I played a man doing his job
If you bump into actor silver and gold pandora bracelet Stephen Lang, don't make the mistake of praising him as the best movie villain of 2009 with his predatory performance as Col.
Miles Quaritch in "Avatar."
"I didn't play a villain; I played a man who is doing his job the best way that he can," the 57 year old actor said with an edge in his voice. "He makes choices. Quaritch has cauterized some aspects of his own soul. Dirty wars have numbed his psyche and spirit. But I did not go at him as a villain."
Parts of Quaritch may be dead inside, but Lang's performance is alive on the screen. With ice blue stare, talon scarred face and sinewy arms, Quaritch is one of the most memorable special effects in the James Cameron sci fi epic, which pulled in an estimated$232.2 million worldwide in its opening weekend.
The years in the making film arrived at theaters with the billing as "the game changer" for visual effects movies and, along with the commercial success, the reviews have been as glowing as the iridescent plant life of Pandora. "You've never experienced anything like it," critic Kenneth Turan wrote in The Times, "and neither has anyone else." Fans seemed to agree: Market research firm CinemaScore reported that every demographic group gave an average grade of A.
Despite the 3 D wizardry and state of the art performance capture technology, the off world epic is an old fashioned story in many ways. Sam Worthington stars as Jake Sully, a military man who "goes native" on a distant moon called Pandora where 10 foot tall, blue skinned aliens called Na'vi are struggling to fight off human invaders. Leading the charge for those invaders is the brawny Quaritch, the head of security for Hell's Gate, the earthling base that has been set up to mine a super valuable mineral unique to Pandora.
"Quaritch is number orientated, he's very squared away and there's nothing raggedy about him at all," said Lang, who has a history of playing military men on screen. "He is in a constant state of code red."
In cinema spirit, Quaritch could compare scars with Tom Berenger possessed Sgt. Barnes in "Platoon" or march along in lockstep with R. Lee Ermey sneering Sgt. Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket." Remember howLt. Col. Bill Kilgore, as portrayed by Robert Duvall, loved the smell of napalm in the morning in "Apocalypse Now"? Watching Lang's Quaritch serenely sip his coffee duringthe slaughter of an alien tribe in "Avatar" suggests that he orders off the same commando breakfast menu.
Berenger and Duvall got Oscar nominations for their commando duty and Ermey's mad eyed drill sergeant earned a Golden Globe nomination. Lang may find some similar trophy consideration as perhaps the most memorable human face from "Avatar."
Lang has been "chameleonic" in his film career, as director Cameron puts it, and in a way that has given him a certain measure of anonymity with moviegoers. Whether the role was Ike Clanton in "Tombstone," Harry Black in "Last Exit to Brooklyn" or a Civil discount pandora charms War icon (he played Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson in "Gods and Generals" and Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett in "Gettysyburg"), Lang is more of an actor than a movie star.
Cameron said he had been watching Lang for quite a while. He took note of Lang's lead performance in the 1986 crime film "Band of the Hand" and considered him for one of the military man roles in "Aliens," released that same year.
For "Avatar," Lang secured the role of Quaritch during an audition where he pounced on the startled production assistant who was reading opposite of him. "He grabbed him by the head," Cameron said, "and he pretty much got the job right there."
Lang said the "Avatar" set was "quite electric" with the very real sense that the movie would become a watershed moment in Hollywood history. The actor said working with Cameron was demanding and invigorating.
"Jim is extremely focused and quite ferocious in pursuit of what we're doing. He's also a hell of a lot of fun to work with and has a good humor about him. He demands a tremendous amount not by saying, 'This is what I demand of you,' but by his own intensity and preparation. With Jim Cameron, you are challenged and supported and that's a pretty great combination."
The opening weekend of "Avatar" put an exclamation point on a strong year for Lang, who played a quirky Army officer in "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and popped up in the season finale of "Law Order: Criminal Intent." A big highlight too was portraying taciturn lawman Charles Winstead in Michael Mann's "Public Enemies."
Lang chuckled when asked whether it was especially memorable to be the man who gunned down "Public Enemy" leading man Johnny Depp, arguably the biggest movies star in the world. "Well, I shot him about 220 times. It was a Michael Mann film after all. After a jewelry stores that sell pandora bracelets few dozen times it loses a bit of the magic."
For "Public Enemies," Lang said the settings became characters. The movie was filmed, in many instances, on the same sites where the gangsters and G men squared off and wrote American crime history in bullet holes and blood splatters.
were in places where the history happened on 'Public Enemies.' I shot Johnny down on the same spot where the real John Dillinger was shot. Did that contribute to the performance? I suspect so. "
That was a very different exercise, he said, than "Avatar," which on many days was filmed in blank walled rooms where unseen digital jungles would be added later.
"It's fine with me," said Lang, who pointed to his extensive background in theater as the perfect preparation for modern blockbuster making. when you're in a performance capture setting or green screen, you're getting back to the real basic stuff of acting. You don't have a lot of things presented to you in a rehearsal room, either. In a rehearsal room your real resource as an actor aren't the things around you; your resources are your imagination and your director and the other actors. In those close quarters your imagination and your skills are what you turn to."
The New York native stage resume includes a memorable turn as one of Willie Loman sons in the 1980s revival of "Death of a Salesman" starring Dustin Hoffman and a 1992 Tony nomination for his work in "The Speed of Darkness." Lang was also the first stage actor to play Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep, the signature character in "A Few Good Men" and, yes, yet another wild eyed military lion.
Asked why he specializes in the roles of rigid men in harm's way, Lang pondered the question but couldn't come up with an answer that satisfied him. He pointed out, though, that despite pandora charms and bracelets the aura of discipline and chain of command, the military men he has played all tended to break the rules or perhaps write new ones.
"They were mavericks, Lang said of his own character corps. didn't tend to do things by the book. They took it a place of the unexpected and the extreme. These are the guys who go outside and that go, as they say, above and beyond, the ones that do what cannot be done. The ones we go back to over and over again Guadalcanal or the madness of Pickett's charge. These are things that if you took a truly aerial view of, you would gasp and say, were they thinking?'"
That guy was scary in Avatar. He wasn the villain, but he was a deranged, sociopathic, murdering human who soul had lost the capacity to respect and honor life. A crusading thug who was given free reign to indulge in his delusions of duty by his corporate overseers. The whole plot line of invaders vs. natives was pretty much a mirror of the atrocities the US Army perpetrated against the native americans after the civil war. Movie was incredible BTW for it nearly complete realization of another world. A must see in 3D.
Cameron made a hi tech Western in outer space like Dances with Wolves. The hero native like Costner, the natives have blue skin not red, are naked noble savages that talk to earth and have magic powers, they need his protection to continue living in their cartoonish Garden of Eden, etc.
And, like Dances, the roles are reversed. The US Cavalry is now the flying Blackwater contractors and they are the antagonists, not protagonists. The victims are not white women and children in a wagon train, but helpless and childlike Navi, with blue skin, in their magic forest.
Don forget the PC casting. Overdone female empowerment efforts: like the chain smoking, bitchy, scientist leader Sigorney Weaver, the tough girl Mexican helicopter pilot who breaks them out of prison and the Navi spiritual leader/queen. Not all white men are bad people (except for the hero), but all bad people are white men, usually pale, muscular N Euro like Lang. All soldiers in the final battle that died were white. All good people, except the hero, are non white men, and he gets a body transplant.
The visual effects were good. I thought I heard something about 3d but must have missed it.
This gentlemen never fails to impress me if he is given enough screen time and lines to speak to set him apart from his fellows actors. Absolutely he did not play a villain in Avatar he starred as a to the bone military man just like he when he overwhelmed otherwise excellent actors in "Gettysburg." On this particular character he embodies in the "Avatar" film, well... for the folks saying the character was a sociopath... I respectfully disagree. He played a character we have seen in almost any movie where there is a need for a well defined sword on which the protagonist must throw him or herself on. Sometimes the hero just gets away with life like Charlie Sheen in "Platoon" vice Tom Berenger "villain" in same. Sometimes the hero wrestles with the sword and reaps huge rewards like Odysseus which makes him a bad ass, but not a bad guy. I just looked at the Oscar web site for the nominees for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for 2010 and saw Mr. Lang wasn listed which leaves me (once again) befuddled because I saw two of those other films and those guys didn make the list in my head.
There really no other way of saying it this man was a pure bad ass in the movie.
The closest thing it reminded me of was when Saddam Hussein was on Dan Rather just before the Iraq War. Irrespective of what you thought of our going into Iraq, Saddam was a vile human being but when he said that Iraq if made to fight, would fight for its pride as a nation and as a people, just as Americans would, it paralleled Lang character since Lang character saw his own troops (his "boys") killed by the Navi enemy and that blinded him to all common sense and humanity. It is still immoral, but credit to Cameron for crafting a credible enemy and Lang for so skillfully playing it.
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