“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 Eli
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 One
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)