When Franchises Hog Talent Andrew Garfield

Red Riding

Originally posted at Jeff Goldblum’s Laugh

With the seemingly infinite number of franchises bubbling about at the moment more and more actors are being snapped up to appear in an adaptation of a comic book or YA novel. The actors we have grown to love for their intimate roles in independent films are suddenly committing years of their lives by signing up in appear in numerous big budget action movies. In some cases these actors manage to maintain their career outside of the franchise but for a few the pull proves too strong and they disappear inside never to be seen in a different role ever again… or at least until the film series comes to a close.

What sparked this worry off in my mind was my love for the work of Andrew Garfield, the thick haired transatlantic actor who is mostly seen swinging around in a tight red and blue suit under the guise of Spider-Man. It wasn’t always this way, oh no, Garfield used to wear jumpers and have low-budget emotions. Ah… those were the days.

Never Let Me Go

In 2007 Garfield starred in the low-budget British drama Boy A about a young man recently released from prison having served time for committing murder as a child. His performance was subtle and flawless, a feat he repeated in 2009 when appearing as a young journalist investigating a murder in the Red Riding trilogy on Channel 4. There was no denying his acting chops and his choice of roles seemed to favour quality over box office potential or fame.

The end of 2010 and start of 2011 saw Garfield hit a career high with his roles in both the highly successful The Social Network and the Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction staple Never Let Me Go. Garfield was suddenly my favourite actor in the world ever, no take-backs. What would he do next, what indie gem would he grace with his presence?

Since February 2011 Andrew Garfield has not been seen outside of his spandex suit and much as I enjoy him in the role this simply is not good enough. As a consumer I have a right to have my opinion heard!

I can’t help but feel like the Amazing Spider-Man franchise has stolen Andrew Garfield from our screens and stopped his diverse career from progressing. He may be a household name now but with great fame has come great… uniformity. His special lady friend and co-star Emma Stone has somehow escaped this fate and has made five films during the Amazing Spider-Man process. The series’ director Marc Webb suffers a similar fate to Garfield having only made the brilliant (and brilliantly misunderstood) (500) Days of Summer prior to getting sucked into Spider-Man vortex.

The Amazing Spider-Man

It is at this point that my argument collapses around my feet. This is the point in the article where I list the dozens of other actors who have entered franchises and failed to make other work but as you’ll soon see they vehemently refuse to fit my hypothesis which is rude and highly inconvenient.

Jennifer Lawrence has taken on both Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class franchises and still managed to put in Oscar nominated performances in more traditional films. Samuel L. Jackson is in every film that comes out that even tangentially relates to the Avengers behemoth and still is making more non-franchise films than I can keep track of. As for directors Joss Whedon has his finger in as many Avengers pies as Jackson and still managed to make the Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing apparently when we weren’t keeping a close enough eye on him.

Contrary to my original fears it can be done; you can have it all and getting involved in a franchise doesn’t have to ruin your career. And by “ruin” I am naively assuming that a career is ruined the minute you become fabulously rich and famous but have a slightly less diverse roster of films. That said I can’t help but think that the big budgets franchises do limit the choices the actors can make.

Perhaps this all stems from a selfish desire to see my personal favourites appear in a larger number of films that don’t involve a single explosion (OK, I’ll allow a small one) or any mutant superpowers. When I look back at the career of Robert Downey Jr. I see Chaplin, Wonder Boys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, and Zodiac whereas now all we see is Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes. The films are fun, don’t get me wrong, but do they give the actors involved as much scope to test their acting mettle? I don’t think so.

Am I just being selfish, do I hate my beloved actors appearing in more mainstream films that give me less enjoyment but allow them more exposure? Am I just being a snob in assuming that acting in a franchise is less worthy than acting in an indie drama? Obviously the answer here is yes but that doesn’t change how I feel.

I for one will be glad when Andrew Garfield hangs up the spidey senses in favour for screaming on beaches and watch with trepidation as newer actors like Tom Hiddleston, Shailene Woodley, and Elizabeth Olsen take their first steps from the indie world and into the kingdom of franchises. I hope they come back out the other side and still make smaller films. If Emma Watson can manage it then so can they.

Another Earth – Review

Another Earth may be a high concept Sci-Fi in its synopsis, a film exploring the idea of there being a second identical Earth within our solar system, but the execution is on a much more low-key, character driven level. And all the better for it.

Driving home from a party, Rhoda (Brit Marling) hears on the radio that a planet identical to our own has been discovered. Squinting into the sky to have a look for herself Rhoda drives at full speed into another car, killing the mother and child inside and leaving the husband in a coma. After four years in prison she returns to civilization as Earth 2 looms ever closer. While trying to apologise to John (William Mapother) whose family she killed, Rhoda instead begins working for him as a cleaner before growing closer to John over time. Meanwhile contact between the two Earths is established and so it is discovered that everyone on our planet also exists up on the alternative planet. Did the alternative version of Rhoda also kill John’s family?

With its low-budget and a focus on the effects of a Sci-Fi worthy event on the characters, rather than on the event itself, makes Another Earth a perfect fit for my Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction* genre so expertly defined by Never Let Me Go. There is no time wasted exploring why Earth has a twin or on the inevitable first exploratory shuttle trip. We only learn about the fantastical event through coverage on the news and gossip between family members. This human touch makes the film all the more believable, debut director Mike Cahill wisely knows that the less you explain something, the less explanations the audience wants.

Speaking of Cahill, he has a beautiful eye. So much of Another Earth could be framed and put up on the wall, its textured look is pleasing to the eye and not bogged down in too much dialogue and what dialogue there is has a natural sound. The film may not feature as much heavy knitwear as Never Let Me Go but it certainly embodies that aesthetic; rough to the touch but comforting all the same.

Brit Marling plays Rhoda with a real complexity, a woman trying to atone for her sins, yet somehow by doing so is committing a selfless act. One act in particular which could be seen as one of love is in fact the cruellest she could have committed… after killing someone’s family of course. Holding up the other end of the film is William Mapother as the man who has lost everything. When we first see Mapother he is a man with nothing left to live for, a man who has given up, and through his relationship with Rhoda we see him rebuilt as a human being. The transition is sweet to watch, but the looming discovery of Rhoda’s true identity leaves the audience fearing for his sanity.

Barring a few pretentious moments courtesy of a self-harming janitor, Another Earth is a flawless film that is tender, tense and beautiful. The film essentially washes over the audience and all you need do is simply sit back and let it in. Arguably the Sci-Fi element could have been explored a little more but for me the human story at the centre was more than enough to fill a film.

Another Earth is a treat for any fan of independent cinema and has more emotional weight than most tent-pole blockbusters (and plenty of Oscar contenders too).

*Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction = Any film with a science fiction plot which focuses more on character than plot, and has characters wearing thick jumpers rather than jumpsuits.

Womb – Review

In Womb Eva Green and Matt Smith are childhood sweethearts who meet up again once they’re all grown up. Cue a tragic accident and suddenly Eva Green is pregnant with a clone of her former lover. The rest of the two hours are filled with weird relationships and uncomfortable moments.

Womb is similar to Never Let Me Go in that it features a scientific advancement that forms the basis of the plot while focusing on people’s relationships and heavy knitwear. It also shares Peter Wight and Lesley Manville from Another Year as Smith’s parents which is amusing if you see both films within a few days of one another.

Womb is slow, tragic and beautiful. It’s certainly not an easy watch and isn’t necessarily what you’d call enjoyable but certainly provides an interesting watch. If you aren’t squirming in your seat and debating the morality of what you’re watching then you’re not watching it right. This is not a date movie, and certainly not one to watch with your parents. Lovely directing though the dialogue could perhaps do with some work.

After the film writer/director Benedek Fliegauf, Leslie Manville and Peter Wight did a short Q&A session, which consisted of Mike Leigh comparisons and the question of why it had to end the way it did. Fliegauf described the film as a fairy tale rather than a sci-fi, the different apprently being an emphasis on emotions rather than the dynamics of the fictional science.

In conclusion Womb is a good film, just not one I’d actually like to recommend to someone. Luckily the UK distribution is not yet sorted so you’ll have to wait to see Matt Smith run naked into the sea.

Never Let Me Go – Review

Never Let Me Go is science fiction to its core and yet mostly consists of beautiful people in heavy knitwear in old houses. Because while there is indeed a fictional piece of science involved, the focus is on humans, emotions and violin music playing in the background.

In short the film follows Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield through their time at an unusual boarding school and through early adulthood as they discover themselves and the real world. Never Let Me Go is sad, beautiful and questions the nature of souls and the ethics of… something I won’t reveal. The film slowly unveils its plot and I’m not going to ruin that here.

All you need to know that this is not a cheery film, but it is gorgeous and features everyone’s favourite Spiderman. Knightley haters will even find themselves with little to complain about. Amazing to think this was made in just a few weeks for £15 million, long life Film4.

Never Let Me Go shares a similar plot to a certain Michael Bay film, but handles the issue in a distinctively British way which reminded me of a specific bit of Eddie Izzard material. Trust me after watching the film you’ll need a laugh.

Never Let Me Go is on general release 21st January 2011.