Filming biopics would be tough. They come with the baggage of acquaintance and expectation, and provide little room for maneuvering, when it comes to storytelling (for obvious reasons). And yet, year after year, one biopic after another jostles to impress the lethargic minds who couldn’t be bothered enough to read up the life history of someone who must have, positively or negatively, impacted history itself. Thankfully, we have among us, people and technology, capable enough to enact varied lengths of a person’s lifetime, in a nearly ditto reproduction of the accompanying environs.
The recent history of Hollywood is dotted with numerous biopics, most of which have been deemed as moderately to stupendously successful. All of the above have survived on two categories of actors: the first is the kind which bears a remarkable physical resemblance, and is talented enough to pick up and own the idiosyncrasies of the character he is depicting; the other has very little to do with the outward appearance, and instead embodies the spirit of the man, with certain choice alterations.
Meryl Streep, who has already built enough of a backstory to have a full-length feature on her, was transformed to bear a more than passing likeness to Mrs. Thatcher herself (The Iron Lady). But what brings forth the Iron in the Lady is the straight-spined gait, the cold gaze and the half-patronizing, half-sarcastic, unquivering voice, delivering a staccato of a slightly misplaced British accent. Daniel Day-Lewis was a spitting image, in both body and mind, of the well-worn and wary Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln). The soft drawl and the genuine affection towards his fellow-men, regardless of their colour, amply personified the Abraham Lincoln we have always imagined. But these are the works of sheer genius; both Streep and Day-Lewis are a league of actors who breathe the characters they play, turning ‘impersonation’ into an unachievable art-form. Enacting characters like Margaret Thatcher and Abraham Lincoln is a massive task, and while one can be brave enough to completely ignore the bodily resemblances (the hugely talented Andrea Riseborough played Mrs. Thatcher in The Long Walk to Finchley, a BBC Four TV Drama of 2008, with perfect aplomb and looked as unlike the British Prime Minister as it could get), it is perhaps more important to replicate their personality in a way which explains why we view them as they are. So when Day-Lewis had hunched his lanky form on the chair and offered his symbolic sermon on Euclid’s notions to two slightly embarrassed technicians, we were afforded a quiet glimpse into greatness.
Closer to the lighter vein lies the performance of the other lot, for whom the import of the story surmounts the actual person and his tics. Jesse Eisenberg’s depiction of Mark Zuckerberg (The Social Network) was more about the life and times of Facebook. Public appearances of Zuckerberg do not reveal any marked similarity, either in terms of looks or speech (personally, I don’t think anyone can equal the breakneck speed of Eisenberg’s rant). What Eisenberg delivers instead, is a character of his own making, a Mark Zuckerberg version 2.0 you may call it, who still manages to ruffle feathers, still gives wings to his dreams and still feels slightly pecked by his moody treatment of his best friend. Since Zuckerberg is yet to have chapters dedicated to him in history books, we do not really know how much of Eisenberg’s depiction is true. But it’s a singularly appealing performance of a man ‘wired’ to the higher cause of social networking, where social networking in itself is revolutionary, not its creator.
A bone-chilling portrayal of the vastly feared and murderous German captain Amon Goethe, by the diametrically opposite, infinitely more sophisticated and gentle Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, stands out as an epitome of acting prowess. Fiennes brings to surface the unfeeling ruthlessness, and in his own words, “…a sort of banality, that everydayness…” associated with killing Jews. The ill-famous bare-chested, gun-toting scene was played with such alarming casualness, that revulsion for Fiennes comes flooding in. And such is the power of the story, where the man is a mere façade.
These observations come in the wake of the most recent addition to the long list of Hollywood biographies. Jobs, a bioprahical drama of Steve Jobs, is here, and based on he initial promos, it seems the make-up department have done quite a job (no pun intended!). The facial resemblance is more than striking, when it comes to Ashton Kutcher and the Steve Jobs of the 1990s. It may be too premature to pass a statement, but either Jobs utterly fails to capture the aura of the Apple co-founder, or it is a shoddily made trailer. I hope the not-so-known Joshua Michael Stern knows what he is doing, and so does Ashton Kutcher, who is yet to deliver that one performance to silence all critics.
What seems more promising though, is the more-or-less confirmed rumour (which has since gone mysteriously cold), about Tom Hardy bringing to screen the famed and ill-fated mountaineer George Leigh Mallory to screen, under the able direction of Doug Liman (Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith). Mallory, a superb climber in the heady, adventure-seeking, post-Robert Scott ‘depression’-era, is fabled to have been the first person to have scaled the Mount Everest in 1924, decades before the mountain was officially conquered by the Norgay-Hillary duo. The last few hours of his life remain unchartered, since he was last seen within 800 feet of the summit, and no one knows for sure if Mallory, along with the young Andrew Irvine, had actually had a view from the highest point on earth. What endears me to the idea of Hardy playing Mallory, is that there is perhaps no one else I can think of, who can portray the vulnerability and simplicity of Mallory better; the mountaineer was not infallible, and Tom Hardy’s outstanding, heart-breaking portrayal of Stuart Shorter in the BBC-HBO co-production Stuart: A Life Backwards (based on Alexander Master’s equally agonising book by the same name) and his supporting but key roles in RocknRolla and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy lead me to believe that a right choice has been made so far, with regard to the depiction of human frailty. All that matters now is to wait for the theme of the movie, which has been expansively christened as Everest. Basically it is upto Liman now, to choose which is more important: the story, or the man.