Rank ’em: The Performances of Gary Oldman

Oldman

Character actor, chameleon, often playing villains and grotesques (but the occasional hero as well), it is no coincidence that I chose the image from Ridley Scott’s detestable Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal for the purposes of illustration of Mr. Gary Oldman. Here is an actor who has played Ludwig van Beethoven, Lee Harvey Oswald, Pontius Pilate and Sid Vicious in biopics, and in pure fiction, the gamut from Dracula to Drexl Spivey (the Pimp) to Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Space Dictator), to Officer Stansfield (The cocaine snorting corrupt cop in The Professional) to Shelly Runyon (the ugliest Republican senator ever put on screen), Milton Glenn (evil warden of Alcatraz), Sirius Black (The Prisoner of Azkaban), Rosencrantz (or was is Guildenstern?) and Lt. Jim Gordon (in the most recent incarnation of Batman universe.) Of course there are many more performances, because Oldman never seems to stop working in either Hollywood, Indie, or foreign productions (underrated Spanish thriller: The Back Woods.) He even directed one of the more nihilistic dramas out there, Nil By Mouth. Of course, all of these performances add up to his recent highly nuanced, but very restrained performance of career spook, George Smiley, in Thomas Alfredson’s recent incarnation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Put Smiley in a room with the The Driver, and you just know that Oldman likes his Gosling served cold and raw.

Personally, I’m partial to his performance in The Contender which is so lizard-like and vile it is the black cherry on the top of his career. But even in a few quite mediocre films (Lost in Space), outright terrible (Red Riding Hood) or even the truly WTF-how-did-this-get-made (Tiptoes), Oldman is interesting, even excellent amongst the detritus of bad cinema.

My top 5 is tucked under the seat.

5. Stansfield/Zorg (a tie for a pair Luc Besson lunatic villains: The Professional / The Fifth Element)
” I like these calm little moments before the storm.”
4. Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK)
“I am not resisting arrest! I am not resisting arrest!”
3. Drexl Spivey (True Romance)
“Now, I know I’m pretty, but I ain’t as pretty as a couple of titties.”
2. George Smiley (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
“Things aren’t always what they seem.”
1. Shelly Runyon (The Contender)
“What I say the American people will believe. And do you know why? Because I will have a very big microphone in front of me.”

Oldman

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Ross Miller
Guest

My favourite performance of his is in Leon but he’s such an amazing, diverse actor there’s always something to get from his performances. As you said even in bad films he’s almost always still worth watching (except for Red Riding Hood, gotta disagree with you there – he kept changing accents scene-to-scene! :P).

Kurt
Guest

I wonder, do Gary Oldman and Hugo Weaving compete for roles? They often play the same sorts of parts…

Andrew James
Admin

How can you do a rank ’em list and only include 5/6 films!?

Sid and Nancy, Air Force One, Dracula, Immortal Beloved and about 500 other movies. Fuck it, he’s good in Lost in Space.
I regret I’ve never seen Basquiat.

Kurt
Guest

Well, Dracula would be 6th, arguably it should be higher even.

Kurt
Guest

I’ve seen Basquiat, but all I remember is the good performance from Geoffrey Wright, and David Bowie’s Andy Warhol.

Sean Patrick Kelly
Guest

I first really became acquainted with Gary Oldman around 97 when I saw him in both The Fifth Element and Air Force One. Hard to believe those two different characters were the same guy.

Jonathan
Admin

Oldman has a Russian accent in Air Force One, Kurt, I bet that’s why you had him confused with Malkovich. And actually, that’s what I consider the last watchable Harrison Ford movie. It’s terribly campy, but if you take it as that, it is a fun, ridiculous movie to watch (“GET OFF MY PLANE!”).

Andrew James
Admin

I agree. I think Air Force One is pretty great for what it is. I can watch that anytime I see it pop on the tube. And yes, it’s the last watchable Ford film. His policy on terrorism at the beginning of the film may be of interest to current events junkies of today – though actually, it was more relevant during the Bush administration.

“So deep, is thees faith I have. I would turn my back on God heemself…. for muther Russia.”

Jonathan
Admin

Also, I cannot wait, to see John Hillcoat’s adaptation of The Wettest County in the World, which will have Oldman in one of the lead roles. Now, onto my list…

Jonathan
Admin

As much as I love the iconic Oldman and as great as he is in his little character supporting roles, I love and miss the protagonist Oldman (one of many reasons that I am looking forward to Tinker so much – it’s been way too long).

If you haven’t watched 1987’s Prick Up Your Ears where he plays British playwright Joe Orton (alongside Alfred Molina) or the just awesome Romeo is Bleeding or even Chattahoochee, you’re really missing out on some wonderful performances. And of course, Immortal Beloved, State of Play, and one of my favorites ever, Rosencrantz.

I just love this guy. He instantly makes anything he is in, whether a big blockbuster or something from his straight-to-DVD lull he fell into before Batman and Harry Potter resurrected his career, so much better.

I guess I didn’t create a list, but whatever. I just love the guy. One of the greats.

Amy
Guest

While Jack Grimaldi is also an excellent performance, I think you meant to say Stansfield. But whatevz.

My personal fav performance of Oldman’s is from the not-so-great “Chattahoochee” where he did a heartbreaking portrayal of a Korean war vet suffering from PTSD. That and Beethoven.

Sean Patrick Kelly
Guest

John Malkovich was the villain in Con Air, released the same year as Air Force One, yet a lot more campy. 😛

Jonathan
Admin

I finally watched Tinker, Tailor and I am definitely thinking it was one of Oldman’s finest moments. Subtle and with little dialogue, which speaks wonders of his ability to give such a powerful performance with so little written on paper.

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