Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kael of the Week: On Paul Newman

"Newman is an actor-star the way Bogart was. His range isn't enormous; he can't do classics, any more than Bogart could. But when a role is right for him, he's peerless. Newman imparts a simplicity and boyish eagerness to his characters. We like them but we don't look up to them. When he's rebellious, it's animal energy and high spirits, or stubbornness. Newman is most comfortable in a role when it isn't scaled heroically; even when he play's a bastard, he's not a big bastard--only a callow, selfish one, like Hud. He can play what he's not--a dumb lout. But you don't believe it when he plays someone perverse or vicious, and the older he gets and the better you know him, the less you believe it. His likableness is infectious; no one should ever be asked not to like Paul Newman.

"What Newman does here is casual American star-acting at its peak; he's as perfectly assured a comedian as Bogart in The African Queen, even though the role isn't particularly well-written and the picture itself isn't in the same class. In The Sting, he was smooth and charming, but there was no hardness in him; he wasn't a con man for a minute. He's gone beyond that sweetie-pie succulence here. What he does as Reggie isn't very different from what he's done before; it's that the control, the awareness, the power all seem to have become clarified. He has the confidence now to value his own gifts as an entertainer. In a picture such as Winning, he was impressive but a little somber; there was nothing to crack open--he couldn't use his resourcefulness. Here his technique seems to have become instinct. You can feel his love of acting; he's not fighting it or trying to hide it."

-From review of Slap Shot
The New Yorker, March 7, 1977

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