Wednesday, June 28, 2006
#22 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)
In my review for Mysterious Skin a couple of months ago, I complained that the role of the druggie hustler looking for genuine love has become something of a tired cliché. In recent years, actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Kevin Zegers (who was Transamerica's MVP) have thankfully managed to avoid monotony and familiarity in their acting. But in Jacob Tierney's little-seen 2003 Twist, a gloomy and complex update of Oliver Twist by Dickens, Nick Stahl gives my favourite take on the character. Stahl has always struck me as a most generous actor; in all of his screen appearances, from the serene and endearing son in 2001's In the Bedroom to his unexpected involvement in T3: Rise of the Machines of all places, he is always willing to let his fellow thespians shine instead of greedily chasing the spotlight himself. This is perhaps why he remains so undervalued in the industry (a turn as a murderous pedophile in the despicable Sin City hardly counts as a quality gig); perhaps his dedication and egolessness is mistaken for blending into the background. In Twist, however, Stahl is mesmerizing and at the forefront as "Dodge" (The Artful Dodger), a male prostitute who regularly uses heroin in order to escape his situation. He does not take the slightest bit of pleasure in scoring tricks; rather, he does his best to avoid them, which in turn enrages his abusive pimp. Dodge is so desperate to avoid work that he regularly scouts the streets for boys willing to join the trade in his place. The performance is free of histrionics and calculation; interstingly, Stahl seems to get quieter and smaller as the film winds down to its devastating conclusion. Note the way he walks, hands crammed into his pockets and bracing the relentless severity of a harsh Toronto winter; he assumes a purpose and direction, but to where exactly? Dodger seems to realize that for all his attempts to escape, he simply brings himself closer to his own annihilation. As his world comes crashing down on him, with the arrival of an estranged family member and the death of a close friend, Stahl literally defines hopelessness and suffocating oppression. The film is an extremely unpleasant affair, and I respect it for not turning its gaze away from the sickening realities of the exploitive sex trade. But it is clearly Stahl who deserves much of the credit for making the film work as well as it does; if only all films could be blessed with so much conviction and willingness on the part of the leading actor. On a side note, I am glad that this little-seen effort managed to score Stahl a Genie nomination for Best Actor (equivalent of Oscar in Canada); Twist also scored another three nods.