OPINION: Joaquin Phoenix - A Powerhouse Performer Unlike Any Other
There are few actors working today who deliver raw, real and layered performances with every film they do. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jake Gyllenhaal, Daniel Day-Lewis are just a few that come to mind. There is one actor, however, who brings something completely different to the table every time. That man is the one, the only Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin has been acting since he was a child, appearing first on the television show Seven Brides for Seven Brothers alongside his sister and brother, River.
Joaquin comes from a family of actors, as all four of his siblings were actors. His late brother, River, being the most recognizable and popular one of the bunch up until his untimely death in 1993. Since then and since appearing and starring in multiple critically acclaimed films, Joaquin has become the most recognizable of them all. He is a three-time Academy Award nominated actor, and an extremely unique person in his personal life, and I absolutely adore him. I love all of his films that I’ve seen and I want to discuss my personal top three favorite performances in addition to his range, dedication and practice of obsessive method acting.
Biopics are very difficult types of films to make. There is much to take into account such as historical accuracy, authenticity, and hiring a cast that can bring the real life characters to the big screen in a real, raw way. One of my favorite biopics of all time is 2005’s Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the legendary rock-star, Johnny Cash. The film chronicles Johnny’s childhood, and his rise to fame and descent into drug addiction as he falls in love with folk singer June Carter, played by Reese Witherspoon. Both Joaquin and Reese give absolutely incredible performances as the two musical icons. Joaquin went full method for the role, training his vocals to replicate Johnny’s in an uncanny way, which earned him a Grammy, yes, a Grammy. He also stayed in character as Johnny in between takes and requested to only be referred to as J.R. on set, which was Johnny’s childhood nickname.
Going full method for a role is a very difficult thing to do I imagine, but it greatly helps the actor immerse themselves fully in the role. This may be particularly useful when doing a biopic on someone as legendary Johnny Cash, as it provides the actor a way to bring out the character completely when filming. Joaquin was able to play Johnny at his best and absolute worst in a way that exudes dedication and a masterful understanding of the craft. Whether Johnny is bedridden and extremely sick due to prescription drugs, or boogieing it up on stage singing one of his many classic songs, Joaquin plays the part to a T. Joaquin was nominated for an Academy Award for the role, as was Reese who won, and delivered in my opinion an incredible and criminally underrated performance doing absolute justice to the character the film was based on.
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite directors working today. His command of extremely complex and layered characters is unmatched by any other, so when he and Joaquin teamed for the 2012 drama The Master, you could say Joaquin was in for a very different type of role. In the film he plays disillusioned and slightly insane World War 2 veteran, Freddie Quell, who stumbles upon and follows a cult known as “The Cause”. This is my favorite performance from Joaquin, it is also one of my favorite performances of all time.
Freddie is one of the weirdest, yet most interesting and complicated leads I have ever seen in a film. He is unpredictable, loud, erratic, nervous, yet also funny and unsure of himself. Any other actor could have very easily been horrible in a role like this, but due to Joaquin’s performance, he performs the broken Freddie with almost a sense of adolescence and child like wonder in his actions. He stars alongside an ensemble cast including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern and Rami Malek. It is truly an incredible performance that I will never forget. This earned Joaquin his third Academy Award nomination, though he lost to Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (another mesmerizing performance), but Joaquin as Freddie will always have a special place in my heart.
One of Joaquin's more recent films is Lynne Ramsay’s psychological thriller, You Were Never Really Here. I should start by saying that You Were Never Really Here is my second favorite film of the year, so it’s definitely a film worth checking out. Joaquin plays Joe, a retired military man and hitman, who in the film rescues a young girl from sex-traffickers. It was a very different role for Joaquin, as he is not necessarily known to be the type to play a hammer-wielding vigilante, but he managed to pull it off. He gained some weight and grew out long hair and a grizzly beard for the role and he is almost unrecognizable in the film. Joe is a very disturbed man, plagued by traumatic childhood flashbacks, PTSD and suicidal thoughts, but he is very reserved and subdued, until he enters a house with guards and takes them all down with a hammer. Joaquin conveys horror, shock, anger, confusion, brutality and an abundance of other emotions in incredibly unique ways that really allow you to sympathize and relate with a very dark character. Joaquin, in addition to the incredible screenplay and direction, craft a masterful film that is most likely to not get that much awards attention, despite how much it deserves it.
There are not many actors working today in the same league as Joaquin, he is a once in a lifetime talent in my opinion. This doesn’t do complete justice to the incredible performances he delivers in all three films I talked about, nor the several other incredible performances he has in his filmography, but he absolutely deserves the praise. I truly hope he gets at least nominated for an Oscar for his performance in You Were Never Really Here, because it would be criminal to not recognize his work in that film.
Joaquin isn’t slowing down either. Next year he is playing my all time favorite comic book villain, the Joker, in a dark origin story directed by The Hangover trilogies Todd Phillips. Joaquin lost a ton of weight for the role and the set photos show him in full makeup and costume and he looks absolutely fantastic, I cannot wait. Joaquin is always very picky with the projects he chooses, so I know Todd Phillips has cooked up something special, and I am of the opinion that, depending on the script, Joaquin could surpass Heath Ledger as the best live action Joker. Joaquin is someone who never fails to excite and surprise, I know he’s going to nail it as the Joker and continue to grow and cement his place as one of the all time greatest actors as the years go on.