Saturday, July 21, 2007

Muriel Awards 2007 FYC #4

Best Lead Actor: Sam Rockwell, Joshua

For a movie that's advertised as an evil-kid chiller, Joshua is positively awash in thematic richness. The eerily self-assured Jacob Kogan perfectly embodies the title character, a crafty pint-sized manipulator whose selfish shenanigans tear his family apart. But Joshua wouldn't pack half its punch if not for the performance of Sam Rockwell as Joshua's father. Rockwell, who usually gets cast as oddballs, works wonders in the role of an average white-collar shmoe who is in over his head with his son. Rockwell's Brad isn't perfect, but his minor foibles- a slacker-ish obliviousness, for one- only make him more sympathetic as an audience surrogate. We're with Brad, and Rockwell, all the way, and so the thematic issues that spring from his relationship with Joshua become much more than simply academic. We honestly sympathize as he struggles with a son who has turned out nothing like him. But it goes deeper than that. Brad came of age at a time that when Whitney Houston (no great mom herself) sang "I believe that children are the future/ teach them well and let them lead the way/ show them all the beauty they possess inside," and when Brad finds himself confronted with his own son, who not only doesn't wish to be taught but possesses no beauty within, Rockwell's pain becomes ours. The horror of Joshua comes not from cheap scare tactics but from profound psychological dread, and Rockwell's performance makes this possible. By the end of the film, Brad begins to act in ways that our child-sanctifying society deems inexcusable, but under the circumstances, I'm not sure I would act any differently. In short, Brad is us, and in the end, that becomes his tragedy.

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