Sunday, May 17, 2009

Retro Active Appreciation: Donald Sutherland

A Donald Sutherland film, for me, has the same effect as a pacifier to a baby. Seeing him I feel calm, at ease and content. In my element, connected. I get that sense from him as a person, an actor, and often in the characters he portrays. I truly appreciate him.

There's the voice, the kind eyes and the general vibe that are so appealing. He is how I believe a fully evolved, intelligent person should be like. One fairly recent performance that comes to mind is his Mr. Bennet in 'Pride and Prejudice'. The scene, near the end, with his daughter Elizabeth, when he is so genuinely relieved to know she is happy and in love that he is moved to tears... which gets to me every time.

And it's no wonder he has portrayed the caring, protective figure so well and so often. It is also fitting that he played "Mr. X" in Oliver Stone's "JFK", in another great, scene stealing turn as the voice of truth and reason, shedding light on the facts behind the conspiracy.

But he can also be quirky and funny. After all, he is Canadian...! There are at least four films that are quintessential Retro Active Donald and I recommend them here, in appreciation.

The first is, of course, Robert Altman's "MASH". As Captain Hawkeye Pierce, he is the embodiment of rebellion, and his rapport with Elliot Gould is fun to watch. Apart from the great performances and writing, which led to the long running popular TV series, "MASH" is helmed by one of my favorite directors of all, Robert Altman. It's an easy, breezy but thoughtful entertainment, and it makes me laugh. Here the guys attempt to have a proper cocktail hour, despite the limitations of their Korean War post...

And here he is, describing his experience on "MASH", as only Don can. His insightful commentary here makes him even more endearing...! I love what he says about how watching people fighting is really absurd. I completely agree.

And there's "Klute". Apparently, he and Jane Fonda were romantically involved while making the film. And it shows, because the affection the two characters have for one another is very believable. He is John Klute, a private investigator looking to find out about his missing friend, and she is Bree Daniels, a confused prostitute mixed up in the dangerous case. She is so mixed up, and the telling scenes for her are when she is speaking with her psychiatrist, since she gives away only some of her feelings. What she hides is inferred by the her actions towards Klute.

My favorite scene in the film is a very quiet and subtle one - again because of Sutherland's magic. It is a scene when the two of them, still shy of the fact that they are in love, are feigning some normalcy while shopping at a fruit stand. Bree almost subconsciously sneaks a few pieces of fruit into her purse, as if she can't help but try to destroy the purity of the moment. John notices, and at first doesn't say anything. But when she waits for something, almost expectantly, he asks her with an amused little smile what she has in her bag, teasing her a bit, but goes on with his business of shopping for fruit... it shows that he is accepting of her, still loving her despite her manic flaws. And she just stares at him, in wonder and awe, disbelieving that anyone can be that kind to her, realizing that he does not pass judgment on her despite his disapproval of the acts she has committed.

"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" has in it three of my most beloved, shall we say... entities: Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nemoy and San Francisco. Or four, if you count Jeff Goldblum. In it, Sutherland is a great lead and although I haven't seen every film depiction of this story, I'm pretty sure this would be my favorite one. It's a horror film that won't put you terribly over the edge or make you quite so ill at ease.

Next is "Ordinary People", by far my favorite of this list. Robert Redford's directorial debut is a film that moves me unlike any other. No matter how many times I see it, I still get pummeled by the emotions it stirs up for me. In this he plays Calvin Jarrett, the caring head of a family that is grieving the loss of the older son. His wife Beth, played by Mary Tyler Moore, tries to maintain a front that things are fine, while his son Conrad is struggling tremendously with the situation, due in great part to his mother's lack of affection for him. There are many moving Donald scenes, as here he plays the loving husband and father to perfection.

Here is the scene where his character, Calvin, realizes and finally accepts his worst suspicions about his wife Beth - that she doesn't love Conrad and only mourns their son Buck, and that she in fact has very little room in her heart for anyone. And this breaks his own heart.

And then, the resolution with Conrad.

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