|Mackie gives a career-best performance.|
Ruth at FlixChatter has devised this intriguing little blogathon, aptly titled Small Roles... Big Performances, that highlights great performances by overlooked actors. I ask you to consider Anthony Mackie's performance in Half Nelson...
When Anthony Mackie's name comes up in conversation, his wonderful performance in The Hurt Locker (2009) is usually mentioned at the outset. Mostly forgotten, it is his fascinating, albeit brief, turn in Half Nelson that deserves more praise. This underappreciated actor gives the performance of his career so far in this indie flick.
As a drug dealer named Frank from the projects, Mackie could've turned in a loud, hammy performance (and possibly gotten an Oscar nomination for it). Instead, he went for his trademark subtly, stoicism, and charm in a wholly authentic, quietly scene-stealing performance. This type of acting doesn't win many awards. Just ask Ryan Gosling, or even Christian Bale.
Take the scene embedded below. In this scene, Ryan Gosling's character Dan (a drug-addicted teacher) comes to Frank's house to ask him to leave Dan's student Drey alone. Dan knows that Frank and Drey are family, but he also knows all too well that the girl's future would be much brighter if she didn't fall into the world of drugs. It's a difficult scene to pull off, and both actors deliver.
But how could Mackie play this scene right? By playing it naturally. There's no flash and nothing overdone here. As much as Gosling lights up the screen, Mackie gives it right back, demanding the viewer's attention by restraining his emotions. He's there, in the scene, and we're there with him. He commands the screen in one of the most underrated performances in recent memory.
I chose this scene because it perfectly captures Mackie's skill at minimalism. The scene feels so real because Gosling explodes and Mackie listens to him. At the most basic level, Mackie doesn't do much at all in this scene, and that's the point. Watch closely, and you'll see him taking in Gosling's words. He just stops and reacts with all that he can, without overplaying the scene.
Any artifice is stripped bare, and the scene plays out with extreme authenticity. However, the scene could feel so real because of the improvisation that was required due to the film's thin script. Whatever the reason, it's a truly memorable moment for me. Both actors play it for real, but Mackie should get some of the credit that his co-star does.
If you don't believe me, check out a piece of this great performance in the aforementioned powerful scene below.