Wednesday 21 February 2018

'Why did Kevin Spacey take role in preposterously boring Nine Lives after stunning Nixon portrayal?'

With a promising role in Rebel in the Rye, a biopic of novelist JD Salinger scheduled for release next year, Spacey could be forgiven for his sharp role deviations.

It's good to talk: Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon in 'Elvis and Nixon'.
It's good to talk: Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon in 'Elvis and Nixon'.
Unlikely bedfellows: Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey do a good job as Elvis and Nixon.

Jennifer Wilson

Whether its his Oscar-Winning turns in the Usual Suspects and American Beauty or his impeccable portrayal of Frank Underwood complete with that menacing, rugged Southern Drawl, we’ve been spoiled and coming to expect a certain caliber of roles from Kevin Spacey.

Mr Spacey’s rare talk show appearances have afforded us a glimpse of his unassuming personality and his penchant for the art of imitation.

We’ve painted him as a treasured Every Man, a modern Jack Lemmon, his revered mentor. Like the parents of a small child we hold on tight to Spacey, for fear that he may be lead astray.

We may have reason to remain cautious, with Spacey’s recent erratic jump in roles raising some questions. Whether releasing two movies in the space of three months - one where he portrays Richard Nixon and another where he takes on the role of a house cat - may have been an unfortunate timing error, we take a look at both films that have considerably rocked Spacey’s filmography this summer.

In June, Liza Johnson’s political satire, Elvis & Nixon was unleashed on audiences worldwide. Documenting the under-acknowledged meeting that occurred in the Oval Office in December 1970 between two of the world's most iconic figures, Spacey splendidly excels in his role as Nixon, with a pudgy stomach and crooked nose.

As the meeting unfolds, the world of opposites collide. Shannon brings a pernicious darkness to the role of the rock ‘n’ roll teddy bear from Memphis. While Spacey hones in on a different aspect of Nixon, a softer, misunderstood man. It is not so much an imitation of Nixon, instead he presents an internalized replica to the point where from some angles and mannerisms you believe it is Nixon himself.  It becomes readily apparent why Spacey would have been drawn to such a role, not least because he exudes a palpable likeness to Nixon, but because the dialogue is of its time and the script humbly constructed. Unlike other period pieces, we don't have to suffer squirming from irritating nods to the benefit of hindsight. This arrives subtly, such as when Spacey arrogantly calls to his aides to ‘get Syria on the phone’ to ‘sort things out quickly’.

Both Shannon and Spacey engage in character studies, a high level of difficulty is equally attributable as the larger than life figures they are presented with and the manner in which they uniquely choose to play them is a testament to their talent. Spacey softens Nixon around the edges, portraying him initially as a puzzled man wrapped up in the depths of the Vietnam War but goes on to bring him back into shallow waters. As far as point-in-time movies go, this is up there and Spacey is on form doing what he does best.

August quickly arrived however and critics turned their attention to Spacey’s next movie, Nine Lives. Some may assume that a Kevin Spacey film with such a title would be an unfortunate play on words. He couldn’t be in a movie about cats, could he? He is - in fact he’s the starring cat. In the same summer season that he excels at bringing humanity to one of the America’s most shamed president’s, the Oscar Winner takes on the role of a businessman that finds himself trapped inside the feline body of the family cat. A potential saving grace is that fortuitously Spacey has already appeared on Inside the Actor’s Studio and therefore may be able to avoid talking at length about such an apparently suicidal career move. Then again, James Lipton is known to invite back particularly engaging past guests, and he may just ask Spacey back if even just to ask him one question - why?

With a despondent tagline of ‘His life just got put on paws’, even the film’s poster conveys little hope for this weak offering. Not only is the subject matter preposterously boring, the idea itself is outdated. While Christopher Walken can bring all the kooky charm he possesses in his role in turning Spacey into a cat, it isn’t enough to elevate this feline frenzy. A despairing score of 8% on Rotten Tomatoes, had critics silencing any hope of mild success with The Guardian claiming that the entire offering fell flat due to an undertone of laziness, with Spacey’s voice acting described as ‘uncommonly lethargic.’

With varying roles this summer, Spacey was showcased on both sides of the coin. With a promising role in Rebel in the Rye, a biopic of novelist JD Salinger scheduled for release next year, Spacey could be forgiven for his sharp role deviations. As such a treasured personality and gifted actor, he deserves another chance. Maybe even a few more than that, but certainly not nine.

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