My current Top 5

My current Top 5

7/24/2010

Best Actress 1988: Glenn Close in "Dangerous Liaisons"

Glenn Close received her fifth (and to this day, last) unsuccessful Oscar nomination for her performance as Marquise de Merteuil, a scheming and manipulative aristocrat in Stephen Frear’s Dangerous Liaisons. It is a story of lust, desire, lies, seduction and hate told through the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) and the Marquise who enjoy to manipulate and even destroy the life of the people around them.

In the role of this fascinating character, Glenn Close gives a deliciously evil and calculated performance that matches the fascination of this woman at every step. It’s a perfect symbiosis of character and actress as Glenn Close obviously enjoys playing a woman who obviously enjoys playing herself. Both the character and the actress seem totally satisfied with what they are doing and this accordance resulted in one of the great screen performances because that way Glenn Close does not only make everything she does so engaging but she also makes it incredibly entertaining. Even though Glenn Close is constantly ‘in character’, she also more than once winks at the audience – when she gets out of her carriage and gives an evil smile before appearing caring for the sake of her friend, she obviously doesn’t do this for her own amusement but rather as an inside joke for the viewer – but the result is still wonderful to watch. Glenn Close could even have looked directly into the camera and said ‘I know I am evil but I’m having a lot of fun’ and it would have been enough. It’s thrilling to see an actress who knows what she is doing in a difficult part and finding the perfect balance between taking the part too seriously and not seriously enough.

Besides that, Glenn Close gives a very controlled performance that seems calculated down to the slightest movement of her lips but the result is chilling because it so wonderfully works with her character – a woman who not only wants perfect control over the people around her but also over herself, a woman who must constantly put up an act for everybody to hide her true feelings and thoughts, a task which she has perfected over the years.

What’s so thrilling about Glenn Close’s work is how she is able to constantly top herself – from her first verbal duels with Valmont to her dialogue about her own development to her declaration of war to her breakdown to her final scene, her whole performance is a constant rise of excellence. It’s an almost magnetic quality that Glenn Close possesses in this part and her thought through line delivery and prepared body movements make every appearance of her character another highlight.

Dangerous Liaisons is a thrilling story filled with interesting characters but it’s Glenn Close and John Malkovich who carry the whole production on their shoulders. They may make life misery for every one around them but they are a real treat for every viewer. Their perfect chemistry in every one of their scenes together, the way they play with words, tease and irritate each other is certainly unforgettable. Both show a combination of love and hate for the other one as it becomes clear that the company of Valmont is the only time when the Marquis can show her true face and be herself. This also seems to be the only time that she really enjoys herself even when she despises him.

Glenn Close crafts a woman who may spend most of her time sitting or lying in her own house but who still seems to know everything and everyone. A woman who sees herself as a spider in a web of intrigues and lies, a puppet master who pulls the strings of the emotions and actions of people as she pleases. Valmont may have his own agenda and be the most central character, but she truly dominates the story and always redefines the atmosphere of the story – whenever Glenn Close appears, she takes over, just like her character. What’s so delicious is that Glenn portrays all the arrogance and self-assuredness in her character while the movie is constantly working to destroy these images. This way she constructs a character slowly walking into her own destruction but who is too sure of herself to realize this. Her constant success in scheming and manipulation have made her blind for a situation when things don’t go as planned – the moment Valmont behaves in a way that she cannot control, she loses control over everything. She may think of herself as a puppet master but she is actually only a part of the overall game. That way she becomes as much pathetic as terrifying, a monster and a misery.

But Glenn Close doesn’t end on playing a character the viewers love to hate, instead she creates a character one might even hate to love. She constantly displays her fascination but at the same time she shows so many ugly and dangerous side in her that the viewer feels ultimately trapped by her. She dares the viewers to deny her any respect but at the same time throws it back in their faces. That way she creates a woman who constantly slips away from any understanding. The moment one feels to know her she is already two steps ahead in demonstrating that we don’t know her at all. By putting a lot more depth and complexity in the character than expected, the Marquise is as mysterious as she is real. Life may be a game for her – but a very serious one.

The Marquis may also have reasons for what she is doing but in displaying her constant manipulations, Glenn Close very often hints at a back story, a life before Dangerous Liaisons begins. It’s her greatest gift to expand the character way beyond everything in the script and suggest at the past in a way that hardly any other actress could have. Even though it sometimes appears that the Marquis is only acting out of a certain boredom that gives her opportunity and time to be completely absorbed in her own plans of revenge and misery, there seems to be a constant struggle inside her, a need to carry out her own desires and plans to prove her own abilities, dominance and, most of all, independence to herself. In a long monologue, wonderfully executed by Glenn Close, she tells how she developed her talents to listen and plan – it shows how a woman, hungry for power, found the perfect way for her to fulfill her needs and obsessions but it also is a testament to the emptiness inside her. The Marquise is a woman who spends a good deal of time looking in a mirror as if she is constantly checking that the woman she created is still in tact but with little looks of sadness and fear, Glenn Close constantly makes the viewer wonder if this woman is so keen on destroying the happiness of others because of her own misery, her own feelings of loneliness which she tries to overbear with meaningless affairs. Only once does this cool, calm and self-confident woman lose her temper – when she shouts at Valmont that she, after her marriage, will never again be ordered around. By the delivery of these lines, Glenn Close demonstrated how paper thin the aura of superiority and self assurance really is – the Marquise is a woman who apparently lives in constant fear of losing the control over her own life and becoming trapped in a world dominated by men. Her whole appearance of grace and confidence seems to a masque to hide an insecure woman who doesn’t know where she is going and how it will all end.

When Valmont wants a promise fulfilled, she seems cornered and finds only one way to escape – a declaration of war against him. It’s a fantastic moment as Glenn Close keeps her mysterious smile just until she pronounces the single word ‘War’ and even after that she still gives an almost unnoticeable, superior smile that shows how completely she transformed herself into this character. That way she crafted a complete person in a way that many other actresses might have missed. Instead of only focusing on the razzle-dazzle sides of the Marquis, Glenn Close tries to find a bigger truth even though the sometimes almost shallow and two-dimensional character doesn’t seem to allow that. But again, one can’t help but wondering if this declaration of war was really meant by the Marquise in the way it seems – how far would she go or is this just another game for her, not more unique or special than all the others?

This single world is basically the last real dialogue in her performance except for a few hysteric orders at her maids. From then on, she only acts silently but it’s the last scenes that offer some of the most unforgettable moments in movie history and tell more about her character than pages of dialogue could have. Her reaction to some terrible news is the only time that her performance doesn’t seem calculated as this is also the only time that the Marquis completely lets go – one of the most chilling scenes of pain and grief ever captured. Even though she always seems like a strong woman who didn’t need anyone in the world, it’s still clear that she lost the only one she considered her equal, a loss that can’t be replaced.

At the end her character arc develops for the worst. She may look down on society and secretly uses its conventions against itself but at the same time, she gets her whole self-esteem from this society – so when it turns against her, it announces the final decline for her. Like an onion, Glenn Close and the movie slowly peel layer after layer of this character until the last layer is finally deleted when the Marquise removes her make-up. It’s just a thin layer of powder that can be removed with one wipe but it suddenly changes her whole appearance which again demonstrates how paper-thin everything on the surface of this woman really is. At this moment, all that characterized her so far seems to slowly disappear, a woman looking at the ruins of her life and herself.

In this part, Glenn Close has to do most of her acting with her eyes and her stern face – and she succeeds on all levels. It’s a subtle portrayal, presented as a true force of nature. Glenn Close uses her unique looks, strength and overpowering screen presence to create an apparently powerful, but ultimately helples character.
Chilling, unforgettable, delicious, outstanding – all words that perfectly describe Glenn Close’s performance for which she gets

12 comments:

hey deanie said...

gah i need to see this so badly, ahaha. great review as always! i hope you do sigourney next!

Sage Slowdive said...

Never liked this performance...

But, it's always great to read someone elses opinion! :)

Fritz said...

@Deanie: Thanks! You should really see it! And I will probably review Melanie next.

@Sage: I remember you said you didn't like her when Joe reviewed her. What don't you like about her? Or even better: do 1988 soon! :-)

Sage Slowdive said...

Well, of course, she's not on the same level as Miss Melanie...I guess I'll have to explore it soon :)

joe burns said...

YES! I think she'll win! And I agree! Great read as always! You pointed out things that were good about it that I didn't see!

Fritz said...

Thanks a lot, Joe, that's always the greatest compliment!
Maybe she will win but there are still three more...

Malcolm said...

She'll be your pick.

It's a fascinating portrayal from Close since it's a very calculated yet unpredictable character.

Twister said...

I felt that the character was either underwritten or just incomplete...it was wierd, like I saw bits and pieces of this woman but it never came together to form a real person. But the real standouts were Malkovich and Thurman, while Pfiffer was just lost.

dinasztie said...

It's so great to come back and read a great five-star review about great Glenn Close.

Fritz said...

Thanks, dinasztie, and welcome back!

Anonymous said...

I think that I'm in the minority regarding Glenn Close as an actress. She is impressive, but that's not always a compliment. She was very good in The World According to Garp mostly because she gave a restrained performance.
In Dangerous Liaisons she was impressive in an exaggerated way. The scene you mentioned where she feigns her concern for her friend after sneering snakely was a trick to show us what a great actress she is; when she learns of Valmnt's death and loses it, itwas, in my opinion, sheer histrionics and out of character, and whe she leaves the Opera House after being booed she loses her balance so overdone that it entirely destroys her overall performance. It was an impressive performance because I remember those scenes, but for the wrong reasons.

Eddie.

vinnieh said...

Really good review. The best moment of her portrayal for me is when she removes her make-up in the mirror, revealing the anger and sadness inside.