#173. Gary Oldman

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

This quote from Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight (2008) is interesting because it can also be run in reverse. To prove this point are the roles performed by Gary Oldman. While his recent work has been portraying characters who are closer to hero than villain, much of his success started with portraying villains. In the aforementioned Batman film, Oldman takes on the role of James Gordon, which he carried throughout the trilogy. Another character he portrayed was that of Sirius Black from the Harry Potter series. Sirius started out as a villain but became more of a hero as the films progressed. Of course, when it comes down to it, he really understands the role of the villain and excels in it. This week’s two films highlight some of Gary Oldman’s villains.

The Book of EliThe Book of Eli
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours

One of the more interesting villain archetypes is that of the man in political power. There’s an amount of protection that covers the villain when he is an elected official or even someone whose job it is to control the justice of an area. Many consider Gary Oldman’s performance in Léon: the Professional (1994) to be one of his most memorable. In the film, he becomes the character of Norman Stansfield, a corrupt DEA agent with a penchant for pills and a love for Ludwig van Beethoven (who Oldman also portrayed in Immortal Beloved (1994)). Because he is an agent of the DEA, Stansfield has many resources at his disposal to ensure he doesn’t get caught in his corruption. However, as was the case in The Book of Eli (2010), Gary Oldman’s villain was eventually thwarted by a lone vigilante who was just trying to maintain the greater good.

The vigilante opposite Oldman’s character of Carnegie in The Book of Eli is none other than the titular Eli (Denzel Washington). Carnegie runs a small town in an apocalyptic wasteland, controlling water and other resources, but really looking to branch out into establishing more settlements under his rule. To do this, he is looking for a particular book, which he believes Eli has in his possession. This book is the Bible, which he thinks he can use to control people to do his bidding. After trying to take it by force and failing, Carnegie eventually is able to make a trade for the book by threatening the life of Solara (Mila Kunis), a girl who has befriended Eli. Unfortunately, once Carnegie opens the pages of the Bible, he finds that it is entirely in braille, and his blind mistress cannot read any of it.

Air Force OneAir Force One
Year: 1997
Rating: R
Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours

When it comes to the worst villains, those who assassinate the rulers of countries are often at the top of the list. Presidential assassins become instantly infamous, even if they are killed shortly after committing the atrocious act. Aside from John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, the best known Presidential assassin is Lee Harvey Oswald: the man who killed John F. Kennedy. With this role in the 1991 film, JFK, Gary Oldman started on his path of portraying villains, the short list of which includes Count Dracula (Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)), Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (The Fifth Element (1997)), Dr. Smith (Lost in Space (1998)), and Lord Shen (Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)). Of course, one additional attempt on the President portrayed by Gary Oldman was as Egor Korshunov in Air Force One.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the former Russian states are in turmoil as despots take control. One such despot is General Ivan Radek (Jürgen Prochnow), the dictator of Kazakhstan who is taken out by U.S. troops. On his trip home from a diplomatic visit to Moscow, President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) and his family are flying in Air Force One when Egor Korshunov and a group of terrorists sympathetic to General Radek hijack the jumbo jet, demanding he be released. Even though the Secret Service think they have let the President get away in an escape pod, he remains on board, using his former military skills to thwart Egor’s plans and rescue the hostages held on board. Unfortunately, Egor is shrewd and uses the President’s family to control the Commander-in-Chief. Will everyone survive, or will the terrorists win?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great Gary Oldman villains

Bacon #: 1 (Criminal Law / Kevin Bacon)

#172. Blindness

In a medium that so heavily relies on visuals, blind characters make for interesting plot points. It can be easy to show the audience something that other characters don’t get to see, even if they aren’t blind. However, when the audience sees the events unfolding around a blind person, they’ll want to shout out, knowing that the character cannot see what’s happening. Often, this is used for comedic effect, since the oblivious character has no idea how close to destruction they have come. On the flip side, the audience is impressed if a blind person can avoid danger, but even more impressed if they can fight it off. We are often inspired by those who can overcome their handicaps, and blindness is just such an example. This week’s two films examine some characters who are affected by blindness.

City LightsCity Lights
Year: 1931
Rating: G
Length: 87 minutes / 1.45 hours

There have been a few blind people who have become famous for being able to overcome their blindness. For instance, Helen Keller was not only blind but deaf as well. She still managed to live an inspiring life. Fortunately for the world of music, Ray Charles wasn’t deaf. However, he made it a point to not let his handicap hinder his life. He may have been blind, but he never let it stop him from changing the musical landscape into what we hear today. Still, even though many people can live normal lives with blindness, those of us who can see will often give them charity. Blindness does limit a person’s life somewhat, so we are more than willing to help those who cannot see. When it comes down to it, the kindness of strangers can be brought out through the simple acts of helping those who need help.

On a day like any other, a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) was selling flowers on a street corner when a man came by and bought one of her wares. She tried to give him his change, but he had already left. The next day, the man continued his generosity by buying out the girl’s entire supply. He then drove her home in a very fancy car, which contrasted the small apartment where she lived with her grandmother (Florence Lee). The man reads a letter to her, which informs them that the two women will be evicted from their apartment soon if they don’t pay up. Feeling moved by their plight, the man promises to help obtain the money. Furthermore, he has learned of an operation that could restore the girl’s sight, which is also expensive. When the girl receives the money, the man disappears. Now that she can see, she keeps watch at her flower shop for a wealthy benefactor, only to find the man is not who she thought he was.

The Book of EliThe Book of Eli
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours

Blindness can be caused in many ways. Sometimes it’s a medical abnormality that steals someone’s sight. Other times, it’s caused by external forces. Your mother always told you to never look directly at the sun and to not sit too close to the television because she didn’t want you to go blind. However, what if your eyes were damaged from something else? In the case of the superhero known as Daredevil, he was blinded by chemicals but soon finds his other senses heightened to the point that his blindness is actually a superpower. In these instances, fighting in conditions like darkened rooms and heavy fog can actually be an advantage to the blind. But, what if the world enters a post-apocalyptic era where the sun could easily blind someone, even if they don’t look directly at it? Will it become a case of the blind leading the blind?

For 30 years, the world has been reeling from a nuclear apocalypse which has caused the sun to shine a much harsher light on the land. A traveler by the name of Eli (Denzel Washington) makes his way into a town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman). It turns out that both men can read, which is a rare skill after the apocalypse destroyed most of the literature in the world. When Carnegie learns Eli has a particular book in his possession, he sets out to get that book. Unfortunately, Eli is skilled at fighting and can fend off wave after wave of attackers. SPOILER ALERT Eventually, Carnegie gets the book Eli was holding: a copy of the Bible. With this book in hand, Carnegie had plans to control the region but soon realizes this won’t be possible because the book is written in braille. Freed from Carnegie’s pursuit, Eli arrives in San Francisco, where he recites the whole Bible from memory. Now it can be printed again.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 sightless stories