"The Alarmist" is a film full of wonderful performance moments. Here you will find spontaneous and truthful work from actors.
Structurally the film is slightly flawed with too much time taken in the middle of the movie to establish irrelevant circumstances. However, once the main turning point of the plot has emerged the momentum picks up again and rushes on to a quite bizarre end.
Performances in this film are always adventurous, truthful and exciting.
This film is rated M for mature audiences (15 years and older) and contains some very explicit sexual descriptions.
To begin this performance tour set your minutes and seconds timer to zero as soon as you see the first caption ("Key Entertainment" etc.) of "The Alarmist" pop onto the screen.
Performance Tour of "THE ALARMIST"
THE OPENING SCENE is a delight,
However, from a performance point of view the very first shot (00:35secs) of DAVID ARQUETTE, who plays Tommy, reveals I suspect, a tiny amount of performance tension. DAVID is working a little too hard at a number of good (and what were initially subconscious) impulses - for the take he is perhaps pursuing them a little too enthusiastically.
Because his character is obviously tense these slight imbalances can be rationalized as character tension and DAVID very quickly relaxes these performer stresses, so by the time he speaks (in his second shot) the actor's tension has submerged and only the character's tension can be seen.
There are one or two other moments, I believe, in this first scene when this over enthusiasm emerges again. See if you agree and can pick them.
STANLEY TUCCI on the other hand is totally relaxed and so the first glimpse of him reveals only the character. The actor's tension is not in evidence at all. This is also perhaps an outcome (in part) of the character's circumstance, for STANLEY'S character Heinrich, is comfortably ensconced in his home territory (his own office). Heinrich is engaged in confidently doing things he is good at. Here, it could be argued that character circumstance has "rubbed off" on the actors performance (in the same way it has for DAVID ARQUETTE) except for the fact that it is difficult to recall STANLEY TUCCI ever been caught pushing "actors needs" or revealing "actors tension". He is a master at staying completely within the characters "needs" even when he is pushing these parameters to extremes - which he does frequently.
When MARY MCCORMACK enters it is not possible to tell whether she is carrying any actors tension. Perhaps this is because the character "Sally" is actually "acting" or perhaps it is because MARY is relaxed and there is no actor's tension present. Whatever the reason, this is a very convincing entrance.
In this first scene Heinrich (STANLEY TUCCI) is found sitting on his desk (2:01secs) saying, "The thing is you want to live your life etc" Here for a short time STANLEY is really pushing performance parameters. He is acting the part of a character who is actually "acting" a lie of befriending or supporting Sally in an attempt to make a sale to her which in fact is also a "fake". These circumstances are ones, which often tempt an actor to overplay. In addition STANLEY has Heinrich make a number of risky choices. Despite this he not only succeeds in convincing Sally but also convinces the audience that he is "for real".
The context of this scene is extremely challenging for the actor. There are so many elements bringing complexity and so many temptations to push the parameters too far. And the script in one sense provides the perfect excuse for the actor. If believability is lost at any time the actor can always explain away any excess by arguing that it is the character who is in fact acting badly. STANLEY TUCCI needs no such excuse. In this moment he takes the character to the extremes the script invites but remains thoroughly believable and convincing. This is excellent work.
At no stage do the actor's "needs", "aspirations" or "fears" interrupt the character making the appropriate choice to pursue his goals.
When Sally (MARY MCCORMACK) begins to cry it feels as if she is perhaps forcing her performance a little. Maybe EVAN DUNSKY (the director) feels the same way for he chooses to hold the shot which favours STANLEY TUCCI and for a while there are only quick cuts to Mary. Again in the context of the story no problems are created by this circumstance for Sally is also "acting". Nevertheless it is the intention of the production that the audience believes these moments.
It is not until MARY is about halfway through her 'wailing' that the performance becomes absolutely believable. By now the actor seems to have worked up enough emotional momentum for the 'actor' to stop working and the 'character' to take ownership and start 'being'.
So there are lessons to be learnt from this excellent scene. Even in consummately skillful hands it is plain that whenever an actor "works at" achieving a performance result the audience will see through the character to "the actor at work". A most important goal for an actor is to "never go beyond the point the character can believably achieve" even if the expectations of 'script', 'director' and 'self' demand it.
WHEN THE SCENE cuts to the aftermath of Sally's emotional storm (3:45secs), it is immediately apparent that a wonderful and complex level of believability has been attained. If the audience ever wondered whether this scene was "for real" or not, this is the moment when any doubt vanishes. MARY McCORMACK is superb as Sally. And the simple, relaxed elegance with which STANLEY TUCCI sucks his glasses while he waits is also outstanding.
An excellent example of actors "engaged with" and "given over" to the moment.
It is interesting to observe how simple and uncluttered the performances are in this scene. Despite the fact that there is no great physical business, no wandering around the set (the actors sit around a desk) the drama is clearly delineated and the scene is not dull. Further more there is no exertion on the part of the actors to be "interesting". They are merely purposeful. Every time STANLEY TUCCI looks at MARY McCORMACK the sense of purpose in his eyes is very clear. Have a guess at what you think it might be? It is interesting also to note how often the actors look at each other and how much time is spent holding each other's gaze.
FROM 4:26secs TO 4:53secs IS TWENTY SEVEN SECONDS of action without any dialogue. Many actors would be cautious about embarking on such a significant period of time without dialogue. These actors however are confident and relaxed. There is no sense of rushing through the business to get to the next section of dialogue. Despite the lack of dialogue a clear succinct and entertaining story is told. None of the actors tries to be either funny or entertaining. They simply take responsibility for pursuing their allocated contribution to the story, making sure they play in real time and embody their character's need of the moment.
AT 5:42secs we see Tom Hudler (DAVID ARQUETTE) in the process of selling product to a client. Immediately this scene starts it is apparent that DAVID ARQUETTE is now beautifully relaxed. Consequently his listening is very truthful and there is no sign of any moment being forced - everything is comfortably appropriate. KATE CAPSHAW is also beautifully relaxed and comfortably and clearly focused in her need. In fact both actors are clearly focused but it is a little harder to identify DAVID ARQUETTE'S need for it is disguised by the nervous, cautious and gentle way he is pursing it.
It is possible that he didn't actually play the moment when he realizes that in fact his client's husband is dead for we are never shown this response here - but other than this omission every possible colour and nuance is played by both these actors.
When Gail's (KATE CAPSHAW) son Howard (RYAN REYNOLDS) enters the scene it gives us another opportunity to look at an actor dealing with an establishing scene. Obviously some significant rehearsal time has been successfully used here to develop physicality in the character's nervousness. These mannerisms may have been developed
by accident during improvisations
Adopting major performance ingredients like this sometimes overloads or pre-occupies the actor with the responsibility of achieving an additional goal. In fact RYAN copes very well, but maybe his entrance suffers a little from "pre-knowledge", for he seems to be entering more to 'hit his mark' than to be looking for his mother and the fact that a strange man is sharing the couch with his mother does not seem to be much of a surprise to him. There also seems to be a little anticipation of his thought processes for he moves very quickly into his 'nervous fidgeting mode' rather than allowing himself to travel there - but these are minor criticisms. They merely serve as a reminder that no matter how complicated the things are an actor has to achieve within a scene, nothing should interfere with the processes of entering a room; finding out (for the first time) what is there and then choosing how to deal with it. The shot of Howard's arrival is kept very short, so these performance deficiencies do not detract from the effectiveness of the scene.
It is possible that those types of mistakes happen sometimes if actors are over-aware because they want their first scene in the show to be really good. Endeavouring to be good sometimes means that excessive concentration on specific detail will divert the actor from such simple generalities as entering a room.
However the overall image of young Howard is a very effective one.
THE NEXT SCENE, which is at 9:00secs is in a restaurant. Watch for STANLEY TUCCI's surprise when he shouts out "Do you fucking believe this fucker?"
AT 11:10sec IS A CLASSIC SCENE where the dialogue has absolutely nothing to do with what the scene is about. Here the sub-text is carrying the story forward not the text. If it weren't for the sub-text this would be a scene on the riveting subject of how to programme a security system.
THE VIGOROUS, PASSIONATE, titillating scene at 11:58sec is one that requires momentary but serious thought. Scenes like this require sensible assessments of the safety issues involved. How to safely manage the required lifting and moving without injury to either actor needs careful organizing before any thoughts of pursuing the motivation of the scene are acted upon.
ANOTHER RESTAURANT SCENE at 12:39sec, which again has a delightful moment of surprise. This time the surprise is for Tommy Hudler (DAVID ARQUETTE).
It is possible that MARY MCCORMACK is working a little hard in this scene. (These judgements are very subjective - so see what you think.) MARY is not playing a pivotal role in either of the restaurant scenes and sometimes under these circumstances actors feel compelled to make a little extra effort. (This is absolutely not what is needed.) Her thoughts are entirely appropriate well focused and purposeful but maybe she could be more relaxed and achieve the same goals.
ANOTHER GREAT SCENE commences at 14:17sec. It is also an establishing scene for two new minor characters. The lady of the house (RUTH MILLER) opens the door with great enthusiasm - a strong, large, colourful performance which I found very real. The husband (HOKE HOWELL) is also playing a very strongly coloured performance but maybe the colour is related more to the actor's knowledge of what is to come rather than dealing with the matter in hand. It is not that his performance is not logical, his grim defiance has a real reason but it is more that the colour is so strong that it pre-empts what is to come and doesn't give the character much distance to travel within the scene. Further more DAVID ARQUETTE appears to mirror this strongly coloured performance and so he pushes his reactions and responses too. This results in him raising Tom's level of concern excessively and perhaps also prematurely.
Once the problem the scene is exploring has fully emerged all these performances are well placed and DAVID ARQUETTE'S fear at the climax of the scene is absolutely palpable.
It is possible that the performance choices in the first part of the scene
were either planned this way
for a perceived story-telling advantage,
The wife on the other hand never loses her sense of purpose and even though this is a large and colourful performance it never loses its complexity and authenticity.
Despite being picky about the detail of the performances this scene remains very entertaining and is one of my favourites.
THE NEXT SCENE in the bar (18:49secs53) where STANLEY TUCCI talks DAVID ARQUETTE into fronting a TV commercial for the company is also a joy. Marked by a clear sense of purpose in both characters, excellent listening and wonderful gentle surprises. The story unfolds simply with neither actor worrying about how to arrive at some future goal but merely enjoying the moment.
SHOOTING THE COMMERCIAL is also a gem. DAVID ARQUETTE arrives on set successfully pushing nervousness to the limit. Although the emotional content is strong it is accompanied by his usual sense of purpose.
The TVC director Shelley (I couldn't track down the name of this actor) is a very relaxed, believable and complex performance.
Notice the make-up lady, appropriately cast and looking great is a little uncharacteristically flighty and hops from foot to foot in anticipation of her exit. (Off screen, she may well be the character who calms the nervous Tom Huddler and boosts his confidence.) The 'flighty hopping' does not detract from the scene but a little more relaxation may have helped.
THIS IS AN HILARIOUS SCENE (23:01secs) in which there is no anticipation of the future and no effort by the actors to make the events funny. They merely truthfully play the moment and allow the situation to be amusing for the audience. In fact for the characters there is nothing in this scene to amuse them - for them it is high drama.
Watch KATE CAPSHAW for the moment when she slightly loses her balance. This is obviously a planned action for it instigates the touching, which allows the following action to occur, but it is executed with such trust by KATE that this moment is thoroughly believable. This is good acting.
KATE CAPSHAW'S moment of surprise when Howard arrives is beautifully executed with all the phases clearly present. Here the actor absolute trusts her skills achieving truthfulness and complexity through simplicity. There is a also a great and truthful moment of surprise for DAVID ARQUETTE for even though his head is completely covered at the time there appears to no faking of the moment.
Howard's (sorry - I don't have the actor's name) reactions although large are also truthful for the circumstances are quite extreme.
KATE CAPSHAW and DAVID ARQUETTE allow the richness of the moment to be fully explored without pushing any of the parameters. There is no evidence of any "acting". They "think" truthfully and "share" together. This is a fine example of the complex rich results achieved when actors allow the subconscious process to work, trust their listening and don't try to demonstrate their acting skills.
THE NEXT SCENE (25:02secs)
in Howard's bedroom is also a classic. This is a very cheeky
piece of writing for the text is effectively pornographic yet
the scene does not offend for the real story is about what happens
to the characters. A complete role reversal occurs when Tom,
who has come to have a frank discussion with Howard, is completely
upstaged by the younger man's open frankness.
Perhaps DAVID crosses the line from "being" to "showing" towards the end of the scene but this is the sort of judgement one tends to make in the pedantic isolation of a scene-by-scene viewing. I think the audience is much more forgiving when watching a complete run of the film.
BACK IN THE KITCHEN (27:52secs)
a simple little scene is played out in a one shot set up. The
movement in this scene has been choreographed to maintain visual
interest and keep the shot "alive" but the actors are
very comfortable with the moves and fully understand the reason
why the character's are making them. So, there is a complete
sense of them owning the space and the reasons for moving.
BETWEEN 29:15secs AND 34:04secs are 5 or 6 scenes between STANLEY TUCCI and DAVID ARQUETTE which end with a fade to black. It is here that the first cracks begin to appear in their relationship. Within the structure of the film the first of these scenes is unusual and a little puzzling for it merely explains a plot point. This makes this scene purely expositional and of little story telling value for nothing actually happens between the characters. Story-wise this scene is inert. Fortunately it is a short scene so it has little impact on the over-all pace of the story and creates no acting problems.
The main elements to be enjoyed in these scenes are the quality of the listening shared by these two actors. They are:-
It is also interesting to watch STANLEY TUCCI towards the end of the second of these scenes (31:50secs approx.) where he becomes exceedingly emphatic. Within the context of this scene this is again pushing the performance boundaries to the BIG end of the scale.
This thoroughly convincing moment succeeds because:-
STANLEY TUCCI is never pre-occupied with generating emotion but always with his sense of purpose towards the other character. There is an impressive continuity in his achievements in this regard. This is fine work.
THE SAME APPLIES IN THE NEXT
OFFICE SCENE (34:08secs). The sense of purpose between the characters
always generates, in both actors, an assessment of what has been
said before a choice of reaction is decided upon. This is great
listening. Simple, clear, truthful and real.
EVEN THOUGH BOTH ACTORS play this scene politely the drama continues to grow. Drama or conflict doesn't depend on heightened emotional stakes - but merely the difficulty of individuals achieving their goals. (37:10secs)
Watch how the shots cut to Tommy in the middle of Sally's speeches. This can only happen if the listening actor is actually listening to the meaning of the whole speech. If he is listening only for the reason that makes him speak or worse still only listening for his cue, then any early cut will only reveal an actor waiting not a character listening. DAVID ARQUETTE however is listening to everything with a clear purpose. He is constantly active. Every actor should be listening like this. It is not necessary to copy the degree of facial activity that accompanies DAVID'S listening but the active continuity of his engagement in assessing everything that is said to him is fantastic.
AT DINNER THAT NIGHT (38:10secs) Tommy is forced to talk about his dilemma to Gail (KATE CAPSHAW). The pressure grows.
This scene and the one before it both contain "jokes or gags" yet the actors do nothing to heighten the humour or telegraph that these moments are meant to be funny. They just play truthfully the drama of the moment. The humour is in the contradictory elements of the dialogue. All the actors have to do is deliver the dialogue in truthful circumstances and the lines themselves will be funny.
IN THE WORK SITUATION (39:12secs) the dramatic pendulum swings back the other way. The actors merely have to understand their world and comfortably exist within it.
Note again the comfort with which STANLEY TUCCI explores a strongly coloured response but how he always is driven by his purpose of the moment and how his emotional condition never exceeds a level that serves his character's need at the time.
HERE AGAIN (40:56secs) is a scene where the real content is never spoken about. However there is absolutely no doubt as to what is really happening. Two very contained performances which clearly deliver the story because the actors subtext is well placed and truthfully played.
Note how DAVID ARQUETTE doesn't anticipate the first event of the scene. He is occupied at the start of the scene so that the first event (Sally's entrance) interrupts him.
GAIL AND TOMMY are off on their weekend excursion (41:53secs). What will happen? The first thing that happens is Howard (who is staying home on his own) introduces his two friends April and Suzie. These two young actors contribute strongly coloured energetic performances which again push the performance boundaries. This general similarity of performance style throughout the film suggests a well organized cohesive production bound together by a strong view of both story and performance process which are thoroughly explored through adventurous and productive rehearsal.
Note that RYAN uses a scaled down version of Howard's mannerisms previously used in his first scene.
FROM 44:29secs TO 51:00secs ARE A SERIES OF SCENES which divert from the main thrust of the story established so far. This is a writing issue and not related to the quality of the performances which are all very good.
The dramatic tension of the story-telling thus far has been based on two main questions:-
Will Tommy's work colleagues
divert him from his relationship with Gail?
However returning to performance parameters - I found nothing to complain about.
It would seem the major factor contributing to the successful drunken performances of both KATE CAPSHAW and DAVID ARQUETTE are the marvelous states of relaxation they achieve. What do you think? Note that KATE doesn't either slow down her delivery or slur her words much but still appears very drunk.
THE NEXT SCENE BETWEEN Gail and Howard (51:00secs to 52:29secs) is designed to re-enforce audience attachment to these two characters. This is done very successfully. By the end of this short scene we definitely like these two people. This is achieved (in performance terms) by very relaxed actors, sharing together through good listening.
Note that KATE just carries the trials and tribulations of the last twenty-four hours with her she doesn't act them.
FROM HERE ON THERE IS A MAJOR STORY-TELLING CHANGE.
IF TO START WITH THIS FILM COULD BE LABELED A COMEDY/DRAMA THEN FROM THIS POINT ON IT IS MOSTLY A DRAMA (ALTHOUGH IT REMAINS A QUIRKY AND ENTERTAINING ONE) AND PERFORMANCE STYLES SHIFT ACCORDINGLY.
WHEN FEAR, ANGER AND REVENGE ARE THE MOTIVATING FORCES THE RANGE OF ACCOMPANYING COLOURS NARROWS CONSIDERABLY AND SO DOES THE COMPLEXITY. WHEN THESE FORCES ARE DOMINANT THEN SURVIVAL IS THE MAIN GOAL.
AT 55:13secs TOMMY ENTERS THE MORGUE, his task is to identify a body. With the story rushing towards its climax a distinct change has occurred in performance. No longer is he so open to the forces that move around him during a scene. There is now a very strong and narrow focus. This is also arguably what has happened to his character. This is a sobering and maturing experience for Tommy. He is caught in a spiraling series of events which are both distressing and challenging.
It is interesting to observe that now emotions can be pushed to the limit (almost with impunity). There is a simple explanation for this. Motivating forces are so strong at this point of the story structure, particularly with this type of story, that even with extremely strong emotional responses the motivation is generally always there to justify them. It is only when emotion eclipses the character's "need" or sense of purpose that the performance becomes one-dimensional and the emotion is sterile.
In these circumstances needs are strong and so are emotions.
This situation continues for a number of scenes. Throughout the acting is good; capable; well judged and serves the story appropriately. But the actors look like any other good or capable performers in similar circumstances. Unlike the earlier scenes there is nothing to shout about here - just a job well done.
AT 58:48secs IN HEINRICH'S OFFICE we again get the opportunity to observe STANLEY TUCCI at work. Here the outstanding quality of his work continues.
Again STANLEY TUCCI makes diverse choices, which in themselves generate complex outcomes, and then serves them energetically but simply and truthfully. In this scene the nature of the material could lead an actor to make a more obvious decision and choose to play "to challenge" in a "cautious" way. This would not be unreasonable and would probably serve the story well. It would also lean towards a more dramatic representation of the drama. But STANLEY'S choices are not so mundane. Rather than "challenging" he has chosen "to test". Then, instead of selecting an appropriately dramatic and somber colour to accompany this need he has decided to pursue his purpose in absolute contrast to the drama - so STANLEY chooses that Heinrich should "test" his young employee "cheerfully". This imbues the exchange with a warm rosy energy in total contrast to the macabre content of the scene.
Significantly, STANLEY TUCCI then simply puts his plan into action. He doesn't waste any energy in supporting the intelligence or unusualness of his selection; he simply allows the choices themselves to do the work. All he does, with consummate skill, is trust himself to make the right decision (moment by moment) as to how cheerfully he should go about testing Tommy. HOW RELAXED AND CONFIDENT HE IS. THIS IS FANTASTIC WORK - ELEGANTLY COMPLEX, TOTALLY FOCUSED AND IMMENSELY FUNCTIONAL STORY-TELLING.
AFTER THIS SCENE the drama successfully continues - until the next scene in Heinrich's office at 01hrs:07:59secs. Again it is informative to observe STANLEY TUCCI'S technique. Watch how as he is seating himself he momentarily allows himself to be distracted by looking for an item that apparently should be on his desk. The casualness of this moment creates an image of someone who is in a very familiar place. This casualness is in total contrast to the seriousness of the problem with which he is dealing. However the most important thing to note about this very successful moment is how brief it is and that once it has passed there are no further embellishments. Thereafter STANLEY TUCCI presses on with the business of the scene. Many inexperienced actors impressed by such manoeuvres layer as many as they can into a scene. STANLEY allowed himself one deviation from the drama of the moment and this is the only time I can remember him using such a device in the film.
LATER WHEN HEINRICH is deciding whether to assist April, who is sitting in the gutter pretending to cry, STANLEY TUCCI gives us a clear example of how interesting moments of decision are. Many actors rush these moments but moments of choice are crucial to the story and the character and audiences are usually prepared to watch someone making up their mind about something. Moments of choice are not inert. Audiences learn a lot about a character in a truthfully played moment of choice.
And throughout this unusual and engaging film we have understood and liked Heinrich Grigoris despite the fact that he is a manipulator and a thief. This is a significant achievement for STANLEY TUCCI for if he had failed so would the film. I don't believe audiences would want to watch characters they didn't like behaving as deviously as this. In addition it wouldn't have been funny.
So the film winds its way, swinging between the scary and the absurd, to a bemusing but satisfying end. It is carried there by performances which continue to be richly coloured and convincingly played; performances which are solidly based on the very simple principles that real listening, real thinking and real choices are the foundations of all good acting.
The overall consistency of performances in this film indicates that it has been very well directed.
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