In Appreciation of… Brad Dourif

Dourif Headline Photo

In a new and occasional series, The Grand Inquisitor will profile individuals who’ve made a worthwhile contribution to any particular field of merit in human history. In Appreciation of… will take an in depth look at anybody who is creative, iconic or just plain interesting, especially those individuals who merit acclaim, but somehow always manage to escape under the radar of public attention.

In this first edition, The Grand Inquisitor will examine the career of actor Brad Dourif, pretty much the best performer in Hollywood nobody has ever heard of. While most avid movie goers will recognise the face from any number of bit part character roles, few people can attach a name to it, or fully appreciate the depth and range of Dourif’s talent. The guy does have one of the most distinctive and eccentric faces seen in the movies, which means that he has a tendency to get typecast as mentally disturbed characters, or creepy, quirky outsiders. Well, he is great in that kind of role, but as his four decade career amply demonstrates, Dourif can pretty much handle anything he’s given to do. What makes him such a brilliant actor is his seemingly perennial ability to bring something a little different to a role. Even when he’s cast in a relatively minor, B-level movie (as he frequently is) Dourif’s performance always seems to stand out as something memorable, transcending the limitations of the material. And as a supporting actor, he has an uncanny habit of totally upstaging the more prominently billed stars he’s playing off. Sadly, as is often the case with individuals of genuine talent, Dourif hasn’t received anything like the kind of widespread acclaim his body of work so richly deserves. But the thing is, you never really get the impression that this bothers him all that much. He does his thing and has fun with his roles, and like the class act that he is, largely shuns the trappings of Hollywood fame.

This article selects just nine movies from Dourif’s extensive career for review. That doesn’t even really capture a fraction of the roles he’s appeared in, but unfortunately, there’s just not the time or space to go into any detail  on a greater number of his performances here. Also, I’ve yet to see everything Dourif has done myself. Aficionados of Dourif’s career will no doubt spot a number of notable omissions, but I may do a second part to this article based on suggestions when I get the time. As it is, the selections below provide some indication of the range of Dourif’s roles, and the kind of things he can do. I’ve provided two separate ratings for each film: one for the quality of the movie itself, and one for the level of Dourificness – representing how much Dourif’s idiosyncratic style contributes of value to the movie.

BRAD DOURIF: SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY

Dourif Cuckoo

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Billy Bibbit (1975)

Milos Forman’s cinematic interpretation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nesthas by now become more renowned than the Ken Kesey novel that spawned it. And that’s not entirely fair. The movie tones down the darker, more hallucinatory aspects of the novel, largely doing away with Kesey’s pointed commentary on a mechanistic state apparatus breaking down individual free spirit. And in focusing the narrative on R.P. McMurphy, rather than telling the story through the eyes of Chief Bromden, we’re deprived of much of the novel’s richly nuanced context. Forman’s retelling is reduced to a rather simplistic fable about a charismatic rogue who inspires a group of downtrodden mental patients to find strength within themselves. For all that, however, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest still succeeds as an entertaining and emotionally involving film. It’s a real crowd pleaser, and has remained popular with succeeding generations even where other (arguably superior) examples of seventies  American cinema have fallen by the wayside. Much of the film’s continued success must surely be attributed to the superb cast. Jack Nicholson simply radiates insouciant charisma as R.P. McMurphy, in what has become one of his defining roles. Louise Fletcher is one of the most immediately dislikable characters in movie history as the coldly manipulative and smugly sexless Nurse Ratched. And the cast of mental patients (including early roles for the likes of Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd) are all played with affectionate comic wit. There’s no insight into the grim, hopeless reality of genuine mental illness. Rather, these are just cowed, weirdly eccentric half-men in dire need of some spirited, rebellious horseplay to bring them back to life. It’s manipulative device at the service of cinematic fable, but it’s played to entertaining and affecting results.

Movie Rating: 8/10

This is Brad Dourif’s first movie role of any real note, and there’s no words to describe it other than sheer brilliance. As the timid, sexually naive stammerer, Billy Bibbit, Dourif manages to convey wretched sympathy, chronic shyness and genuine humour all at once. Take the scene in which Nurse Ratched callously grills Bibbit about some pathetic misadventure with a girl of his affections; Dourif’s stammers, awkward refusals to make eye contact and sudden, watery glances upwards display an uncommon mastery of the actor’s craft. It’s upon the sensitivity of Dourif’s performance that the movie’s  tragic denouement largely depends, and he carries it off with aplomb. Even among a cast of characters as memorable as this, Dourif is one of the standout performers. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nestis largely a Jack Nicholson vehicle, but Dourif is never for a moment over matched by the heavyweight.

Dourificness: 10/10

Dourif Dune

Dune – Piter De Vries (1984)

Attempting to boil down Frank Herbert’s mammothly complex novel into a 137 minute running time was always going to be a recipe for disaster. The novel – one of thesci-fi classics –  explores such esoteric themes as planetary ecology, feudal political intrigue and the phenomenon of messiah-cults, within the context of an epic, sprawling plot encompassing the fall of an intergalactic empire some 20,000 years in the future. It’s one of the great imaginative works of the 20th century. Even a drastically watered down version of Dune would require a 4 hour running time to do it a minimum of justice. Universal Pictures never really understood what they had, and were hoping for an action packed space opera hit in a similar same vein to Star Wars. David Lynch was intent on delivering a considerably more dark, disturbing and personal take on the story, however, and clashed with the studio at every turn. But he went into production without a completed shooting script, and never really solved the issues of narrative cohesion that plagued the movie from the very beginning. The result was widely derided as an incomprehensible mess. At the time of release, Dune was the most expensive movie ever made, and bombed into oblivion at the box office. And yet, despite the confusing muddle of a narrative and far too many scenes that come off as embarrassingly bad, Dune is a movie that’s impossible to totally dismiss. In fact, I’d go so far to describe it as the most interesting “failure” in movie history. The level of craft and imagination that went into the set and costume design is staggering, and the scenes that arehandled correctly are done with considerable skill. Lynch’s depiction of the villainous Harkonnens, in particular, is mesmerising, fairly seething with an atmosphere of dark and disturbing menace. Dune is far too fundamentally flawed a film to ever be declared a classic, but it’s worth checking out for its visual flair and some memorably over-the-top performances nonetheless.

Movie Rating: 7/10

Brad Dourif steals every single scene in Dune that he appears in to such an extent that it’s almost beyond belief. It’s a shame that he plays such a relatively minor character, because when he’s on the screen it’s impossible to look away. As the twisted mentat (a profession that combines the functions of strategic adviser and master of assassins) Piter De Vries, Dourif convinces in a role that couldn’t be further away from Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In the film of Dune, De Vries comes across as a sadistic sociopath, at a level way beyond what Herbert originally conceived for the character in the novel. Dourif brings a venomous intensity to this role, and an oddly clipped style of speech that somehow makes the character appear even more devilishly deranged (“It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion..”) Unfortunately, Dourif would become rather typecast after this role, repeatedly cast as a psychopath in films of varying quality, despite being capable of so much more. Still, Dourif does make a really good psychopath.

Dourificness: 10/10

Dourif Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet – Raymond (1986)

Arguably David Lynch’s most accomplished film in a career that has rarely been less than utterly fascinating, Blue Velvetis a hypnotic, perturbing and blacker than black journey into some of more harrowing recesses of the human soul. As the by now classic introductory sequence depicts, panning down from a portrait of surreally antiseptic fifties sitcom suburbia to reveal a swarming nest of insects just below the surface of the earth, Blue Velvet is all about exploring the sinister undercurrent of ugliness and corruption that hides behind every facade. Make no mistake about it, Blue Velvet is one of the most disturbing films ever committed to celluloid, featuring a number of scenes so unpleasant that only the most sternly constituted of viewers will be able to watch without flinching in disgust. It’s not an especially violent or gruesome film, but rather probes at the surface of taboo while exploring characters in a state of extreme psychological distress. It’s also brilliant, visionary, compelling and even comic in a vein that’s not far removed from the demented cackle heard in the more freakish corners of a fun house carnival. Dennis Hopper portrays one of the most genuinely scary characters in movie history here, the psychotic, drug addled pervert, Frank Booth. This is one guy you would most definitely never, ever want to encounter in real life. Kyle MacLachlan is effective as the wide-eyed innocent with a yen for risk that gets him caught up in a world that goes way above his head, and Isabella Rossellini spares nothing in her portrayal of a woman who is tormented and emotionally bruised beyond all reason. It’s one of the bravest displays of raw acting that you’ll ever witness. It’s the intensely realised interactions between these characters that drives the film, in sequences that are occasionally worthy of Hitchcock in their power to build nervous suspense. In Blue Velvet, Lynch has crafted a daring, unpredictable ride that is impossible to look away from, no matter how harrowing the experience.

Movie Rating: 9/10

It’s very much a minor role for Dourif here, playing one of Frank Booth’s lackies, the mentally unhinged japester, Raymond. Dourif appears to have been cast mostly for his ability to look weird and disturbing while standing in the background, as he’s given very few lines to speak. Still, weird and disturbing is very much Lynch’s stock and trade, and Dourif fits as naturally into the director’s warped and fantastical world as well as any character actor ever has. Dourif aficionados will wish that more abundant use had been made of the great man’s talents in Blue Velvet, but it’s pretty much an unmissable film regardless.

Dourificness: 7/10

Dourif Child's Play

Child’s Play – Chucky (1988)

Chucky the killer doll has become one of those teen horror icons, situated somewhere behind Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees in the slasher pic hall of infamy,  that have somehow become better known than the movies that spawned them. After umpteen sequels in which the character has increasingly been played for laughs (Bride of Chucky, Look Who’s Stalking etc) it’s relatively easy to forget that the original Child’s Play played it relatively straight. And hey, it’s actually not a bad horror / slasher pic, featuring reasonable production values and decent performances, at least going by the typical standards of the genre. How scary you’ll find it very much depends on how sinister you think children’s dolls are. My guess is not very. I mean, it’s just a goddamn doll, right? How much damage can it really do? I quite fancy my chances against Chucky in a straight up street fight. There’s not much in Child’s Play that deviates very far from the standard slasher pic playbook. There’s plenty of false alarms. Y’know, a character hears a strange noise somewhere in the apartment, but after a nervous buildup of tension, discovers nothing is there. What a relief! Cue the psychopath / monster / killer doll coming out of nowhere and attacking them with an axe. This kind of stuff works well enough when it’s executed with a degree of competence, and that’s very much the case here. Most of the best moments in Child’s Play come from the fiendish, blackly comic possibilities of a psychotic doll spouting obscenities and brutally murdering people. Case in point, a woman discovers that maybe something is up with this doll after all, after discovering that it’s been functioning without batteries all along. So she brandishes it in the air and threatens to throw it in the fire if it doesn’t start talking. Cue Chucky coming to life and snarling “You stupid bitch! You filthy slut! I’ll teach you to fuck with me!” before savagely biting her on the arm. You can hardly expect a horror masterpiece along the same lines of The Exorcist, but Child’s Play is an agreeable enough bit of nonsense and at just 87 minutes of running time does not outstay its welcome.

Movie Rating: 6/10

In many respects, this period represented something of a low point in Dourif’s career. Despite his talents, the quality work was just not coming in, and Dourif found himself increasingly relying on B-movies in order to make a pay check. Graveyard Shift and Critters 4 were not quite fitting vehicles for a guy who’d picked up a Golden Globe for best acting debut in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and been nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for the same role (losing out to George Burns in The Sunshine Boys, for reasons that are by now incomprehensible). Nonetheless, Dourif still manages to make silk from a pig’s ear by bringing something colourful and memorable to such lightweight fare. As the voice of Chucky, Dourif nails the balance between horror and comedy exactly right, and naturally, he’s given all the juiciest lines. Dourif also makes an in the flesh appearance in the opening of the film as the serial killer Charles Lee Ray, who, in a vaguely Philip K. Dickian moment, has his soul transferred into a children’s doll to create Chucky.

Dourificness: 7/10

Dourif Burning

Mississippi Burning – Deputy Clinton Pell (1988)

Hailed upon release as a powerful adult drama, Mississippi Burning has since been taken to task for its cavalier attitude towards the “facts” in a movie that bills itself as a depiction of actual events; to the point that its critical reputation has taken a battering. I can’t help but think that this is largely misplaced griping over nitpickity irrelevancies, however. Yes, like any movie that is supposedly based on a true story, Mississippi Burning manipulates actual events to create heightened drama. It would be more accurate to describe Mississippi Burningas a fictional story, albeit one with a basis in a recent and deplorable history that many people would still prefer to ignore. Beyond anything else, it’s a well made and engrossing movie featuring superb performances from a talented cast. It works best as dramatic fiction, perhaps less convincingly as a document of the civil rights movement. The story is based around the murder of three civil rights workers by racist cops in hicksville, Mississippi, and the subsequent FBI investigation into the affair. Willem Defoe is excellent as the idealistic young FBI investigator. He plays a character that is so self-seriously pious he approaches fanaticism. Even better than Defoe is the superb Gene Hackman – one of America’s greatest actors in my book – as the savvy, rather more cynical counterpoint to Defoe’s idealistic zeal. Hackman, a master at expressing subtle nuance in his performances, brings self deprecating wit and streetwise wisdom to the role. The conflicting approaches with which these men want to tackle to the case – Defoe unleashing a virtual army of G-Men on the hostile town, with Hackman preferring a more understated investigation, deploying the racist cops’ own brutality against them – drives much of the story.  Surprisingly for a movie that draws from the civil rights movement, there are no developed roles for the black characters, who are portrayed as little more than abject victims. This is not necessarily inaccurate. Many black people, offered no protection by racist authorities, were simply powerless to act against prejudice, with the merest hint of retaliation punished with the most dire consequences. The kind of racist brutality that blacks were often victim to in this period is depicted in Mississippi Burning in a series of graphically upsetting sequences. Ultimately, the sixties civil rights campaign was driven by a popular, grass roots movement, and not by the FBI, which you might be forgiven for believing if you had no access to historical sources outside of this movie. But Mississippi Burning functions well enough as both cinematic drama and an angry condemnation of racism to overcome its shortcomings as historical documentation.

Movie Rating: 8/10

Thankfully, Mississippi Burninggives Dourif a significant dramatic role to play during a career period that was characterised all too much by low budget B-movie work. Dourif delivers a strong and convincing performance as the racist deputy, Clinton Pell. He captures the plain, pig headed stupidity of a bigot very well, but more than that, there’s a streak of piteous self hatred behind this character’s eyes. In a very real sense, he’s a violent racist not out of any particular ideology, but because that’s what’s expected of him. He’s racist because it makes him “one of the boys”. In Dourif’s portrayal, then, Pell is a bully and a moral coward. The brief scenes with Frances McDormand, who plays Pell’s wife, convey a weary submission by a victimised woman to the lifelong household tyranny of a petty thug. McDormand – one of the favourite actors of the Coen Brothers – deserves much credit herself for her sympathetic and understated performance in Mississippi Burning.

Dourificness: 8/10

Dourif Exorcist III

The Exorcist III – The Gemini Killer (1990)

Better than any horror movie with a number after its title has any right to be. After the execrable campiness of The Exorcist II and the woefully uninspired nature of relentlessly churned out horror movie sequels in general, you might be forgiven for skipping The Exorcist III on the safe assumption that it can’t possibly be any good. But in this instance, you’d be wrong. For fans of “serious” horror films, as opposed to generic teen slasher affairs, The Exorcist III should be considered pretty much unmissable. Which is not to say that it isn’t very much a flawed affair and rather too incoherent for its own good. But it does take its subject matter seriously, and features one or two moments of pure inspiration that hold up well with the scariest sequences of any horror movie ever made. As Stephen King points out in his informal study of horror fiction, Danse Macabre, you have to put up with a lot of dreck while watching horror films in order to get to the really inspired nuggets of pure terror, but when you do stumble upon those nuggets, they wield a kind of power that is rarely achieved by other genres. Take the savage, harrowing intensity of the original Exorcist. Or the stricken from your chair in sheer terror moment that comes in the hospital hallway scene from The Exorcist III. The relatively small number of people who’ve actually seen this movie will know what I’m talking about. Author of the novel upon which the original Exorcistis based, William Peter Blatty, helms the director’s chair for this particular outing. Wisely, he pretty much chucks everything that happened during The Exorcist II out of the window and goes off in a fresh direction for this sequel, based on a script from his novel Legion. This is actually a story about a series of disturbing murders that appear to be linked to satanic motives, with only a tangential link to the events of The Exorcist. Blatty’s dialogue has a tendency to get rather ponderous, but his direction is stylish and suitably ominous. George C. Scott plays the lead role as Lieutenant Kinderman, replacing Lee J. Cobb, who passed away after the original. A natural ham, Scott chews the scenery more than is strictly necessary, but he’s an entertaining enough actor and acquits himself well. The biggest problem with The Exorcist III was imposed by the suits at 20th Century Fox, who insisted that the concluding sequence be re-shot to include a tacked on exorcism, against Blatty’s wishes, creating something out of the movie that it wasn’t really intended to be. Nonetheless, this is a serious and effective horror flick that fans of the genre will definitely want to have a look at.

Movie Rating: 7/10

Dourif plays a serial killer here, the sort of role he had a tendency to get typecast in. But let’s face it, the guy does make a damn fine serial killer. The sequences in a dimly lit padded cell, with a strait-jacketed Dourif facing off against Scott in a battle of psychological wills, are mesmerising and disturbing. For my money, they are more interesting than the exchanges between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in the much overrated Silence of the Lambs. Hey, let’s get all pally with our charming neighbourhood serial killer! There’s none of that here. Dourif’s description of what he likes to do with severed heads is particularly unnerving. He’s handed the rather onerous task of explaining away the incoherency of the plot during his ravings, but manages to pull it off. There’s two things that bother me here, however, and they’re no fault of Dourif. First, it’s the insistence of applying a sepulchral effect to his voice, in an effort to make him sound more “demonic”. It’s not necessary. Dourif comes off better when his voice is untreated by such gimmickry. And then there’s the constant shifting between Dourif’s face and that of Father Karras – the priest from the first Exorcist film. Apparently, this was also at the studio’s insistence, in order to emphasise the links to the original movie. It doesn’t really add anything to the story other than to make it more confusing than it already is.

Dourificness: 8/10

Dourif Alien

Alien: Resurrection – Dr. Jonathon Gediman (1997)

There’s no getting away from it, Alien: Resurrection is a woefully uninspired hack job that takes a giant dump on the once great movie franchise. Even in the widely derided Alien 3 – which admittedly didn’t work all that well and simply wasn’t scary enough – debuting director David Fincher conjured up a striking visual style and attempted to take the series in an interesting new direction. The fourth Alien film really has no redeeming features whatsoever. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, eccentric director of such half interesting surreal fables as Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, helms the director’s chair for this particular outing. Why anybody thought Jeunet would be a good choice to direct an Alien movie remains a total mystery. There’s nothing in his back catalogue to suggest that he’s remotely suited for this kind of material. Why did he even take the job? It must have paid substantially better than the mostly obscure art circuit flicks he was associated with up until this point. The extent of Jeunet’s crime against the Alien franchise is twofold. Firstly, there is the general sense of malaise and creative bankruptcy that permeates the entire affair. There is not one scene, idea or shot in Alien: Resurrectionthat stands out as memorable or fresh. There is literally no sense of tension, excitement, horror or mystery built into the movie at any point. It really is one of the most phoned in big budget efforts to come out of Hollywood, as if everybody involved couldn’t wait to get it out of the way and go onto more interesting tasks, such as organising their sock drawers. Secondly, Jeunet seems intent to play the once terrifying alien killer of Ridley Scott’s original space horror masterpiece for camp humour. I suppose it’s the eventual fate of all the iconic monsters of horror. Abbot and Costello met Count Dracula, the Mummy and Frankenstein. Well now they get to meet the Alien. For some reason, Winona Ryder turns up in Alien: Resurrection, in one of silliest and most inept subplots in any movie that immediately comes to mind. Ryder gets a lot of flack for her supposed lack of acting chops, but anybody who’s seen Martin Scorsese’s Age of Innocence will understand that this girl can bring it when she’s given the right kind of role. In Alien: Resurrection, she is simply so out of place that it could only be interpreted as some sort of cruel joke. The final insult is reserved for the final scenes, however, in which H.R. Giger’s brilliant Alien design is reduced to… well, Giger himself describes it best: “I created the Alien to be something beautiful, but now it looks like shit. It is now something that looks literally like a turd.”

Movie Rating: 3/10

Leave it to Dourif to come up with the only aspect of this movie that is remotely salvageable. The role of Dr. Jonathon Gediman – one of your archetypal horror movie mad scientist types – provides Dourif every excuse he needs to go all out in the most outrageous and scenery chewing manner possible. Dourif’s twisted, deranged love for the Alien abominations he is spawning provides the only moments of entertainment there’s to be had in Alien: Resurrection. It’s not quite enough to justify sitting through the rest of this stinker, but it does ease the pain of the experience somewhat.

Dourificness: 7/10

Dourif LOTR

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Grima Wormtongue (2002)

The middle part of Peter Jackson’s cinematic interpretation of Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy is the most awkward and disjointed of the series. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, it just doesn’t flow as coherently or satisfyingly as The Fellowship of the Ring or The Return of the King. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also the film that feels the need to fiddle around the most with Tolkien’s narrative, in a fashion that can come off as irritatingly unnecessary to traditional Tolkien aficionados. Through many repeat viewings, I’ve come to have a kind of love / hate relationship with Jackson’s movie versions of The Lord of the Rings. On the one hand, these are elaborate and exciting action adventure epics of a kind we rarely see made these days. The mind boggling attention to detail that has been expended on the costumes, sets and overall production design is really quite awe inspiring. The stuff that Jackson does get right evokes a genuine feel of the books. On the other hand, Jackson’s insistence on deflating dark and frightening scenes of heightened drama with moments of cornpone “humour” threatens to derail the entire experience on far too many occasions to mention. And he simply gets some of the characters wrong, wrong, wrong. In fact, such is the lack of respect that Jackson demonstrates to Tolkien’s creations on occasion, that you have to question the guy’s professed status as a fan of The Lord of the Rings. The Elves, for example, come off as an exercise in high camp. Not at all like the tragic, doomed, lordly beings of subtlety and grace that Tolkien conceived of. Jackson is taking the populist route of de-emphasising everything that is alien about Tolkien’s world in favour of what is homely and familiar. The sublime and elegiac atmosphere of a fading world that permeates Tolkien’s epic work of tragic high fantasy is largely discarded in favour of amped up action set pieces. I do like the spectacular battle scenes in Jackson’s films. I just wish he’d captured more of the tone and intent of Tolkien’s work. Still, all problems aside, these films make for stirring viewing.

Movie Rating: 8/10

Happily, Dourif is one of the casting decisions that Jackson got right.  I can’t think of another actor who is more suitable to play Grima Wormtongue. In a sense, though, Dourif’s portrayal kind of surprised me. My impression of Wormtongue from the novels is that he was a slimy, treacherous snake. And Dourif can do slimy, make no mistake. In this film, however, Wormtongue comes across as a rather more Gothic figure. He has a more sinister feel to him than he does in the books. This does actually work well, even when Jackson’s direction during the scenes at Edoras feels somewhat flat and stilted. Dourif also appears briefly in the extended DVD edition of The Return of the King, in scenes that were cut for the theatrical release.

Dourificness: 8/10

Dourif Deadwood

Deadwood – Doc Cochran (2004 – 2006)

David Milich’s Deadwood is one of the most brilliantly original creations ever to appear on TV. The only TV series in recent history that have (arguably) superseded it in terms of quality of writing and depth of characterisation have been The Sopranos and The Wire. Milich has used the real life setting and characters of the frontier town of Deadwood to craft an elaborate western mythos, exploring the theme of civilisation’s inevitable origins in corruption and violence.  The intricately layered, slow burning and understated story lines immediately set Deadwoodapart from lesser television fare. And Milich’s richly textured dialogue has to be heard to be believed. He weaves incomparable vulgarity into a lyrical, vaguely Shakespearean idiom that is poetically descriptive and often, brilliantly funny. A cast of some 30 odd major characters are introduced over the course of Deadwood’sthree season run, each one of them a developed, fully realised and memorable entity. Perhaps the most wickedly delicious of them all is the Saloon and Brothel owner, Al Swearengen, who has his fingers on the strings of all the nefarious operations in the lawless town. Played with a smouldering sardonic malevolence by British actor Ian McShane, Swearengen is by turns smart, conniving, charming, witty and brutal. He’s utterly ruthless and all the more magnetic for it. Deadwoodis a grimy, gritty, sometimes bloody affair, rich in detail and atmosphere. Unfortunately, it proved just too slow burning and dialogue heavy to attract a wider audience beyond a devoted cult following, and HBO prematurely dropped the axe after just three seasons, citing the exorbitant production costs. This is really the only genuine flaw that Deadwood presents: it was cancelled too early, leaving behind several unresolved plot points. That’s a crying shame, but Milich nonetheless delivered 36 episodes of some of the best TV you are ever likely to see.

TV Series Rating: 10/10

In many respects, this represents Brad Dourif’s ultimate role, as in Deadwoodhe delivers a performance that is at the absolute peak of his powers, as one of the best realised characters in any TV show ever, in a series that ranks as one of the finest ever made. In a town that is filled with reprobates, outlaws and villainy of every description, Doc Cochran is one of the few characters to possess any sort of moral compass. He’s a decent man, but a tormented one. He’s perpetually traumatised by his experiences in the Civil War, and alludes to a vaguely sinister past in which he engaged in grave robbery for the purposes of medical experiments. The Doc is perpetually haggard, disgusted with the amorality of his surroundings and niggled by the affairs of the world. He’s one of the few characters who has the courage to stand up to Al Swearengen and speak his mind openly. An especially powerful and affecting scene is when a drunken Doc falls to his knees in supplication over the ravages of Reverend Smith’s impending insanity, deploring a God who would allow such suffering to take place. It’s a scene worthy of Dostoevsky. Brad Dourif as Doc Cochran… acting simply doesn’t get any better than this.

Dourificness: 10/10

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19 Responses to In Appreciation of… Brad Dourif

  1. timlarsen01 says:

    I wouldn’t go as anywhere near as far as to say nobody has heard of Dourif, but I agree that he’s little known.

    You have missed his best performance, in John Huston’s Wise Blood, though I think it has only just been released on DVD in any region. I really should get to seeing Deadwood – it’s been on SkyThree for a while, on everyday at midnight, but unfortunately it clashes with The Wire.

    I have to disagree with your rating of Mississippi Burning. It doesn’t just lie about the events, it twists and exaggerates them to give ridiculous generalisations of each race – the blacks being heroic and courageous (especially when a young person saves his father from hanging and then looks off into the distance in a typically noble pose) whilst the majority of the white males are moronic and reminiscent of the hillbillies from Deliverance. The only person (outside of McDormand) who seems to care is Defoe’s character. Despite being an FBI agent, he breaks down in tears on a couple of occasions and calls the locals “monsters” or something to that effect.

  2. Another vote for Wise Blood here!

  3. robertod says:

    I had a feeling somebody was gonna bring up Wiseblood :-). I couldn’t review it, however, as I’ve yet to see it. It’s a difficult movie to track down. But if it’s now been released, I’ll get hold of it and review it.

  4. Tess says:

    I do totally agree on Doc – in fact that part brought Brad Dourif after being almost forgotten back to my mind and heart. I thought can’t think of an actor more intensive than him andit’s always a joy to watch his work. He brings class even to the worst movies. Very nice work, robertod 😉

  5. Dan K says:

    Nice stuff, however suffers a little from TMBW (too many big words).

    I have to disagree on the ratings of Dune and Alien:R. There are SO SO MANY bad movies out there that any scale that has Alien:R as a 3 would have about %75 of the movies as 1 or 2. I WOULD go so far as to call Dune a classic despite what the critics say. It’s easy to call a movie ‘crap’ when the critics thrash it so… it takes a little more integrity to stick up for a movie that’s been derided by the critics because they just dont understand it (the fate suffered by the majority of lynch’s work).

    Nice article though 🙂

    Dan K

  6. robertod says:

    I do rather like Dune myself. I’ve got quite a lot of affection for the movie, as it’s one of the first I can remember attending in an actual cinema as a child. I do think its been unfairly written off by many critics. However, there’s no denying that – despite some very good scenes and performances, and the imagination and dedication that went into its design – it is a movie carrying some pretty serious flaws. I thought 7/10 was a fair rating, all things considered.

    I really hated Alien: Resurrection, though. It felt like it was making a mockery of the franchise. It also felt flat and uninspired, with some very silly characters and subplots going on. It’s all a far cry from the ultra-realistic feel and looming, unbearable atmospheric tension of the original. Some people find A4 an acceptable enough sequel, but for me it was a real stinker.

  7. duhast says:

    Agree with your comments about Doc in Deadwood.

    The scene of him arguing with God is one of the most spectacular jobs of acting I have ever seen. I’m not sure ANYONE can act better than that. It was stunningly transcendent.

  8. Big fan of his, enjoyed reading this.

  9. Jamie Myers says:

    I am a huge fan of Dourif…. I love that in his interview with Fred Topel, he claimed that he had no groupies… lol… The other day, I popped in a video game on the XBOX.. called Gun. A bad guy named Reverend Reed came on screen and i instantly recognised his voice. Noone else in teh room knew it, frist making fun of me for being terrified of Chucky but knowing who voices him, then being mad when I looked it up online and found out i was right. I wish i could speak with this brilliant man one day. I look forward to seeing him in movies and enjoy watching him top himself over and over again. Glad I found some more fans! 🙂

  10. Erin B says:

    I think Brad gives the finest and most complicated performance in Deadwood – he’s surrounded by a ton of amazing character actors, and he simply takes the focus of every scene. I agree with the user who thought the scene that he begs God for relief for the preacher is the most gut-wrenching and visceral piece of the series. I wish they had blocked it differently so he could have been seen for then entire time he was begging, but his voice and mannerisms made up for his face being blocked. The first time I saw it I cried – which I don’t do for tv or movies. It didn’t seem like he was acting as much as he was being…if that makes sense. His eyes tell the story; you can believe them. Thanks Brad – all my best to you and I hope to see more dramatic work from you in the future!

    Erin

  11. Loren B says:

    Wise Blood! Ya gotta see it.

  12. Lope de Aguirre says:

    What’s with his Werner Herzog collaborations?

    “Cerro Torre: Scream of Stone”, “The Wild Blue Yonder”, “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” and “My Son, My Son: What Have Ye Done?”?

    I especially love “The Wild Blue Yonder” in which he is the one and only main character.

  13. […] Información: En este enlace se puede ver su filmografía selecta, con nota de cada película y su “Dourfnidad” o […]

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  17. kisstherain says:

    brad dourif is amazing. in one flew over the cuckoo’s nest… oh god. he was just so perfect for the role. his stuttering, his vulnerability, he hit everything perfectly. seriously, he needs to be more appreciated..he’s a terrific actor.

    i have to admit though, the first picture scared me. hahaha

  18. tiffanybride says:

    What about the “Dourificness” of Death Machine?

  19. Suraj says:

    don’t like the negative review on Childs Play.. Chucky is what kept Dourif in the dance and what he is known for.. Also where is Istanbul, he was great in that

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