...you should. And by "this performance", I mean Stephen Graham in Shane Meadows' This is England. When the film came out a couple of years ago, all the praise I can remember reading about it seemed to revolve around the performance by then 13 year-old lead actor Thomas Turgoose, and make no mistake, that kid deserved all the praise he got. He's terrific in the film (his first), but when Stephen Graham (who, until I finished watching This is England, I was referring to as "the guy from Snatch") makes his first appearance as Combo, the skinhead who brings bigotry into a formerly benevolent group of other skinheads and punks, this movie is on fire.
Skinheads and neo-Nazis have, over the past decade or so, threatened to take the place of the mentally challenged character as the kind of role that gets an actor noticed, who lets him froth at the mouth while showing the wounded heart underneath -- see Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper, Edward Norton in American History X, and Ryan Gosling in The Believer. In short, without much effort, the genre was getting a little tiresome. And to one degree or another, I liked all those movies, and thought those were all good performances. And Graham does the frothing-at-the-mouth-wounded-heart business as well. So, there's nothing really new about the character or the story. But I believed Graham was Combo every damn second, I did not see the wheels turning, I did not see him acting. All I saw was genuine rage and hate and violence and sadness and all the rest of it. Utterly mesmerizing. He has a scene where he lays out his philosophy, and, when he strikes a nerve with Turgoose's Shaun and has to calm the boy down and explain why he said what he said, I thought that here's a guy who could make any kind of hatred sound reasonable, because as far as he's concerned he's not selling snake oil. He's selling what he believes to be right and true. Graham is filled with anger and tenderness, and he's just superb.
This post was going to be about one of the last shots in Angel Heart, which I watched over the weekend, but I couldn't find an image of it on-line, so I'll just briefly talk about it as a post-script.
While the film didn't match what I remember to be the near-greatness of William Hjortsberg's source novel (called Falling Angel), I thought the film was pretty damn solid. But then at the end...that glowing eyed baby. Sweet Christ, is that the worst idea to ever make it into an otherwise perfectly good movie, or what? I can't believe that at no point did anyone say, "Hey, Alan Parker, have you seen the finished shot of the demon baby? Because it is totally dumb as shit. And it doesn't mean anything, so why not just snip it?" Maybe someone did, and Parker told them to piss off or to stick it up their arse or to eat shite or something. Whatever the case, reason and logic died that day.