I am fully aware that I have a bad habit of getting overly excited about something that has struck me unexpectedly. A movie, a book, a performance, a concept, an idea, etc. If I haven’t yet thought it, then naturally, like any good narcissist, I think that it must be talked about until the next thing comes along to captivate me. I’m trying to help it, but nonetheless it’s a work in progress. I will completely concede that my new interest in Sam Rockwell might be irrational, but it sure feels different. Since seeing Sam Rockwell’s cage-shaking performance in Seven Psychopaths, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the performer and about the ways in which our media machine works in general. Basically, why in the world has Sam Rockwell not been penciled-in as one of the top 10 or 15 best actors working today? In fact, if I asked people to name the best American actors alive, I’d venture to guess not one would mention Rockwell’s name. If they did, it would be an aberration. Does he not cry enough? Yell enough? Suffer enough?
I was strumming through some old Entertainment Weekly’s and I saw Moon mentioned as one the 50 Greatest Films You’ve Never Seen. Did people really not see this movie? Perhaps that’s why Rockwell was robbed of being recognized for a stoic, double-edged performance. He’s basically acting against himself, with himself, by himself, inside of himself, around himself, and… you get it. Rockwell doesn’t ever just show up and do his job. He takes his instrument (that strange preternatural thing actors have called ‘themselves’) and plays all the most unexpected notes with it. Yet, as seen in films like Conviction, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Matchstick Men, Rockwell has as much an ability to be accessible as esoteric. Maybe I’m overstated it, but I think Rockwell has the rare quality of being accessible while being esoteric.
The problem of Rockwell’s obscurity is probably pretty simple to most people, but I honestly don’t agree. Rockwell’s movies just haven’t been seen by enough people for him to be taken all that seriously as a great actor. But is this really the problem? Has Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a great actor who shows no more shades than Rockwell and, similarly, often acts in supporting roles, really been in higher profile films than Rockwell? What I think the problem is is that Rockwell isn’t different enough. In fact, prior to Seven Psychopaths I hadn’t really been cognizant about how great he is. He doesn’t wear his work on his sleeve as obviously as someone like Hoffman, or Jack Nicholson, or Christian Bale. Sure, Bale was Batman so that helped, but the actor also looks like he’s trying so damn hard in every role he plays. Rockwell shows up with his everyman looks, normal build, and work-a-day attitude, and melds into the world of a movie. That’s the thing every actor says they want to do: Meld. But really most actors want to stand slightly above the world. Just enough for us to take notice of them. Rockwell’s too giving for that.
I really hope Rockwell gets an Oscar nomination for Seven Psychopaths. If nothing else, just to put him on more people’s radars. Maybe push him from “that guy” to “he’s pretty good.” Will enough people rally for him? Who knows. The truth is, the movie isn’t that great. But Rockwell makes people think it’s good. Because he’s so effortless these people might not even know that Rockwell’s the one doing the heavy lifting.