm here, intertwining L.A. films from best to worst:
"Mulholland Drive" (A)
"Magnolia" (A)
"Short Cuts" (A-)
"Grand Canyon" (B)
"Crash" (C+)

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnthonyDC

I feel so ashemed for not having seen any of his performances, not even Lethal Weapon (or probably that one, once on TV when I was too young for it anyway). This is a great post, it reminds me how many truly talented actors are out there, even if they are not the ones most often in the spotlight. I always hope true talent finds its way to audiences and becomes recognised eventually. Just like with Kirsten Dunst at Cannes :). Even though I love films there are still so much I no nothing about so I really like being informed about films/actors/events I might never have come across otherwise. For a start, I'm definitely seeking out Anger and then we'll see.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervg21

Anthony -- i really really loved Grand Canyon at the time but I've always been scared to see it again suspecting it wouldn't have aged well or that i'd have grown out of it.

vg21 -- the other aspect of so many talents that aren't relaly in the spotlight that's interesting is that even when they are we sometimes only see a tiny sliver of what they're capable of and then some filmmaker will come along and it's "wow. i did not know this actor had that in them."

i wonder the percentage of famous actors who we've seen the limits of their gifts and the percentage we haven't.

May 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

He's never been nominated for an Oscar. I'm glad Mel Gibson said the things he said because he meant them. But of course they will forgive him -- they deserve it.

Fuck Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtfu11

I think he's so sexy. Is that weird?

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaden

Great post on a truly undervalued actor. With the right role in the right film at the right time, he's just the type who could eventually pull off a "career" Oscar win.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGian

I would have nominated him for "The Color Purple."

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLenny

Caden -- hmmm. what era? or just in perpetuity?

vg21 -- thanks for this comment. i'm always happy to hear when something on the blog convinces someone to investigate a film or career further.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Gian - thank you. I think you're spot on; one day he'll no doubt pull off an Oscar-winning performance.

vg21 - Thank you for the positive comment. I'm glad you got something to mull over from the post. Anger is certainly worth seeing (as is any Charles Burnett film). It's my favourite Danny Glover role. It's exciting that there are so many great films to seek out.

Nathaniel - I've had a debate with myself (and others) about actors being (only? Mostly?) as good as the director that they're working with... most times. Because some are capable of great highs AND dubious lows. They all convince and they all crop up. Also, on a similar note to what you mention... I love Jeff Goldblum, for example, but although he's very good a lot of the time, do you think he's given his all already? Every perf. is Jeff being Jeff. The same delivery; the same laconic tone. This may have been the case since Jurassic Park. Have we seen all of Jeff?

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
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