Thursday, April 22, 2010

Contrast of two roles: Steve Zahn

My two favorite performances by actor Steve Zahn include his 1996 role as Lenny in That Thing You Do! and his role as Duane in 2006's Rescue Dawn. Not only are these performances a decade apart, but they are polar opposites.

Let me begin with the fun, Tom Hank's directed That Thing You Do!, a movie in the vain of the Beatles' Hard Day's Night. It stars Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, and Liv Tyler and follows the rise of a one-hit wonder band. Zahn is Lenny, the sarcastic guitarist with the best and most quotable lines. Lenny serves two purposes: to move the action along and to make the audience laugh. Only one of these is difficult, but Zahn is at ease and this is a part that he was clearly comfortable with. He has subsequently been cast in more comedic roles (most recently Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

On the other hand, Rescue Dawn is a harrowing Vietnam war-pic starring Christian Bale. Werner Herzog directed this biographical film about fighter pilot Dieter Dengler (Bale) and his captivity and escape from Laos after being shot down. He meets Zahn's character, Duane, in the prison camp. Duane is a beaten down man; all of the prisoners are in fact, until Dieter shows up and sparks some life and hope in these men. Eventually, Dieter and Duane depend on one another to survive the jungle. The desperation, utter lack of purpose, and borderline insanity that Zahn portrays is haunting-- especially when they believe they have been rescued, only to be betrayed. There was talk at the time that Zahn should be recognized for his performance during award show season, however the movie was released in July of 2006, and we all know that Hollywood tends to have a short memory when it comes to nominations. That aside, this is the performance of Zahn's career (at least to date). Besides, Zahn lost 40 pounds in order to play the role-- that's a sure sign of his commitment and a familiar tactic to his co-star Bale.

In turns, Steve Zahn has the capacity to be heartwarming and heartbreaking.

That Thing You Do!
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Rescue Dawn
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