Jan 4, 2010

The Best of Steve Zahn: Out of Sight

1. Out of Sight
2. Happy Texas
3. Joyride
4. That Thing You Do
5. SubUrbia
5. Saving Silverman

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.


  1. Zahn fan here. In response to your closing lines, I thought I'd point out that Zahn himself is a Shakespearean actor so to speak... catch him in Ethan Hawke's Hamlet.

    On your list, I would remove Out of Sight to make room for Rescue Dawn, for which he should have received a nomination. He's also absolutely fantastic in Riding in Cars with Boys. And no slouch in Perfect Getaway for that matter.

  2. I love all those movies too, particularly Riding In Cars With Boys. The main point was just to shout my appreciation from the rooftops, so as to connect up with other Zahn fans like yourself, like the dogs in 101 Dalmations barking from rooftop to rooftop.

  3. I can't remember the line. But he delivered one so perfectly in "That Thing You Do", I've been a fan ever since. I think he said it in the back of a van. The line might have even been about the van. It might have even been "We have a van!" I can't remember that far back. But all I know is ever since, whether I'm clicking through channels or browsing the movie ads, if I see Steve Zahn's name, I'm at least interested.

  4. Equitable P. HarmonJanuary 6, 2010 at 11:18 PM

    You ignored one of Zahn's prime accomplishments: his performance as "Swampy," the rock drummer turned librarian, in "Dude, We're Getting the Band Back Together!," an episode of the Disney Channel animated series PHINEAS AND FERB.

    No, really. Good series, good episode, Zahn is very funny, and he acquits himself quite well on the song "I Ain't Got Rhythm."

    As you can see (and hear) here:

  5. Zahn was also terrific in "Comanche Moon," in which he inherited the part of Agustus McRae from Robert Duvall. (Karl Urban was just as great as Capt. Woodrow Call, the role that won Tommy Lee Jones an Emmy.)

    I had COMPLETELY forgotten Zahn's flawless performance in "That Thing You Do," but I don't remember that film very well: I saw it the night I proposed to my wife, and I had other things on my mind....

  6. At the introduction of CB Radio Equipment , transmitters and receivers necessarily used vacuum tubes. All solid-state transmitters were not widely available until 1965, after introduction of suitable RF power transistors.[24] Walkie-talkie hand-held units were made affordable by the use of transistors. Early receivers did not implement all channels of the service; channels were controlled by plug-in quartz crystals, with one of several operating frequencies selected by a panel control in more expensive units.

  7. Another doozy of a Zahn performance is the little-seen indie film FREAK TALKS ABOUT SEX which was unfortunately renamed BLOWIN' SMOKE on DVD. Ignore the title and check it out for loads of Zahn goodness as he gets substantial screen time.