Featured Posts

May 27, 2009

The Truth About Marky

It never fails. For the past few years, every time I've sat down to watch a film featuring Mark Wahlberg, I end up thinking the same thing. To be more specific, I keep referring back to the same thing: this article for Esquire by Mike D'Angelo. It's one of those pieces that is so pitch-perfect that I not only wish that I had written it, but halfway believe that I did, as I'll bring it up whenever the actor is mentioned in conversation. In the article, titled "Why Can't Marky Wahlberg Carry a Movie?," D'Angelo wonders how an actor that can carry himself so well in a supporting role (it was written hot off the heels of The Departed and just in time for Shooter) can be such a bland leading man.

It's a theme that played itself out yet again this weekend, where I watched pieces of three of Wahlberg's films. First up was The Basketball Diaries, in which Wahlberg plays Mickey, a New York-set version of his younger self, more or less. He's a high school punk, palling around with Leonardo DiCaprio as they grow up tough and dumb. It's a supporting role, and though he's fine in it, I'm inclined to more or less throw it out, as it came so early in his career. To that point, he'd only been in two projects - Renaissance Man and the TV movie The Substitute, and as mentioned, he wasn't exactly stretching himself. D'Angelo states that "the farther this South Boston bruiser moves away from himself, the more credible he becomes" - Basketball proves to be one film where this might not be the case, but I'm chalking it up to Wahlberg not knowing better - being himself because he knew so little of acting, with the result a natural-feeling performance.

Next was I Heart Huckabees, which, outside of his career-creating role in Boogie Nights, is his best performance. In the ensemble piece, Wahlberg plays Tommy, a firefighter who's had a crisis of conscience (of sorts). This crisis has made him virtually unable to function in everyday society, as he's prone to (violently) lecturing everyone he meets about the evils of petroleom. Tommy is played broad, fast and loose in this existential comedy, and Wahlberg, given free rein, chews the scenery up and steals the show, upstanding even such vets as Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin. This is where the above quote about getting away from himself really rings true; there's not a hint of an accent to be found here, and though he's a loose canyon, Tommy carries none of the machismo b.s. that Wahlberg's lead roles seem to. It's hard to embarrass a guy that rides a bike and wears his fireman boots around all of the time. When you take into consideration that Huckabees came from Three Kings director David O. Russell (another high point in Wahlberg's career), it's hard not to singlehandedly give credit to Russell for whatever acting prowess Wahlberg has shown over the years. Clearly, though, his turns in The Departed and Boogie Nights - especially when contrasted with his leading man work - show that perhaps his has been a problem of not working with quality writers and directors, rather than being a blemish on his own abilities.

The last film, Shooter, seems to confirm that belief. True, this is essentially Commando all over again, mixed with a little Bourne action, so the bar was not and should not be set too high. But the fact remains that Wahlberg ends up the least interesting person on screen. He is a man of one emotion (if you can call it that) - blind intensity. No matter the situation, Wahlberg's Bob Lee Swagger knows what to say and/or do, and he executes every action as if he were a robot, even in a slightly romantic scene with Kate Mara. He shows no anger at the no-win situation he's been placed into, and displays no joy when he tastes sweet revenge; it was just another part of the plan, I suppose.

If the above description could be used for Planet of the Apes, or The Italian Job, or Max Payne, I'm sure it's no accident. Whether it's Mark himself or merely his collaborators, someone along the way has convinced him that to carry a film, he needs to get back to his tough guy roots, beating up on the bad guys while not feeling one way or another about it. Fact is, he's most appealing when it's the complete opposite case - when he's allowed to break free of expectations, manically twisting away from who you think he is. Or maybe he's just long overdue for another villain role; after all, he took those tough guy traits and turned them on their head in Fear, making what might have been a rote thriller an inescapably fun guilty pleasure. SO LET HIM IN THE F*$#ING HOUSE!

6 people have chosen wisely: on "The Truth About Marky"

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

Hmm...good insight, but it only makes his performance in The Happening that much more quizzical.

Tim said...

I thought he was good in The Departed. And in Shooter when it comes to acting like a soldier, or in his case a Marine, he hit it spot on.

Fletch said...

Paul - I still have yet to see that one, so I don't quite know what you mean...

Tim - I agree with you, but it doesn't say anywhere that all Marines are personality-free zombies, which is how he came off to me. He's certainly fine, but altogether forgettable.

bd79 said...

Loose canyon? Wasn't that what Rollergirl was after Dirk Diggler met her?

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

In The Happening, he plays a science teacher who has a deep love of bees. There is a need for intensity, as everybody around him committs suicide, but he seems quizically lost because there's nobody to fight.

Rent it, Fletch. It's a modern marvel of malevolent movie making.

/stan lee

Anonymous said...

He was pretty good in Four Brudders, playing a tough guy from Detroit, I guess it was kind of an ensemble piece, plus everyone's acting looked that much better because they shipped in Tyrese as one of the brothers, he's... not so good.