Jul 17, 2010

THE BEST OF: Robert Duvall

Duvall is the Ancient Mariner of American acting — an almost Biblical severity of feature, a haggard fixity of gaze, a glitter of mischief behind his eyes. Barrel-chested, ramrod straight, walking on the balls of his feet, he appears to have gotten lighter, not heavier, with age. He's 80 now and it's difficult to think of an actor who has remained as compelling — he's got the gnarly vitality of one of those old Southern dogs who gets hit by lightning three times and lived to tell the tale. He'd make a great Ahab, or Lear, but rarely plays above his pay grade: he's got a self-effacing kinship with working people that translates into a spartan, bone-dry acting style. He formed an oasis of quiet counsel in The Godfather. He was spookily invulnerable as Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, looking for great surf in the middle of a battlefield, bare-chested while everyone ducks for cover around him. It's one of the greatest bit parts in the history of movies and maybe the greatest hawk ever committed to the screen. Coppola was smart to cut against the grain of his own politics: Kilgore contradicts and complicates the film. Duvall won an Oscar for Tender Mercies, but the movie is flim-flam; the only other film to match him was The Apostle, which he directed himself, and which has one of the best opening 20 mins of any movie in the nineties, seguing from administering last rites to someone in a car-wreck to going after Farrah Fawcett with a baseball bat. Most movies would have been happy to leave it there, with our certainty of the man's hypocrisy — another Elmer Gantry. But Duvall digs deeper and finds another layer of charisma, beneath the brutality. It's a wonderful, triple-decker sandwich of a part, almost geological. One could move quite smoothly from the greatness of his performance to a discussion of rock formation, root growth, tidal wash.
1. The Apostle
2. Apocalypse Now
3. The Godfather
4. Tender Mercies
5. A Civil Action


  1. I like him in everything I've seen him in.
    He's immensely charismatic.
    I dare not admit that I even loved him in the Scarlet Letter, when he played a deranged cuckold.
    Don't laugh, but I loved that film; so bad, yet so good...

  2. I'm amazed at how many Westerns or Western-type films Duvall has done, in both movies and on television, and how he's managed to make each character he has played markedly different from the next. He always looks the same from film to film, but what he brings to the table is a tremendous range.

    My top 5 Bobby Duvall performances:
    1. Lonesome Dove
    2. The Apostle
    3. Apocalypse Now
    4. The Great Santini
    5. The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid

  3. A second craig's emotion: the great santini is up there for me, too. The basketball scene is one of the most intense, painful scenes on film. And Duvall is at his most deeply believable.

  4. I could watch Duvall all day. Great actor and life interpreter Anything Kate likes is OK with me.

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