Some of Hollywood's finest dramatic actors have succeeded in comedy--Alec Baldwin, John C. Reilly and Tom Hanks come to mind--but the reverse has proven much trickier for comics. The best of them, by far, was Robin Williams. A coroner's report confirmed that Williams' final days were defined by clinical depression and Parkinson's before he died in August of asphyxia due to hanging. In hindsight, it comes as little surprise that Williams wrangled drama with such precision in Awakenings, The Fisher King, Insomnia and, of course, his Oscar-winning role in Good Will Hunting. My guess is Williams would be among the first to applaud three wickedly funny comedians--Steve Carell, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart--and their latest dramatic turns.
"Of course I'm nervous," Carell told Boise Weekly as he walked the red carpet toward a September premiere of Foxcatcher at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Two hours later, Carell walked on stage to thunderous applause, flanked by his co-stars Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum, Vanessa Redgrave and the film's director, Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball). The audience leapt to its feet, cheering what they knew would be an odds-on favorite for a bucketload of Oscar nominations, starting with Carell.
"It's a little premature," Carell told BW at the following day's press conference. "Yes, it's nice to be included in the conversation and yes, it's nice to hear."
A note of caution: Carell is barely recognizable in Foxcatcher. When he first appears on screen with a significant prosthetic nose and bloated jowls, and he begins talking in short breathy bursts of speech, you'll do a double-take. Carell is buried deep inside the persona that was John du Pont, one of oddest characters in modern American history—billionaire, benefactor and killer.
"Not to sound too actor-y, but this story was very complicated and dark," said Carell. "But I was very proud to be a part of it. My challenge was to find the truth in the man."
The truth is terrifying. Rest assured Foxcatcher, one of the year's absolute best, reveals what really happened on Du Pont's Pennsylvania estate, named Foxcatcher, on Jan. 26, 1996, and deep inside this coercive tale are themes that consider class values, abnormal intimacy and the blood sport of obsessive winning. All in, it's a profound, modern American tragedy.
There's good reason why Maziar Bahari turned to Jon Stewart to help turn Bahari's 2011 memoir Then They Came for Me into a screenplay—Stewart was a big part of Bahari's harrowing tale of capture and subsequent torture in an Iranian prison.
"Honestly, Maziar was thinking that I could find someone in Hollywood to write the screenplay," Stewart said. "But after about a year with no luck, I thought, 'Hell, maybe I'll write it.' I mean, how hard could it possibly be to turn a best-selling book into a movie?" Stewart stopped for a moment, allowing the insanity of his question to sink in and the laughs to spread across the lobby of the Toronto theater where Rosewater, which Stewart also directed, was about to premiere. "Truly, my hope here tonight is that his story can come out and gets the widest berth possible."
Bahari was a London-based journalist for Newsweek and had made a brief appearance on a 2009 episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Video of that appearance would come to haunt him when upon his capture, Bahari was accused by the Iranian government of being a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency, MI6 or the Israeli government.
"There was an immediate sense of panic when we first found out about his imprisonment," Stewart told Boise Weekly.
While imprisoned, Bahari looked at some words scratched into the cell wall:
"خدا رحمت من ممکن است." Translation: "May God have mercy on me."
What followed in Rosewater is a stunning chronicle of how Bahari survived 118 days to again see freedom and his friend Jon Stewart.
Off all of the stars at this year's TIFF, Chris Rock generated the biggest buzz. Minutes after the lights came up after the premiere of Rock's Top Five, which he starred in, wrote and directed, the buzz gained critical mass, described by The Hollywood Reporter as "a frenzied bidding war" to distribute the film.
Top Five is the best film work Rock has done, by far, and co-stars Rosario Dawson, J.B. Smoove, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, Sherri Shepherd, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld and Adam Sandler. It also contains the funniest scene involving a bottle of hot sauce ever in a film, but Top Five also includes a fair amount of dramedy, revealing a new side of Rock that will no doubt inspire fully dramatic roles.
In three superb films, each opening in Boise in the coming weeks, Carell, Rock and Stewart proudly honor the memory of Robin Williams by reminding us it may well take a comic master to adeptly mine the depths of tragedy.