You can often tell a lot about an actor by the movies he’s in. If they only appear in serious, “Oscar bait” films, you wonder if they ever have any fun while acting. Those actors who can transcend across multiple genre boundaries must love what they do. Whether it’s a courtroom / police drama, or a superhero adventure, or a western, or a comedy, someone who can act in all of these genres well can be hard to find. Gene Hackman is just such an actor. His repertoire is vast and includes many well-known films, such as The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Young Frankenstein (1974), Hoosiers (1986), and three of the first four Superman (1978) films, amongst many others. This week’s two films showcase Gene Hackman’s acting talent at both ends of his career. One thing’s for sure: he’s no hack!
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours
Even though Hackman has acted in many genres, there seems to be a tendency to stick with a genre for a few years. For instance, in the same early 90’s timeframe, he acted in four westerns in four consecutive years: Unforgiven (1992), Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994), and The Quick and the Dead (1995). Following that stint of westerns, he acted in some comedies, including Get Shorty (1995) and The Birdcage (1996). However, the genre that started off Gene Hackman’s resume for the 90’s was that of the courtroom drama. Starting with Class Action in 1991, two years later he appeared in The Firm (1993), one of the best-known films based off of a John Grisham novel. A decade later, Hackman made it back to the courtroom in another John Grisham adaptation: Runaway Jury.
In Runaway Jury, Gene Hackman portrays Rankin Fitch, a jury consultant who is assisting the defense attorney of Vicksburg Firearms, a gun manufacturing corporation that is being accused of gross negligence after a workplace shooting. Even though Fitch tries to get the entire jury needed to acquit Vicksburg Firearms, a few outliers like Nick Easter (John Cusack) get through. When Fitch and the prosecuting attorney, Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman), are offered the verdict to the first person to pay $10 million dollars, Fitch wonders if this mysterious woman named Marlee can actually make it happen. While Fitch gets his proof, he quickly loses control of the jury when they’re placed in sequestration. Now it’s up to whoever will provide the bribe needed to sway the verdict to determine the outcome of this heated trial.
The French Connection
Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours
While his performance in the aforementioned Unforgiven (1992) earned Gene Hackman an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, it was hardly his first Oscar. Ten years after the start of his acting career, Hackman won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in The French Connection. In fact, despite acting in many different genres, Gene Hackman did play many roles as a part of the police force. The only other roles that surpassed those of Detectives and Sergeants were those of the military. He ran the gamut of ranks, including Sergeant, Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, Brigadier General, Major General, General, and Admiral. On top of those positions, he has also portrayed a FBI Special Agent, a Senator, the Secretary of Defense, and even the President of the United States.
As a narcotics Detective in the New York Police Department, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) make a few links between drug transactions and some well-to-do people to learn that a big shipment of heroin will be arriving in New York City soon. That shipment was arranged by Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), a Frenchman who has used the car of an innocent friend to ship the drugs to the United States. After Charnier finds out that Popeye knows about the shipment, one of his henchmen attempts to assassinate Popeye, but ends up being chased by the Detective in an intense sequence involving an elevated train and a commandeered vehicle. Meanwhile, the drug car is taken apart and the drugs are found inside and removed. When the car is put back together, nobody’s the wiser as the film reaches its exciting conclusion.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Hackman highlights
Bacon #: 2 (Enemy of the State / Scott Caan -> Novocaine / Kevin Bacon)