Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cut To Black

James Gandolfini has died. Bit of a shock.  He'll be forever remembered as the lead in one of TV's most highly-regarded shows (recently voted the best-written show ever), The Sopranos.  And the show hold ups--HBO has been repeating episodes every weekday and I watch it regularly.

For years Gandolfini was a character actor who usually played tough guys, such as in True Romance and Get Shorty. Then he got to play Tony Sopran (partly thanks to his work in True Romance) and, as he explained when accepting one of his Emmys, it just shows that you can be kicking around in obscurity for a long time but all it takes is the right role to change everything.

The Sopranos led to prominent roles in movies--The Mexican, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Last Castle, In The Loop, Where The Wild Things Are, Zero Dark Thirty--but nothing could erase Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in the popular imagination.

It may have been the greatest sustained performance TV has ever seen.  Gandolfini played a character who was essentially a horrible human being, but he was able to make you care about this man who cheated on his wife and killed for a living.  Creator David Chase seemed surprised that no matter how awful Tony Soprano was, the audience still rooted for him.

The show featured a huge ensemble, but Gandolfini played a huge part in each episode, and what he had to do ran the gamut. On the surface, he was a tough guy, but he was also troubled, and had feelings he couldn't always suppress.  The part also called for both dramatic and comedic chops--Chase once said the show was half Godfather, half The Honeymooners--which Gandolfini managed with equal aplomb.

The show's finale--where it suddenly cut to black--was controversial.  Most fans didn't like it, but, if nothing else, it's memorable.  I've always felt Chase was simply saying Tony had died...while also leaving just enough ambiguity for a potential movie if it ever came to that.

Now there can be no sequel.  The Sopranos without Tony is unimaginable.  The show ended in 2007  and while Gandolfini has done decent work since, we'll never know if he would have had another part that could compare.  But that's what a once-in-a-lifetime roles can do.  Most actors are lucky to get to play one indelible character.  But if Gandolfini was lucky, David Chase was just as lucky to have cast the perfect actor.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for share........

2:35 AM, June 20, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Equating cheating on his wife with killing people is a bit much. Carmela was whiny suburbanite- Tony's forays made him more human

6:54 AM, June 20, 2013  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Who's equating? Originally I was going to have a longer list of all the horrible things he did, but I decided to stick to two of the most obvious--one to represent his mob side, one to represent his domestic side. (The original slogan for the show was "If one family doesn't kill him the other one will.")

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