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Berry Your Head in Shame: Watching The White Dwarf Stars In Slow Motion…

Speedman is a dying star. A white dwarf headed for a black hole. That’s physics. It’s inevitable.

– Les Grossman, Tropic Thunder

Fame is like anything else. It’s like money or luck. It comes and it goes. Still, as the poster for Halle Berry’s latest film, Dark Tide, arrive, it’s hard not to feel a little bit sorry for those performers who have watched their fame and popularity slip out from underneath them.

Halle Berry won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball. She played one of the few James Bond characters to be considered for a spin-off, appearing in Die Another Day. She got a considerable pay increase for showing her breasts in Swordfish. She headlined one of the very few female-centric superhero films, the dire Catwoman. Not all of those were good films. In fact, being harsh, I’d argue that one of them was a good film, and the rest were significantly flawed, if not outright terrible. Still, it’s quite sad to see the former Oscar-winner relegated to appearing in the latest film from the director of Blue Crush and Into the Blue.

She did make some Berry questionable choices...

It is, to be fair, the other side of the coin that sees the Hollywood demographic churn once every few years. We might be witnessing the rise of talents like Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling, two actors who appear to be absolutely everywhere, but that logically means that some established stars must see their careers follow the opposite trajectory. What goes up must come down. It seems that Halle Berry’s down-slide intersected briefly with Robert Downey Jr.’s rebound in the dire Gothika. I’m not sure if it’s more or less frustrating to see a known act slide into relative obscurity, or lament those who never really got a chance at the big time, but it’s still a depressing aspect of movie-watching.

Oscar winners are perhaps the most notable, if only because people tend to watchthem. It’s easy enough for an actor like Martin Lawrence or Rob Schneider to see their stars fade, because they never truly seemed to peak. While both enjoyed a significant amount of box office success and comedy followings, neither seemed to ever seemed to reach the pinnacle of a profession. The Oscar remains the gold standard of an actor’s craft – that’s why people get upset that Gary Oldman is only picking up his first nomination this year, despite being one of the most consistent actors in the business.

Camping it up a notch...

So it has been heart-breaking to watch Cuba Gooding Jr. pull his career into a nose-dive after picking up his Best Supporting Actor award for Jerry Maguire. Sure, we’d see him perform in a few more quality films like As Good As It Gets or American Gangster, but it seemed like his filmography became over-crowded with nonsense like Daddy Day Camp (a film so devoid of merit Eddie Murphy couldn’t be convinced to return) and Norbit.

It became even more depressing when Gooding found himself confined to a long list of “direct to DVD” titles – movies like Hero Wanted, Hardwired, Linewatch, The Ticking Clock. Given the raw talent that Gooding displayed in films like Boyz n da Hood, A Few Good Men and Outbreak, it seems like a pretty depressing chapter in the life of an actor. This is a guy who spouted one of pop culture’s most recognisable catchphrases with “show me the money!”, and with a name that people like my mom and dad still recognise.

It's okay, I forgive you for Snow Dogs...

Of course, it seems to be the way the Hollywood machine churns, and I suspect that money has a lot to do with it. It seemed that Gooding used his Oscar to leverage any number of bigger paydays than he might have otherwise received. I can understand the temptation, and I suspect that Halle Berry did something similar. This seems to set off a downward spiral. The actors inevitably become the most expensive aspects of the films they are starring in, leaving them appearing in movies with dodgy production values, and without anything else to lure viewers in. As a result, their credibility takes a hit and they are left with diminishing returns.

That desire to convert some of their credibility into financial security is perfectly understandable. After all, Michael Caine has long been fond of that approach, appearing in terrible movies like Jaws: The Revenge for large sums of money. “I have never seen it,” he has confessed, “but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!” After all, who can blame actors for seeking that sort of pay-off.

I reckon Michael Caine took a big bite fo the film's budget...

As much as we might laud subtle and nuanced performances in low-key dramas, they don’t tend to pay especially well. Raúl Juliá, one of the most respected Mexican actors of all time, famously took a high-profile role in the terrible movie Street Fighter while in bad health, to allow him to bond with his children and to ensure that they would be looked after should anything happen to him. It was his last major film role. (I’d also argue he is the one truly good thing about the entire film.) I can’t fault him for that.

And, in a way, I can understand why actors like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino are willing to breeze through crap like Little Fockers and Jack and Jill. In a way, they’ve put in their time, they’ve done the hard hours, the intensive roles, the draining characters. They’ve given the audience any number of classic and iconic performances, so why should it be wrong that they spend their later years earning large sums of cash for sleepwalking through terrible films?

A delicious performance...

It gives Pacino enough time and security to work on his own pet projects like Wilde Salome, so why should we complain? Hasn’t he earned the right to do pretty much whatever he wants with his time? We don’t have to see the movies, and we aren’t paying him to appear in them. Of course, this is my opinion having not seen the movie where Al Pacino woos Adam Sandler as Adam Sandler’s identical twin sister, so it’s possible that I am being too kind.

Still, it’s heartbreaking to see old stars fade away, even if you can understand the factors at play. It’s especially frustrating when you knowthat there is so much more they could offer. I don’t think Halle Berry and Cuba Gooding Jr. are bad actors, even if they make bad films. In fact, I’d argue that neither actor ever truly demonstrated their potential. I think Berry is a very solid dramatic actress, who has been wasted on action and adventure films to diminishing returns.

Jack and Jill and "Over the Hill"...

Of course, there’s always hope at the end of the tunnel. After all, Michael Caine was lucky enough to see Cider House Rules resurrect his film career, and he’s done a much better job of balancing credible and engaging roles with the tried-and-tested money-spinners. Sin City and The Wrestler pushed Mickey Rourke back into the spotlight, and gave him a second chance, even if he seems to be doing everything in his power to waste it. Maybe the upcoming adaptation of Cloud Atlas might do that for Berry, affording her a high-profile platform for a comeback.

Or she could always work on a direct-to-video Swordfish 2.

One Response

  1. I feel like those who don’t last were never THAT good to being with. They’re not terrible or anything, but they were popular for having a relatively unique personality/persona that broke at the right time. They were “exciting” but didn’t have the chops to make it long term. They were “stars” more than they were actors.

    With the case of Michael Caine, I think his struggle in the nineties had less to do with Jaws and more to do with his transition from “adult leading man Michael Caine” to “older supporting man Michael Caine”. The nineties was an awkward in-between stage.

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