Saturday, January 16, 2016

Alan Rickman (1946-2016)

Like many Americans, the first time I really became aware of Alan Rickman was in his iconic role as the super-villain Hans Gruber in Die Hard. It seemed at the time as if he had come out of nowhere, which he essentially had. It was his first feature role after appearing in a few British television series. Even at that early stage in his career, however, his talent for acting was abundantly clear, especially his ability to straddle the line between villainy and comedy. The role couldn’t have been better suited for him. While he didn’t have an extensive career in films he did have many notable and well remembered roles, and he will be greatly missed. After Die Hard he went right into the star-studded The January Man, which didn’t get great reviews, and followed that with some more TV guest spots. His next big signature role was in the Tom Selleck cowboy picture Quigley Down Under, where he played an Australian rancher who wanted to be an American cowboy and winds up enemies with Selleck. He had the lead in the romantic comedy Truly, Madly, Deeply opposite the brilliant Juliet Stevenson, and then landed one of his most distinctive roles--good or bad depends on your taste--as the crazed Sheriff of Nottingham in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He really chews the scenery in that one, but within the context of the film and the time, it works.

A series of unremarkable films followed, including another staring role, this time in a biopic of early hypnotist Franz Anton Mesmer in Mesmer. Then came what I consider to be the greatest role of his career: Colonel Brandon in Emma Thompson’s version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. While his more comedic and villainous roles demanded a certain amount energy from him, his portrayal of the love-struck lord called for exactly the opposite, an inner restraint that barely concealed his overwhelming desire for a woman who had absolutely no use for him. Even in a film loaded with stars, his performance stands out as essential to the film’s overall success. After a supporting role in the historical drama Michael Collins, he appeared in some very strange films, a staring turn in the HBO film Rasputin, the Damon-Afleck fantasy film Dogma, as well as a Spock-like comedy send up in Galaxy Quest, and the British romcom Blow Dry. What brought him attention to the wider world, however, was his next appearance in the series of Harry Potter films that instantly became a worldwide sensation. They weren’t films that I enjoyed, but he was very well cast as the enigmatic professor Severus Snape.

After the first of these films he gave a wonderful performance in a small, independent comedy called The Search for John Gissing, again displaying his tremendous comedic talents. He then worked as one of a large ensemble cast in another British romcom, Love Actually, and appeared in a couple of other historical films, a murder mystery called Perfume, and Tim Burton’s musical Sweeney Todd. One of my few disappointments in his film career was his appearance in the real-life story of a California winery that went on to win a wine tasting competition in France. Bottle Shock attempted to ride the coat tails of the success of Sideways, but simply lacked the kind of story and screenplay that Alexander Payne brought to his film. By this time, however, really good roles seemed to have passed him by and he was content to appear in smaller supporting parts and continue his ongoing presence in the Harry Potter films. Never the less, Alan Rickman, will always be one of my favorite actors. He was clearly well respected by all of those who worked with him and remains an irreplaceable element of every film he appeared in.

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