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Clips w/out Context: Nicole Kidman in "Stoker"

So many people have sent me that first official clip from Stoker over the past week, a monologue from Queen Kidman, that I figure it's a sign from the cosmos that I've been neglecting my genuflections. (I had had another big Nicole (!) piece planned last week and then they went and snubbed her/spoiled it. And then there was The Hours anniversary and I thought maybe I had Kidmandeered the blog too much. Apparently not!)

Lights on. Camera. Actress!

Almost every time someone has sent or linked to the clip they've done so with a variation of "OMG!!!" or "all the Oscars for Nicole!" in their text and a quick check of online reactions fall roughly along those lines too. My reaction was more like "..." with a side of "♥"

...which I shall explain alongside the clip and Stoker @ Sundance madness after the jump.

Yes, the great Nicole Kidman is just riveting here. But I'm not ready to throw her another statue just yet. Why? Well, what do we learn from this clip?

Two things and two things only:

1) Nicole is a great actress.
2) Nicole is a great movie star.

When you put the camera on her, we can't look away and we're very very very glad you've put the camera there. Hence: movie star.

As for the actressing... we take the first point on faith because she's proven it many times. But in truth, you can't really tell how great a performance this is from a clip. ("What if this single monologue is totally at odds with the rest of her choices for the character or off synch with the movie" says the devil's advocate)

Who are you?"

I'm increasingly worried that our clip-addled film culture is doing us no good. Are out-of-context scenes and tweet length reviews from afar really any different to the movies than sound-bytes are to the news. They might be correct in what they convey but they still reduce. A lot of people are fully willing to believe they know who deserves to win Oscars each year, solely based on various clips they've seen online without actually seeing the performance in context. I actually worry that our addiction to clip culture is part of the reason Nicole Kidman won more notoriety than Oscar traction for her performance in The Paperboy this year. People wanted to reduce it to "plays a trashy oversexed beautician" "pees on Zac Efron!!!" "does Southern accent" when what was really genius about the performance was the way each scene informed the other (the mark of great character work) and how her reactions in some scenes made absolute sense in the context of the whole but wouldn't be quite in line with what you'd think Charlotte Bless would do/feel unless you'd been paying attention to each clue in each scence. She kept surprising, not by breaking character but by constantly breaking Charlotte down and reassembling from a different angle. 

Great line readings are worth shouting about. But building a cohesive fascinating character that is more than the sum of dazzling charisma and/or technique is even more special. (Example: this is part of the reason I didn't use to enthuse over Cate Blanchett as much as most actressexuals. The technique sure was dazzling but I personally didn't always see the fullness of character underneath the "Acting!")

All this thinking aloud will probably lead you to believe that I didn't love this clip but that is not true. I watched it seven times. Don't judge. But in the movie I hope it still plays new.

...for now we know neither what prompted this "why do people have children?" monologue nor why Mama Nicole is so in hate with Daughter Mia Wasikowska. Though, when it comes to the latter, who can blame her? Nicole is acting her ass off and we get two disappointing distracting cuts away to Mia throwing Petulant Shade. Get out of here, Mia!


P.S. What people are saying about Stoker:


  • /Film "warped and hollow" [negative]
  • Film School Rejects "Park chanwook's prettiest, emptiest film" [negative] 
  • Collider "may not cut deep, but it slashes hard" [mixed/positive]
  • THR "one of the most artful chillers in ages" [positive]
  • Fangoria "simultaneously beautiful and frightening" [positive]
  • Guardian "a gorgeously mounted family mystery dressed up as a gothic fairytale. " [positive]
  • Variety "splendidly demented gumbo of Hitchcock thriller, American Gothic fairy tale and contemporary kink" [very positive]



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Reader Comments (24)

Excellent post Nathaniel! I don't have anything to add to it but I thought you'd like to know that tonight on American Idol Keith Urban said he had to leave early because, "My wife is receiving an award from the New York Film Critics and I wanna be there to hold her hand." :)

Also, somehow Mariah Carey resisted taking that moment to remind us that she was in Precious.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAkash

Seriously, I love Nicole too. Watching this clip however, all I'm thinking is that she would have been so much better if she had movement in her forehead given how emotional the scene is. Trivial I know, but it totally affected the scene for me

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Nat: The Film School Rejects article has a B- at the end, so I think that's "mixed" or "mixed/negative."

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Great line readings are worth shouting about. But building a cohesive fascinating character that is more than the sum of dazzling charisma and/or technique is even more special. (Example: this is part of the reason I didn't use to enthuse over Cate Blanchett as much as most actressexuals. The technique sure was dazzling but I personally didn't always see the fullness of character underneath the "Acting!")


January 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I am intrigued by the film but I agree that pulled clips like this can ruin the spontaneity of experiencing a new film. Nicole is an interesting actress but I think her interest in playing Cold Mother is repellant and influencing too many of her film choices. She is too often tense and mean on screen, and this film will be another odd film that won't engender much interest beyond actressexuals.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

hahaha I felt the same about Mia in this clip. I rolled my eyes Michelle Obama-styles.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterG.ShaQ

I have to admit re-watching "The Paperboy," again further clouded my own opinion on who the standout was. I have been won over not only by Nicole in this role, but also by the work of both Macy Gray and Zac Efron (!)...

Nicole should have been nominated. But I am sure she is happy for Jacki Weaver.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Akash -- Where are you man? (p.s. thanks for filling me in as i haven't watched american idol since jennifer hudson was booted off)

Jason -- has she really done that that often? I can only think of The Others & Golden Compass

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Isn't this clip, like, months old?

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

kurtis -- i dunno but it sure got a lot of sudden posting attention and emailing this week

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Nah, it's a new (fascinating!) clip. This is just the extended version of what we saw in one of the trailers.

I'm sure she had loads of fun with a monologue like that. Plus, i love how she can exude so much malice with her eyes and voice. She used that to great extent in The Golden Compass too which makes me so sad that we never got to see more movies.

Patryk - Zac Efron could've been the reincarnation of Laurence Olivier in The Paperboy but i would've never noticed. I can't remember the last time i did such shameless gawking.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

That Collider review (the only one I read) reads very positive -- lots of praise. Oddly, didn't mention Kidman's performance but heaped praise onto the film's other players.

But I too think Kidman will be magnificent - and hope there is a very strong trio to work off of eachother.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Nathaniel -I would add Margot at the wedding to that list. She's pretty brilliant in that ;)

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkent

"Ugh, I don't drink ice water! Bring me a new glass, India!" Sorry, I was still in character. Thank you for reminding of some of the other Frosty roles.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Nat.. I wonder why she never got invited to Inside Actor's Studio. Do you know why?

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNic-no

Ho Hummm ... I loved Kidman in just a handful of movies ... maybe this new one will change my mind!

Again... our faithful blogger cannot stay away from Streep !!! I am really beginning to enjoy him!!!!!

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Don't sell Wasikowska short. She exhibits all of the earmarks of becoming the next Nicole Kidman...

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason Cooper

It's ironic you mentioned Cate Blanchett vis-a-vis dazzling technique. But when I examine Kidman's performances in Birth, Fur and Rabbit Hole, I feel exactly the same way - great technique but very little soul. It's as though she's declaring: look at me...I'm all actressy. Having said that, I must admit she's best when her character threatens to cross over to 'the dark side' like in Dogsville, Hours and Margot at the wedding. Awaiting release of Paperboy here in the meantime. Between the two, it's Blanchett for me, anytime....

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJns

3rtful is dissing Streep in every post, lol

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I agree that a clip doesn't say much about a performance. Also, I'm not even sure she si great in this clip. I mean, she's definetely being a movie star in this clip, but her choices seem a bit obvious and she doesn't seem sure of what to do.

But here I am, indulging in the "clip culture" :p

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I love Kidman and appreciate her risky choices, but I disagree about Blanchett. Cate is the best :)

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterp.j.

Just 2 things:

- Amen to the "all oscars to Nicole" (even though I'm also skeptical until we see more of this, but that's just a regular mantra of mine)

- Wouldn't you consider showing us Kidmaniacs that other piece on her performance in 'The Paperboy'? Even if she didn't get nominated, we do love some Kidman pieces and, just in general, I personally love reading arguments both supporting or criticising a performance that I enjoyed. It always sheds some new, interesting light on it.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

Nicole is great in THE PAPERBOY, hope it is a great return of the queen in STOKER.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlasttimeisaw

Nicole Kidman Rocks!

February 13, 2015 | Unregistered Commenteromeany

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