Acting can make or break any movie. Weak acting ruins our immersion and prevents us from fully engaging in the movie and believing in the characters. We want to see them as people in danger, people in love, and as people who are real, as opposed to actors performing for our amusement. However, there are different styles of acting that can influence a movie in other ways as well. Every actor has a different style because they are all different people, and the role of an actor can be downplayed in order to emphasize other elements of a movie. For instance, Wes Anderson- in several of his movies, such as Moonrise Kingdom, he makes his actors display an emotional flatness. Whether this is in order to convey that characters repress their feelings, or to make the times that their emotions do show more potent is up to interpretation. That is the beauty of it; even a reserved performance can enhance a movie if used correctly and in contrast with other styles of acting.
When I think of lackluster actors, the first one that pops into my mind Alan Bagh from the critically panned, Z-list indie horror movie Birdemic: Shock and Terror. The second is Keanu Reeves.
The main differences between these two actors (besides the quality of the films they star in) are what they contribute to the film. When acting is emotionless or expressionless, there is a void left by that element’s absence. In a movie like Birdemic: Shock and Terror, that void is filled with complete and utter garbage: abysmal writing, long and boring plot, and horrible sound editing. But in a movie like John Wick, Keanu Reeves opens up space for what we all came to see: action. Brilliant, concise, and explosive action that entertains and excites. He maintains an almost psychopathic attitude and unmoving gaze for pretty much the entire film. This cements him as a stone cold killer with extremely violent tendencies; which is, of course, what we came to see. I do not watch John Wick because it is a cerebral film intent on reinventing the wheel in a cinematic sense. I watch John Wick because I want to see Keanu Reeves blow bad guys away with ease, and then clap as he dramatically walks off into the night with his new dog by his side.
Brad Pitt, who won several awards for his performance in 12 Monkeys, and played the role of Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds (one of my all time favorite movies) has a style that is vastly different from that of Keanu Reeves. His drive and dedication to his characters makes him very believable and immensely entertaining to watch. For instance, while preparing to play the role of Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys, Pitt spent weeks at a hospital in Philadelphia, visiting and studying the psychiatric ward. He went through a great deal of trouble to better understand his role as a mentally insane patient, and it showed in his acting. He had a shockingly good performance, convincing the audience of his insanity. For this, he won Best Supporting Actor in 1996, and it is my personal belief that this award was completely deserved.
Directors can use acting to accentuate other aspects of a film, or they can use it to bolster a film by adding to our belief that the character’s world is our world, and that we live in it too. A good performance can make us laugh, make us cry, or even inspire us. Whether an actor is convincing or not, emotional or completely devoid of expression, it can always be turned to an advantage.
Except, of course, if you’re Alan Bagh.