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#158. Edward Norton

Perfectionism is a personality trait that can be difficult to work with, but usually produces fantastic results. Edward Norton is just such a perfectionist when it comes to his acting. While he hasn’t been in many films, appearing in less than 30 since he started acting in 1996, the fact of the matter is that he chooses his roles and commits to them to get them right. Often, this is because the part requires an amount of villainy, of which he has been nominated twice. His breakout role in Primal Fear (1996) earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod, while his portrayal of a neo-Nazi in American History X (1998) earned him the Best Actor nod. That’s not to say that he can’t play much lighter characters, considering his collaboration with Wes Anderson in Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). This week’s two films examine the work of Edward Norton.

The Italian JobThe Italian Job
Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours

Sometimes a precedent can be tricky. For instance, if someone portrays a villain, and does so with excellence, when they are cast for their next role, there’s an understanding that they can perform in the role of the villain because they did so well earlier. Perhaps this is why actors like Kevin Spacey (especially in the mid-’90s) and Edward Norton are cast as villains. Sure, Norton has done some lighter work, as mentioned in the prologue of this post, but he definitely started out playing villains. Once again, aside from the roles described in the prologue, Edward Norton just happened to portray a double-crossing member of a heist team in a film from the early 2000s. Surprisingly enough, I’m not referring to The Italian Job, but rather to The Score (2001), which just goes to show that precedence can help determine future roles.

As part of a multi-talented heist team, Steve (Edward Norton) is the “inside man” who helps the group steal a large amount of gold bullion from a safe in a Venetian apartment belonging to Italian gangsters. Unfortunately, when the team gets to the Austrian border, Steve betrays them, escaping with the gold and leaving them for dead: underwater and trapped in the getaway vehicle. However, Steve soon finds it is difficult to turn large bars of gold into something less suspicious. Of course, when strange things start happening, Steve grows suspicious himself, thinking his former team may still be alive and trying to enact their revenge on him. What isn’t immediately apparent to him is the addition of Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron), who is the daughter of John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), whom Steve killed in the double-cross. As the new heist goes down, Steve takes to the skies to keep track of his gold.

Fight ClubFight Club
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours

For me, the interesting thing about Fight Club (1999) is that Edward Norton’s narration is so ingrained in my mind that when I finally sat down to read the book of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, I couldn’t help but read the whole thing with Edward Norton narrating in my mind. Something about his voice and his delivery really makes the movie work as a whole. And while I enjoyed his performance in The Illusionist (2006), many consider Norton’s nameless “everyman” narrator in Fight Club to be his defining role, mostly due to the cult status of the film. That’s not to say his other roles have been any less ambitious or memorable (considering the aforementioned nominations he’s received), but rather that the cultural impact of this film has permeated into society as a whole, carrying Edward Norton along with it.

This is Jack’s summary of Fight Club. Fed up and complacent within a consumerist society, the Narrator (Edward Norton) meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on an airplane flight. This meeting comes in handy when the Narrator’s apartment explodes, leaving him with nobody to turn to but Tyler. They move into an abandoned house together and start up an underground fighting group known as “Fight Club.” And yet, when Tyler starts moving the Club in odd directions, the Narrator keeps struggling to figure out why he’s being left out. However, much like Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk (2008) (another Norton role), the twist comes when we realize Edward Norton’s Narrator has subconsciously transformed into a completely different person who is set on bringing down the oppressive capitalist system.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 notable Norton performances

Bacon #: 2 (Fight Club / Peter Iacangelo -> Hero at Large / Kevin Bacon)

7 responses to “#158. Edward Norton

  1. Pingback: #136. Summer Camp | Cinema Connections

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