Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Ed Harris' performances: 1992 - 2001

By s. Tuesday, May 23, 2017
It's finally time for the second out of four of my posts about all the performances of the great Ed Harris. Last month I wrote, among others, about his big screen debut, first leading role, first performance in major Oscar race contender and his great work in Glengarry Glen Ross (which was last movie featured in last post) (years: 1978 - 1992)

Now it's an even more exciting - and most successful - time in his career to focus on - his first, second and third Oscar nomination, his most well known role to date and a whole variety of characters he portrayed - from politicians and cops through psychopaths and generals to priests and alcoholic painters. There is nothing this man can't do.

Running Mates (1992) - Hugh Hathaway

This is actually an HBO movie where Harris stars as a handsome, successful senator who falls in love with a headstrong and smart writer (Diane Keaton). He asks her to marry him and she tries to keep her feisty personality in check, in the efforts not to destroy his campaign. Unfortunately, a scandal from her past threatens both her reputation and his efforts to be a successful politician. Harris is just wonderful in the role and the film's final scene where he stands up for the woman he loves with a stirring, amazing speech makes the whole movie worth seeing.

The Firm (1993) - Wayne Tarrance

In this Tom Cruise starring, famous thriller from the 90's Harris plays an agent trying to bring down a corrupt law firm. It's a supporting part in a huge ensemble of actors but Harris' menacing and intense turn is very memorable - he plays the good guy but the way he plays him makes him feel like a villain which only adds to the tense atmosphere of the movie where the protagonist has no idea who to trust. I give props to Tom Cruise for not running away scared in the scene depicted above where Cruise's character pisses Harris' off and Harris unloads the whole might of his sweary intensity his way. Fun fact - Holly Hunter is on screen for a total of 5 minutes and 59 seconds; one of shortest performances ever nominated for an Oscar. She is in twenty scenes, for an average of eighteen seconds per scene. I gotta say it's a well deserved nomination as Hunter really makes the most of her screentime here.

Needful Things (1993) - Sheriff Alan Pangborn

I saw 3 hour-long extended cut of this movie. The film is so-so (but it would make for a very fun mini-series) but Harris yet again shines as the noble protagonist here - a sheriff in a small town where disturbing and supernatural things start happening. You keep rooting for him and Harris' charisma and charm blend effortlessly with his sweet but tough guy role here. While the film is quite uneven the very idea - of the Devil coming to small town and offering people what they want in return for favors - messing around with the neighbors, which brings the whole town to absolute chaos - is delightful and Max Von Sydow is a joy to watch as the antagonist.

China Moon (1994) - Kyle Bodine

If I were to choose my favorite sub genre, trashy 90's erotic thriller would be it. In this one Harris plays a cop who falls in love with a femme fatale (gorgeous and alluring Madeline Stowe) and is willing to do anything for her - including helping her get rid of her husband, played by the always wonderful Charles Dance. It's a shame that Harris wasn't cast in more roles like this one - a charismatic, handsome leading man. Even though he usually plays supporting parts, for me he is always the highlight of his movies. China Moon is twisted and sexy, it features very young Benicio Del Toro  as Kyle's partner and while some of the plot developments are ludicrous even for the genre, it's a very entertaining film.

The Stand (1994) - General Starkey

Fresh out of starring in King's adaption Needful Things Harris made a cameo appearance in another adaptation of King's work, which was 4 episodes long mini series. Harris briefly shows up in first episode in four scenes but he manages to be extremely memorable as a distraught general who watches helplessly as a plague descends on unsuspecting civilians.

Milk Money (1994) - Dad

The film is a charming tale where Harris plays a shy teacher and a single father of a boy, who along with his teenage friends befriends a prostitute (Melanie Griffith). When she needs a place to hide, the boy helps her and very soon his father - unaware of her profession - falls in love with her. The swoon factor is high here - featuring a beautiful reference to Grace Kelly - and this along with the next entry on this list shows just how versatile Harris is. His character here is easily the sweetest he has ever portrayed. The clumsy and kindhearted teacher, as played by him, completely steals your heart while you are watching the movie.

Just Cause (1995) - Blair Sullivan

With a lesser actor this would be a laughable turn, just as the script is, but Harris gives it his all. He is horrifying in this role of a sex criminal and a man on a death row and he is truly completely unpredictable to the point that when he suddenly yells in one moment I was legitimately startled. Completed with insane hair cut and bizarre accent, you never know what he is going to do which makes him so incredibly frightening and riveting to watch. When he is out of the picture the movie completely flat lines. While reading a lot of movie boards in search for information about the films I am featuring here I noticed this is Harris' performance that got the most 'how come he didn't win awards for it?!" reactions from movie fans. The film is really terrible but it's worth seeing for what Harris manages to do here. His Westworld character is a gentle and merciful class act comparing to this guy.

Apollo 13 (1995) - Gene Kranz

Heroism. That's the first word that comes to mind when I think of Harris' character here, the man who helped save others. Through the entire movie Kranz is in Mission Control Central but Harris injects such sense of pride, duty, nobility and dedication into his portrayal he might as well be in a war film, holding a gun and protecting his troops. According to Harris, Gene Kranz's reaction to the astronauts' survival, which was sitting in a chair, overcome with emotion, was inspired by a documentary interview of Gene, who, while describing his feelings as the astronauts made it back, started to break down. When all is said and done and he collapses on that chair, tears in his eyes, joy and relief mixing together on his face, it truly creates a real movie magic. It's a spectacularly gorgeous work and that moment right there is one of the most beautifully acted scenes ever, as wordless moments often are.

This was the first Oscar nomination for Harris but he sadly lost to Kevin Spacey for The Usual Suspects.

Nixon (1995) - E. Howard Hunt

I haven't actually managed to finish this one. It's over 3-hour long Oliver Stone movie and not one of his good ones. What makes matters worse is that Harris is in it in only handful of scenes - why are those directors getting an actor of this caliber to star in their movies and give him nothing to do? He plays Hunt but Stone wanted him to play Halderman - a part that went to James Woods and was far lengthier. I don't know what happened behind the scenes, what I did see which was the beginning of the movie and a few minute long scene with Harris where his character re-appears was very well acted. But it's nothing more than cameo. He actually has less time here than in The Stand where he wasn't even credited. Still, it stands as one of the two movies him and Anthony Hopkins starred in together which is fun for Westworld fans (they don't actually share the screen here).

Eye for an Eye (1996) - Mack McCann

This film is quite appalling. It handles the story - that of a grieving mother of a teenager who was raped and killed - with such lack of sensitivity, some of the scenes play out almost comically and Sally Field's over the top acting is not helping. Luckily Harris is there to bring at least some genuine emotion - he plays the stepfather of the murdered girl and in the film's most - or only - sincere moment he cries as he reminds his wife that even though she wasn't his biological daughter he misses her too. The film is absolute schlock of the worst kind but it still didn't stop Harris from giving a good performance.

Riders of the Purple Sage (1996) - Jim Lassiter

This TV movie is based on the Western novel by Zane Grey (it's the fifth adaptation of it), Harris stars as a man who searches for the one responsible for his sister's death. While riding toward a mountain pass, he sees a woman, Jane (Amy Madigan) being harassed by thugs and steps in to help. This is a fairly standard western film but it reunites the real life couple of Harris and Madigan and is infinitely better than their previous collaboration Alamo Bay, however Harris doesn't have as meaty role here. Still, it's always great seeing him in a western and the chemistry between him and Madigan is as always effortless.

The Rock (1996) - General Francis X. Hummel

Michael Bay may be the laughing stock among cinephiles but because of The Rock we will always have two things - these outtakes and Ed Harris' fantastic work as General Hummel. He is the "bad" guy in the movie, but in reality he is the noble soldier with good intentions. Harris is so insanely charismatic and just so damn good in the role that his performance alone raises this flick above your usual Michael Bay movie (which, to give the credit where the credit is due, is not just thanks to him but the entire ensemble and Nic Cage in his insane glory). It's probably his best known role and it's a proof that an actor of such a talent can create magnificent performance regardless of the genre of the film or the ultimate silliness of the story. The man has such fierce control over the scene, all of his moments here are unforgettable. When you see him here you never question that this is the guy whom others followed into battle, no questions asked.

Absolute Power (1997) - Seth Frank

In this Clint Eastwood's movie Harris plays a smart, caring detective who actually wants to do a good job and catch the bad guys and yet he never comes off as some boring, typical hero. He makes mistakes, he is constantly two steps behind Eastwood's character but that's one of the things I liked about this story and the movie. Though the plot is preposterous - the murder the plot revolves around is committed by the President of United States and his people are so incompetent I couldn't believe my eyes - the wonderful ensemble of actors has terrific chemistry which makes the film very entertaining. Harris also has very sweet scenes with Laura Linney who is as always very good, here as Eastwood's character's daughter. It's not one of Eastwood's best films but it's worth seeing especially for Judy Davis and her over the top, ridiculous but also insanely fun to watch performance.

The Truman Show (1998) - Christof

In a role for which Harris has been the closest to an Oscar (both him and Carrey were Golden Glboes winners for their performances but in a shocking snub only Harris went on to be Oscar nominated, losing to James Coburn for Affliction) he plays the role of a man running the show - the show being that of Truman's life, who is unaware that his entire life is a lie.

Dennis Hopper was originally cast as Christof, but walked off the set after his first day over "creative differences". Harris replaced him (Hopper went on to a supporting role in Edtv, which has striking similarities to the premise of The Truman Show.). He only had a few days to prepare between accepting the role and his first day on set. To help Harris develop the character for Christof, director Peter Weir presented to him a 10 page biography. Part of this biography consisted of Christof doing a film on the homeless for which he won an award. While figuring out how to play the character of Christof,  Harris suggested him being a hunchback (causing him to have an unhappy childhood and instilling his desire for Truman to have an idealized life), but that didn't ultimately ended up being the case in the movie.

To be perfectly honest I am always so shocked when I remember that movie got so far when it comes to major awards - it's bizarre (in a good way) and way too thought provoking and edgy for the Academy's usual tastes. And I can come up with at least a dozen of more accessible, award-friendly Harris' performances. What he does here, even though his screen time is shorter than you may think - I'll mention this again before this post is done - is so intricate, so fascinating and so complex. He strikes just the right balance between twisted and fatherly, mysterious and easy to read and a mad man and a visionary. Is he lonely? Is he heartless? Or is he insane? We can never know for sure because he is probably all of those things, combined, in a very unique way.

Stepmom (1998) - Luke Harrison

In this quite formulaic drama Harris plays an ex-husband of Susan Sarandon's character. He is now dating much younger woman (Julia Roberts) who is struggling to connect with his kids. The film is enriched by wonderful performances particularly from Sarandon but Harris makes the most of his time here and never lets his character come off as a bastard who abandoned his wife for a younger woman. He genuinely cares about his kids and his ex-wife and the scenes he has with Sarandon are very heartfelt and lovely. Also there is a truly magical proposal scene here. No one would say no to this.

The Third Miracle (1999) - Frank Shore

In the second collaboration with Agnieszka Holland Harris plays a priest who is losing his faith. He is sent by his bosses to investigate miracles which more often than not ends with him crushing the faith of everyone around him and declaring the miracles frauds. On his new assignment he meets a charming, free spirited young woman (Anne Heche) - the daughter of alleged saint. They start a romance while he is slowly starting to believe that his new assignment may just lead to the real deal. The film is a very subtle character study and Harris gives one of his best performances here, delivering rich and moving portrayal of a man who cannot figure out his faith or purpose in life.

Waking the Dead (2000) - Jerry Charmichael

The character portrayed by Harris was eliminated from the completed film, although he is seen briefly on a television screen. I think there must have been more to his Nixon role than what is in the actual movie too, so that makes it two times in this decade when, sadly, his work didn't get the respect it deserves. 

The Prime Gig (2000) - Kelly Grant

This movie is a shameless rip off of Glengarry Glen Ross and Harris more or less sleepwalks through it but his performance is still the only thing worth seeing here. The film is boring, the storyline is dumb as hell and Vince Vaughn looks barely awake as the protagonist. I wish I had something nice to say but the only thing I've got here is that the blue shirt Harris is wearing in one of the scenes accents his eyes beautifully. Seriously, this is all I've got. And what's even more depressing is that the next two entries are filled with films even worse than this one.

Pollock (2000) - Jackson Pollock

This film was a long term dream of Harris. After his father gave him a copy of Pollock's biography, he started thinking about the project, which took almost 10 years to bring to fruition. Filming took a mere 50 days with a six-week layoff after forty days so Harris could take time to gain thirty pounds and grow a beard. Starring in and directing the movie was so strenuous for him, that he actually collapsed on the set and had to be briefly hospitalized. It paid off, though - the film resulted in many, many accolades including the third Oscar nomination for Harris and a surprise win for Marcia Gay Harden (to Harris' awesome reaction during the ceremony), who played Pollock's wife.

While Pollock is not a perfect movie it is flawlessly acted by the entire ensemble. You can really see Harris' passion here -  all the scenes where he is painting, it's actually him doing that. While Harden won the Oscar it's Harris who is the star of the show and it's one of those performances where you don't see the actor, you simply see the person he is playing. It's also one of the most horrific and depressing portrayals of alcoholism I've ever seen on screen.

Enemy at the Gates (2001) - Major König

Yet another movie with Harris portraying a military man.  The story is as follows - in 1942, following the invasion of the Soviet Union the year before, Vasily Zaitsev (Jude Law) a soldier in the Red Army who because of his marksmanship skills becomes a national hero and propaganda icon. Harris plays a German major and an excellent marksman deployed to Stalingrad to take out Vasily and crush Soviet morale. The film is essentially a showdown between the two. Apparently both Law and Harris were cast largely on the expressiveness of their eyes - the film is filled with close ups of their faces in the scenes where they are aiming at each other, waiting for one wrong move, which are truly thrilling and the best parts of the movie. The film was booed upon its premiere at Berlinale with a lot of people voicing criticism about the real events being inaccurately portrayed. Still, it's a great performance from Harris who is in the movie so little yet makes such an impact as a noble soldier who you cannot seem to root against until the story pretty much makes it impossible to sympathize with him anymore in the film's last 20 minutes.

Next post: 2001 - 2011 in June


  1. Wow...I actually haven't seen most of these. I do vividly remember him in Stepmom (and I love the way you described how he developed that character) and in The Truman Show. Great post!

    1. Thank you! Stepmom was such a nice role for him and he made the part far more memorable than any other actor would

  2. He was the best thing in Just Cause as he, aside from Laurence Fishburne, to be the smartest person in that film in which it was filled with a lot of stupid people, with the exception of lil' Scar-Jo 3:16,. He is pretty much great in a lot of the films you listed including Stepmom and Milk Money. He's one of the reasons why I liked The Rock as that and Bad Boys are the only films of Michael Bay I'll watch.

    1. He was also in Bay's National Treasure 2 and Pain & Gain, the latter of which is surprisingly entertaining

    2. Uh, Michael Bay didn't direct National Treasure 2. And I still won't see Pain & Gain.

    3. Holy shit. I said he did about hundreds of times here, wow those films are literally so dumb it's incredible Bay is not the one behind them. You can watch what you want I'm just saying it's pretty good...considering.

  3. Your crushes are something else Margaret. And I mean something else, like, from another planet. You are from this planet right? Right?...

    I'm beginning to question this notion.

    BUT... then again, the actors you choose to crush on are all incredibly awesome actors. I can't tell if they are hot - people say I lie when I say that, but my brain just can't figure it out unless they have some sort of deformity. It seems you have good taste tho!!

    And it also seems like I have a ton of movies to watch. I loved Harris in The Rock, loved him in Enemy at the Gates too.... and Westworld... I simply haven't seen him in enough films to truly appreciate him I think. The Firm sounds really good, as does The Stand and Just Cause - I wanna see him in that role! But I totally forgot he was in The Truman Show! I need to watch that again asap. And Needful Things too?! One of my favourite books, gotta check that out!

    Thank god for your crushes sati :) Ahhhh, what would I do without you if I wanted to crush on Ed myself and go on a similar marathon?!

    I'd be LOST!! ;P

    Take care, and give Gustav a pat for me :)

    1. I don't think so I just work and fangirl. I don't even eat. I think I should be categorize as another species or something

      Excuse me but Ed Harris and Hugh Jackman are objectively Gods among men :)

      Just Cause is fairly terrible but his performance is amazing. I'm not sure how good of an adaptation Needful Things is, I'm guessing not very good one but the film is enjoyable enough

      Gustav is very happy about that pat :)

  4. BTW - each of these has a really thorough but efficient summary. Not too long, not too short, and not too short on information either. Good stuff mate, I drone on for waaaaay too long most of the time :P

    1. That's just because I focus on his performances :) You should check out recent RFs they go on and on and on

  5. Unlike part one, I've actually seen a good amount of films from this one.
    Stepmom was always one of my favorites growing up. Milk Money...lol! I watched that movie so often as a kid and I'll never stop lol'ing over you seeing it for the first time.

    I'm with you on the Truman Show. I always forget that movie was Oscar nominated. It made me so sad when I watched it. It's actually something I wouldn't mind revisiting as it's been so long.

    Still need to see Pollock.

    1. Pollock is so heavy but the performances made it worth seeing. Milk Money was adorable! :P

  6. Oh man I have literally only seen one of these movies, and that's The Truman Show! I'd like to see more of Ed Harris though...if you could only recommend one of these movies - which would it be?

    1. One? Well Glengarry Glen Ross from previous entry. I think every movie fan will love this one!

  7. Great run down, and all of your words are well-deserved. Really makes me think that his recent roles are really lacking.

    1. Roles are never lacking...the movies sadly are.

  8. An excellent post on a fantastic actor. He's for me one of the most reliable people in the business.

    1. He really is! He never gave a bad performance.

  9. I think my first memory of Harris was either Milk Money or Stepmom. He's a stud.