I caught Joyride on TV again last night and was reminded of just how much I love Steve Zahn — beyond all reasonable bounds, as far as my wife is concerned. "Steve Zahn?" she asked last night as I tried to interest her in the movie, about a CB-radio psycho killer. "Are you sure?" "But this is prime Zahn," I protest. "This is Zahn at the top of his game." She is coming around. Twenty minutes into the movie and she had stopped cleaning and was sat next to me on the sofa, transfixed. Truth be told, he hasn't made that many great movies — the Soderbergh film may be it — but greatness may be beside the point: there's not a movie he's been in that he hasn't made ten times more watchable. He's like Warren Oates, or salt: he makes everything better. Watching Joyride again, I was struck by two things: 1) you never know what he's going to say next. 2) he acts as if neither does he. This mean's he's good at playing goofs, odd bods, munchkins, slackers, and other latterday saints. There's a spontaneity to him that is utterly riveting: you see each word, forming on his face, each thought as it occurs to him. That's great screen acting. There are some Shakespearean actors that don't know how to do that. A lot, in fact.
Vanity Fair's resident polymath, James Walcott, seconds the motion:—
Absoluto. But my top five would make room for Zahn's sly, avid, phone-jockey sleuthing as the Forbes reporter in Shattered Glass--the smiling slivers of glee he lets slide when, during the conference call, he realizes that Stephen Glass has been b-s'ing everybody and all those journalistic snobs at The New Republic have been royally conned. No one can do a deadpan response with such a smirky inflection of sarcasm as Zahn, and his refusal to share a byline with Rosario Dawson (so cute in geek glasses) is also performed as a minor, dicky power play, minor, dicky power plays presumably being his character's specialty. Zahn is the imp of the perverse in a film where everyone else pretends their careerism represents a higher calling instilled in them at Harvard with The New Yorker awaiting at the top of the sugar trail. Perhaps the reason Zahn's stealthy performance in Shattered Glass gets less notice than his others is he's such an outdoor actor--perfect for any bent-out-of-shape picaresque adventure--and this is such an indoor movie.