Specific films come to mind when I think about Mortensen’s filmography. Among the first to flit to memory, believe it or not, is G.I. Jane. It’s the not the greatest movie ever made, but I liked Mortensen’s role in it. In fact, to me, he’s the best part about the film. As Master Chief Urgayle, Mortensen is a no guff, brutally strict and intimidating figure, but he’s neither a villain nor a one-dimensional meanie. He’s an intriguing character with depth and dimension. He quotes a famous poem by D.H. Lawrence for both its imagery and to freak out the trainees. There’s a scene in which he’s reading a novel that’s not on the Navy’s recommended reading list. He also shows a softness for Demi Moore’s character, Jordan O’Neil, the lone woman undergoing SEAL training. He represents the harsh realities a woman might face in this man’s world not as a villain; you get the sense that he genuinely cares how the presence of a woman in this man’s world can make all involved vulnerable.
Mortensen took on a completely different role in the next movie that comes to mind – A History of Violence. The film is an intriguing yet brutally violent tale with surprising revelations and interesting characters. Mortensen is superb as Tom Stall, a seemingly average man who runs a diner and is happily married with two kids. One day, two men stroll into the diner and attempt to kill one of the employees and rob the diner. Tom kills both men and becomes a local hero and celebrity. As a result of his newfound fame, Tom is visited by a man who claims that Tom is really a gangster named Joey Cusack, and suddenly, Tom’s entire identity and his past are called into question.
The duplicity and Tom’s conflicting identities is portrayed so brilliantly by Mortensen. He is truly Tom Stall, the kind, soft-spoken and gentle small town business owner, husband and father, but Joey Cusack also emerges in his capacity for displaying incredible violence. He goes from mild-mannered to brutal fury in seconds, and Mortensen conveys this violence brewing beneath a calm exterior with exceptional skill.
He became a global star playing Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and seems to share a meaningful professional relationship with director David Cronenberg, with whom he’s made three films. In addition to the aforementioned A History of Violence, Mortensen also starred in Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, a film I like even better.
Eastern Promises is an extraordinary crime thriller. More extraordinary is Mortensen’s acting in the film. He completely transforms himself into Nikolai, a violent Russian who’s a driver and bodyguard for a crime family in the Russian mafia in London. Mortensen is Danish-American, not Russian, but he nails the Russian accent and digs so deep to play the role of Nikolai that he simply gets lost in the character. Not for one moment does he slip out of character or relinquish anything, neither mannerisms nor breaks in the accent. He wholly becomes Nikolai that it’s hard to recognize him at first. Very deservedly, Mortensen was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film.
If Mortensen’s last two collaborations with Cronenberg are any indication, I am expecting great things from their most recent enterprise – A Dangerous Method. It will be interesting to see how vividly Mortensen is able to bring famed psychotherapist Sigmund Freud to life. Apparently he even mastered Freud’s penmanship – now that’s dedication and that’s giving your all to your work.
What are your favourite Viggo Mortensen roles? Let us know in the comments section.