Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Performance Showcase: Ryan Reynolds in “The Voices”


In lieu of writing a full-on review of Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices (released earlier this year), I’ve opted instead to do a more focused piece on the films’ central performance. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that my thoughts on the film, which I saw two days ago, haven’t really settled into a strong opinion of it as an overarching work. I mostly enjoyed the experience of watching The Voices (though “enjoy” is a strange word to throw at a film that’s often very disturbing), and I admire the ways the film attempts to be subversive. Though it operates as a dark comedy, there’s something very humanistic about The Voices in the way it treats its central characters’ mental illness. It was a bold move on Satrapi’s part to take the mental state of such a disturbed character so seriously in a film that otherwise operates on a heightened level. Nonetheless, when the film makes these shifts between fantastical dark comedy and a more grounded, compassionate reality, it starts to feel very glib in a way I don’t think it intends to be. Given the disparate elements in play, it’s miraculous that The Voices works on any level, and much of that is to the credit of the incredible performance Ryan Reynolds delivers.

Because of his impeccable, movie star good looks, Reynolds has been frequently pigeonholed as the serviceable-yet-boring leading man type in his more Hollywood outings (The Proposal, Green Lantern, ect.). As I never got around to seeing his acclaimed performance in the claustrophobic indie thriller Buried (the first suggestion their might be more to him than meets the eye), I took it on good faith that Reynolds was capable of good work, but I didn’t see the proof of that until The Voices. His performance as Jerry, an extremely odd but seemingly affable guy with latent psychological issues (to put it mildly), seems on the surface like the epitome of playing against type. However, I suspect that Reynolds’ skill-set, like Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper before him, is actually best suited for roles that play against his leading man looks.

Though it would seem hard (if not downright impossible) to buy Reynolds from the outset as Jerry, he is utterly convincing in the role. Though it’s immediately clear upon our introduction to him that there’s something wrong (though the film takes its time in peeling back the psychological layers), Reynolds brings a disarming sweetness and vulnerability to the character that renders him enormously empathetic. Though Reynolds frequently portrays Jerry’s social awkwardness for uncomfortable humor, he is just as convincing in the moments where the film decides to take him and his mental illness seriously. Though the tonal shifts in the film are still apparent and somewhat jarring, Reynolds’ ability to balance these aspects of the character in his performance help to smoothen them out. Reynolds manages to make Jerry so endearing that he’s even able to turn him into a convincing romantic lead when the film decides to go in that direction. It helps that he’s paired opposite the always likable Anna Kendrick, but it’s still remarkable that we’re rooting for him, given how well-established the threat he poses to her is at that point in the film. 

As if everything I mentioned above wasn’t more than enough for any actor to chew on, there’s a conceit to Reynolds’ performance that I’d be remiss not to mention. As the title of the film implies, Jerry’s mental illness entails him hearing voices, which manifest in the form of his two pets, a dog and a cat (operating like the angel and devil on his shoulders, respectively). Reynolds voices each of these psychological projections himself, and this aspect of his performance demonstrates an unexpected penchant for immersive voice acting on his part. He gives both pets a distinctive voice (the cat sporting a menacing Scottish brogue and the dog speaking in a drawl reminiscent of Cecil Turtle) and in either case it’s heard recognizing Reynolds’ usual speaking voice underneath. 

Whatever else my feelings about The Voices, Reynolds offers a tour-de-force performance that might very well end up being my favorite performance of this year. 


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  2. I always look forward to reading your takes on the movies you watch Mr. Blake. I know I have seen Ryan's work but other than The Proposal, which I only saw snippets of, his work is mostly unknown to me and know him better as entertainment news fodder. Not his fault, just how it is. So a movie with Ryan Reynolds as the lead in and of itself would not normally prick my ears. Dylan, your skill in setting up a films premise and tone is what makes your reviews so interesting and this film and your take on Ryan's performance does have me intrigued. A friend who also reads your posts said you have a great way of telling the reader what they need to know about the movie being discussed without giving anything away. Your work is what movie trailers should be today, a vehicle to entice me into the theatre seat. Instead with most, I feel like why bother, you just gave everything away!

    I love an actor who can totally immerse themselves into the role and take me with them. I find many character actors are able to do this as I don't read or hear about their latest love interests or bouts with addiction, so I have no predisposition as to what I should expect. However, I find it is more difficult with leading men/women. 3 who come to mind of the current generation who are able to do this for me are; Jake Gyllenhaal, Charlize Theron and Joaquin Phoenix. I would love to add Mr. Reynolds to the list and your review Mr. Blake has me hoping I will. There is nothing better than witnessing an actor immersed in a character and nailing that character. It's even better when I don't expect it from that actor.

    I look forward to seeing "The Voices" soon and again appreciate your reviewing the movie and appreciate your passion and insight for the craft of movie making. Can't wait to read your next review Mr. Blake...keep them coming!!