Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Claire Danes Drives Me Crazy

Reviewing movies for Esquire in the 1950s, Dwight MacDonald complained, “I can’t watch Audrey Hepburn, she makes me feel coarse.” I didn’t share that reaction at all, but watching Claire Danes now in “Homeland” recalls it.

Some actors, usually among the most gifted, bring out resentment in me, best explained as feeling invaded, manipulated by their intensity into responses inherently unearned by characters they are inhabiting. Dustin Hoffman is one (as he marvelously parodied himself in “Tootsie”). Meryl Streep is often another (check “The Iron Lady”).

Danes’ Carrie Mathison takes it all to a new level. Contrary to universal acclaim for her portrayal of a bipolar CIA agent, I find the performance disturbingly out of sync with the manipulative vehicle in which it takes place.

What we are talking about here is not over-acting but a mismatch of genres. As Hoffman’s Tootsie might put it, how juicily realistic can an actor playing a tomato in a commercial be?

In “Homeland,” veteran hams like Mandy Patinkin and F. Murray Abraham are doing their familiar schtick, while Danes is often acting in another universe. It’s easy to understand why viewers might be fascinated, but my ancient movie-loving mind is disoriented.   

“I think the more whole you are as a person—the more integrated—the deeper you can go into scary territory,” Danes tells John Lahr in the New Yorker. “It’s just amazing that we have a means of doing that safely. What better thing is there? It’s so cool to get that much more of an understanding of what it is to be a person.”

No doubt, but get Carrie back on her meds, please. And bring back Damien Lewis’ classically understated British embodiment of Brody soon to sooth our nerves.

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