Monday, January 3, 2011

Pete Postlethwaithe

I was greatly saddened to read about the death of one of my favorite Character actor’s Pete Postlethwaithe.

Postlethwaithe was one of those guys who immediately took command of any scene he was in. I first noticed him at fourteen in The Usual Suspects were he plays the right hand man of the mythical super criminal Keyser Soze. In the scene, and if you’ve seen the movie you know the one I’m talking about, Postlethwaithe is cornered with a gun to his head by a roomful of dangerous men who have every reason to kill him.

At the time, my concept of villainy was basically the guy who tried to beat up the hero. If you couldn’t fight well what good were you? That is until I watched Postlethwaithe demolish a room full of armed men with nothing but the clipped sound of his pronounced diction. Revealing that he was so far ahead of them that he was actually staring at the back of their heads, and he had his finger on each of their weak spots.

He proved the biggest badass in the room without raising so much as his voice. Let alone his fist.

Like most character actors, his appeal was cyclical. There were times you could hardly go to the theater without catching him in something (I’ve always been fond of his appearance in Henry Selick’s James And The Giant Peach) and years that were rather lean (I remember perking up very briefly when he turned up in the otherwise dire Aeon Flux).

He had just appeared twice to great effect this year (Clash of the what now?). First in Inception were he knocked the small but crucial role of the enigmatic Maurice Fisher out of the park, and even more impressively in The Town, were he embodied a figure of profound moral rot in one of the most imposing performances of the year. I was in short, greatly looking forward to him becoming unavoidable again.

But whether or not the movies he appeared in were worthy of his talents Postlethwaithe was one of those rare actors who made every single movie he appeared in better, and I am very sorry to see him go.

My thoughts go out to his friends and family.


Steve L. said...

What I love most about that Usual Suspects scene is the way Kobayashi's voice breaks slightly. A lesser actor wouldn't have let Kobayashi's calm, badass exterior slip even a bit. But Postlethwaite lets us see that Kobayashi is afraid and knows he could very well die in two seconds. Something about that, letting this rock show his humanity, makes his character that much more memorable. It's a tricky rope to walk, but Postlethwaite pulls it off perfectly.

And his politeness and formality is far more disturbing and frightening than any thug or psychopath could ever be. He makes the rest of the Usual Suspects seem like a bunch of children by comparison. His poise and calmness -- he is so in control he doesn't have to get angry or lose his temper, even with a pistol to his head -- on behalf of Keyser Soze makes Soze seem like a genuine force to be feared.

I also always loved that I could never get a handle on who or what Kobayashi was. He's got a Japanese-sounding name, but sounds ... British? Is he Indian? Some kind of Eastern European, like (allegedly) Soze? What the hell was this guy's story? We never even get a clue, and that mystery makes his character that much more intriguing.

thevoid99 said...

My favorite performance of his is in Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. Not a great film but he was phenomenal in that film. Just as a simple priest and counsel. I saw it when I was 15 when it came out in theaters (I took my sister because she was so in love with Leo) and I had already seen The Usual Suspects.

I was amazed by the compassion and simplicity he chose to play that role. I just saw him in a trailer for his last movie Killing Bono. I'm sure it's a small appearance but he looks fucking hilarious in that film.

He will be missed and I put him in that list of actors who can't suck. Can you name a bad performance he's been in? I can't.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Steve: Excellent points as always. I too have always been puzzled on the nature of his name.

One other thing I noticed, between this is and The Town I don't know if anyone has ever pronounced "CasTRATE" more menacingly then Postelthwaithe.

@thevoid99: No I really can't. He's even great in The Lost World which is for my money Spielberg's worst film.

He's wonderful in Luherman's film. And stands out particularly since he's obviously the only one in the cast who knows how to deliver Iambic Pantameter.

Ty said...

He will be missed. Really enjoyed his performances in: The Usual Suspects, The Town, Brassed Off, and Butterfly Collectors.