by Luke Hickman
In theaters this week is the new highly complex and equally confusing espionage investigation flick 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.' At the top of the credits is Gary Oldman, easily one of today's best working actors.
During his 30 years on screen, Oldman has played nearly every type of character imaginable – hero, villain, cop, outlaw, rebel, vampire, drug dealer, musician, reverend, doctor, spider, terrorist, traitor, devil, and werewolf hunter. He's even done Robert Zemeckis' creepy motion capture stuff.
While a lot of folks learned to love Oldman from his roles as Sid Vicious in 'Sid and Nancy,' I was too little to have that be my first experience with him. A few years after it was released, after visiting the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, Texas, my old man and I sat down and watched a VHS copy of 'JFK.' Watching Oldman's performance as the notorious Oswald marked the first performance I saw him in. It wasn't until 'The Fifth Element' that I saw him again. After that, he became an actor and a face that I'd look forward to seeing in every movie – both the good and the bad.
I'm not going to make the bold statement that the list below contains the best of Oldman's roles. Instead, I'm going to fill it with what I consider to be the most memorable of them all. Be warned, there are spoilers lurking in these waters.
Let's go ahead and get these out of the way first. If you think back to the pre-Nolan 'Batman' movies, Pat Hingle's Jim Gordon was nothing more than a scenery-chomping side character that carried no weight or relevance to the story at hand. He didn't protect or serve Gotham City – no, that was Batman's task. Batman was doing everything that Commissioner Gordon and his men couldn't. Then Christopher Nolan took over and gave that role a lot more importance.
Gary Oldman not only entered the picture giving it his standard best, but he made you love him. I'd go so far as to say that if he wasn't in the series, it simply wouldn't be as good. All along, with Nolan's series, he's made the familiar elements from the graphic novels unpredictable by tweaking the comic book mythos. My prediction is that the Bane character's well-known story will be twisted around by having him break Commissioner Gordon's back in 'The Dark Knight Rises.' If I'm right, it will be a lot more devastating to see Oldman's back broken than it would to see Hingle's. You wouldn't even care if that had happened to Hingle's character, but if / when it happens to Oldman's, you'll surely feel it.
With the exception of 'The Deathly Hallows,' I walked into the 'Harry Potter' movies fresh, not knowing who was good, who was bad, nor the fate of any of the characters. When Sirius Black was introduced in 'The Prisoner of Azkaban' (arguably the best 'Potter' film in the franchise), I was excited to see Oldman playing a crazy dark wizard. As the movie progressed and he became more evil and ominous, I was eating it up. But when the surprise was revealed that he was actually good, much to my surprise, I loved him even more. At the risk of sounding cheesy, he was reminded me of how my cool uncles treated me when I was a kid.
'The Goblet of Fire' (arguably the worst film of the franchise) missed out on the opportunity to let him shine once again, using a horrendous CG effect to his recreate his face out of smoldering talking embers. It's ridiculous how bad that effect looks compared to all of the other effects in the 'Potter' movies – even the corny Chris Columbus ones. They managed to ruin the one scene of 'The Goblet of Fire' in which he appeared. Luckily, 'The Order of the Phoenix' hurried along and brought Sirius back in a great way.
While watching 'The Order of the Phoenix,' I was again eating up all of great Oldman moments. It was a best case scenario. But it quickly turned into a nightmare during the climax. The second Sirius stepped through the deadly archway, I started my trail down the five stages of grief: Denial – "He's not really dead. Just like Gandalf, they'll find a way to bring him back." But they didn't; Anger – "This is bull! They just killed the best character! I'm done with this series!" But I wasn't; Bargaining – "I'll just keep watching 'The Prisoner of Azkaban' over and over again. Then he won't be dead." But he was; Depression – "Who cares if Voldemort wins? It's just a stupid kid's book anyway." But it's so much more than that; and Acceptance – "Don't worry, dude. If Harry keeps seeing the ghost of his parents, before long, he'll see Sirius' ghost too." And he did!
Agent Norman "Stan" Stansfield in 'Leon: The Professional'
Three great loves were born from 'The Professional' – my love of Natalie Portman, Jean Reno and, of course, Gary Oldman. This was it. This was the film that I walked away from thinking that he was one of the very best actors. This was the movie that made me realize that even when he appears in terrible movies like 'Lost in Space' and 'Red Riding Hood,' he still gives it his all, usually making his performance the only thing worth watching.
In 'The Professional,' Oldman plays one of the most evil, despicable characters put on screen. "Stan" held the title of Most Evil Movie Villain in my book up until I saw Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in 'No Country for Old Men.' Stan is a sleazy, dirty junkie pretending to be something that he's not - a DEA agent. Watching him gun down innocent men, women, and children is highly disturbing, but Oldman's ability to make you forget his past the second you see him in another film keeps the dark roles from distracting you during the light ones, and vice versa. Some actors carry about that weight, always making you associate them with past performances – but not Gary Oldman.
Carnegie in 'The Book of Eli'
The concept behind 'The Book of Eli' is much better than the movie itself. Falling victim to poor execution, it starts strong but gradually falls apart. Despite the good movie turning into a mediocre one, Oldman stands strong and I give him full credit for this not turning into a laughably bad movie.
When a blind man (Denzel Washington) carrying a precious gift wanders into a post-apocalyptic town, Carnegie, the leader of this territory's gang, does everything he has to in order to uncover the blind man's secret. The film turns into a battle between the two, where Washington's character, the nameless man with integrity and a good heart, is tempted to give up something sacred to a man promising temporal rewards.
'The Book of Eli' isn't the most driven film, but the conflict between Oldman and Washington is what keeps it going. This is one of the films in Oldman's credits that leaves you wondering why he took the part – but had he turned it down, it would have been filled by some B-list actor with whom the film would have failed miserably. No other actor could have played Carnegie and made the slightly above par movie work.
Lord Shen in 'Kung Fu Panda 2'
Too many movie actors undeservedly land voice roles in animated movies. Just because an actor is great in front of the camera, it does not imply that he / she has what it takes to command a purely vocal performance – but Gary Oldman pulls it off perfectly.
DreamWorks has pointlessly given a few 'Kung Fu Panda' voice roles to celebrity actors who don't add a thing to the motion pictures, but the decision to cast Oldman as the villainous peacock Lord Shen in 'Panda' sequel was brilliant. Just as the story of 'Kung Fu Panda 2' is a bit darker than the first (it's like the 'Empire Strikes Back' of the 'Panda' universe), so is its bad guy. When a soothsayer prophesied that a panda would stop him from ever reigning over China, Shen sent his henchmen wolf pack to ethnically cleanse the nation of pandas – which is why our Dragon Warrior central character Po was raised by a goose. The genocide began when Po was just a cub. When the wolves raided their village, his mother placed Po in a radish box that ended up in a vegetable delivery on his "dad's" porch.
For such an evil villain, an actor with the rich talent of playing heinous characters was necessary. Oldman knocks it out of the park. He's disturbing, creepy and absolutely ruthless – a bad guy you love to hate. This one is well worth checking out!
Now that I've shared what I believe to be some of Oldman's most memorable roles, let us know which are your favorites in the forums.