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Jason Wallis You too will be won over by Colin Firth’s craft in ‘The King’s Speech’

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2011 8:44 am

We continue to play catch-up with late-2010 Oscar-bait movies as, in the interest of my own sanity, I do my very best to steer clear of the new wide releases (I won’t endure Ashton Kutcher for anyone — least of all you). So next week look for a review of “Blue Valentine,” which, along with this week’s “The King’s Speech,” was one of the promising titles that I unfortunately missed before publishing my year-end top 10 list a couple weeks back. We’ll get ’em all knocked out sooner or later.

I must admit some trepidation when approaching films that rely on what could be perceived as “gimmick” performances — those “challenging” roles that Oscar voters love but, in actuality, offer very little to viewers looking for more than mere exaggerated caricatures (e.g. Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump,” Sean Penn in “Milk,” et. al.).

Despite the sustained critical raves for Colin Firth’s performance as the verbally impaired King George VI of England in “The King’s Speech,” up until seeing it I remained skeptical that even an actor as talented as Firth could transcend the limitations of such a role  — could craft a fully formed character and performance that is defined by more than a stammer.

But consider me won over. As George VI — who must overcome a crippling stutter in order to properly communicate with the populace via radio as he inherits the throne and a brewing war with Germany — Firth embodies his subject to a startling degree. Far from a gimmick performance, this is a role rich with nuance and deep understanding. Whereas most actors might approach the role with the stammer at the forefront, Firth weaves his impediment into a broader portrayal of a man increasingly, desperately frustrated by his inability to utilize his own inner strength and serve as an example to his people.

Firth (who will surely win a well-deserved Academy Award for his work here) receives solid support from a great cast that includes Helena Bonham-Carter as Queen Elizabeth, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill and Michael Gambon as the imposing King George V. Most notable, though, is Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, a controversial speech therapist who is brought in to help George VI (or “Bertie,” to his family) as a last resort.

“The King’s Speech” is a very good film overall, filled with strong performances, engaging dialogue and some unique camera work from director Tom Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen. But the real pleasures of the film, and what elevate it to greatness, are the scenes between Lionel and Bertie. It’s tough to represent a friendship this dynamic and intimate without coming across as sensationalistic or melodramatic, but Firth, Rush and Hooper sell it all with ease.

Emcees in revolt

Even if you didn’t see it, by now I’m sure most of you have heard about comedian Ricky Gervais’ colorful commentary at last weekend’s Golden Globe Awards. Long story short: The execs brought out a host known for being edgy and funny, and were then righteously indignant when he proceeded to deliver exactly what was expected of him. I’ll concede that Gervais’ performance was rarely laugh-out-loud funny (gags involving Robert Downey Jr.’s drug use and Hugh Hefner’s penis are so early-2000s, I’m afraid), but he was always entertaining, cheeky and, yes, full of good humor — no matter what the petty, narcissistic, sycophantic rabble-rousers would want you to think of the man who dared to insult Hollywood directly to its face.

Contrast this with another headline-grabbing awards show: the New York Film Critics Circle awards, presided over by meathead extraordinaire Armond White.

Now, if you’re not yet acquainted with White’s unique “charms,” do a quick Google search and delight in the naked inanity regularly on display in the pages of the free-rag New York Press. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

By now you’ve surely found a bevy of reviews spouting all manner of barely intelligible nonsense. (A nugget from his recent review of “The Green Hornet”: “There’s an egalitarian frisson in Britt’s rivalry with Kato: Jewish-Asian competitiveness; white party boy privilege vs. yellow man sacrifice; wealthy condescension vs. proletarian efficacy.” I know what all those words mean, proletariat though I am, but that doesn’t make it any less excruciating to read.) Couple this poor writing with what is inarguably the worst taste in film out of anybody ever, and you’ve got the most irritating film critic in the U.S., and possibly the galaxy. (I’ve stopped buying into the theory that White is purely a troll, simply because he’s so fervently dedicated to his cause.)

The NYFCC set him loose in front of the Hollywood establishment, and the results weren’t pretty. He needlessly insulted the work — not the drug use, not the promiscuity, not the crazy Scientology, but the good and honest work — of filmmakers like David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky and performers like Michelle Williams and Annette Bening. And in the process, he has achieved what he has always seemed to crave: absolute infamy.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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