‘Focus’ – Michael Stuhlbarg




Director Guillermo Del Toro’s Oscar nomination juggernaut, The Shape of Water, is finally released in the UK today. The film has recieved a whopping 13 Oscar nominations in many categories and it features a star-studded cast including Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer. However, a cast member who is being overlooked is Michael Stuhlbarg, a brilliant actor who always elevates any film he’s in with his performances, but he’s never really recieved any real recognition for his work. This is the case again in The Shape of Water where he excels in a particularly meaty role.

Originally pursuing a stage career, Stuhlbarg made his film debut in a 1998 film called A Price Above Rubies featuring Renee Zellweger in a small role. He played in films intermittently in the decade that followed, the highest profile of which probably as an attorney in Ridley Scott’s 2008 thriller, Body of Lies.

Luckily, the Coen Brothers saw his talent and cast him in the lead role of Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man, which is where he first came to my attention. A Serious Man is one of the Coens’ most underrated films and whilst the film took me a few goes to really appreciate it, Stuhlbarg’s performance shone from the outset. Stuhlbarg plays a Physics Professor who faces peronal and professional problems throughout the course of the film and feels that his world is falling around him. Stuhlbarg manages to put in a performance with the perfect blend of sincerity, emotion and comedy and the film earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Unfortunately, Stuhlbarg has never seen the same amount of praise or recognition since.

Since A Serious Man, Stuhlbarg has taken small and sometimes supporting roles in many films.  He has a small, but important scene at the very beginning of Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths and also appears in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.

Stuhlbarg is one of the best parts in Steve Jobs, a flawed film that occasionally soars. He plays Andy Hertzfeld, an original member of the Mac team. Also in 2015, he appeared in Trumbo as Edward G. Robinson, a biopic about the screenwriter who was blacklisted for his Communism. Although the film makes a woeful mistake with regards to Stuhlbarg’s character, Stuhlbarg gives another great performance as an individual who is conflicted and world-weary. 2016 saw Stuhlbarg continue to take small roles in films such as Arrival, Doctor Strange and Miss Sloane. In the two former films, he’s great in both of them and it’s frustrating that his characters only recieve the limited screentime they have.

I think this Awards season marks the rise of this actor back into recognition as he stars in three of the nine Best Picture nominees.Obviously, he’s in The Shape of Water and he has a very small role in The Post. However, (although I am yet to see the film), many have regarded his performance in Call Me By Your Name as astounding and some feel he was unfairly snubbed for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Stuhlbarg has always taken varied roles and consistently manages to impress, despite sometimes having very small roles. At best, he elevates already strong films and at worst, he elevates weaker films with his performances. With many seeming to appreciate his performance in Call Me By Your Name in particular and the fact that he has appeared in three high-profile Awards contenders this year, perhaps it is time for people to finally discover this great actor and I envy their discovery of him. So, if you do get a chance to watch The Shape of Water, take note of the performance Stuhlbarg gives and do check out these other films (in particular, A Serious Man) that I have really enjoyed him in as he elevates all of them.

The Shape of Water is released today in UK cinemas 

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