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Filmism.net Dispatch September 3, 2012

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You know Jon Voight from movies like Deliverance, Heat and the critically acclaimed, searing drama of Anaconda. After a 60 year career you know Ralph Bellamy from Golden years romps as old as His Girl Friday and modern classics like Trading Places.

And who doesn't know and love Bill Murray? For the longest time, right up until 1997's The Man Who Knew Too Little, he was a 'mere' comedy actor, beloved for Stripes, Meatballs, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

I loved everything Bill Murray did way before Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola turned his career into something else entirely with Rushmore and Lost in Translation. I don't think you can say you've always been a Bill Murray fan unless you've seen and loved the ace Quick Change, the best Christmas movie ever in Scrooged and even the nobody-saw-it Larger Than Life.

Now he's in a very different zone, a smart indie performer who brings a huge cachet of traditional comic experience to roles in films like Coffee and Cigarettes, Broken Flowers and Get Low.

But what do the three men above have in common? Here's an exercise. Go online and look for pictures of them. In fact, Filmism.net's done it for you (Bill Murray, Jon Voight, Ralph Bellamy, just scroll down a little). Now, Voight and Bellamy might have a passing resemblance, but where Murray looks like your sarcastic, witty and lovable uncle, there's always been something slightly cheek-clenched evil about Voight's face. The point is they don't look that much alike.

But that right there my friends is the art of the performance player. All three men have now played America's World War II era president, Franklin D Roosevelt. Bellamy did so twice, in 1960's Sunrise at Campobello and TV's War and Remembrance, a mini-series from 1988. Voight played FDR in Michael Bay's quiet, sensitive medication on war and morality Pearl Harbor.

And now Murray joins them because of Hyde Park on Hudson, which is already getting rave reviews. If you watch each performance (together with some footage or at least audio of the real FDR), you can see how each actor transforms himself by adopting a few of Roosevelt's tics or idiosyncracies. Bellamy captured his bombastic voice, Voight the way he moves his head when he speaks.

With Murray it's less obvious. He's not as deeply buried in the character as Voight was, but he still makes Roosevelt his own (see more in the trailer). Throw in the right costumer and production designer and that's the magic we see on the screen.

It's easy for such work to slip into caricature. Some critics were unimpressed enough with The Iron Lady to consider it merely a very good impression of Margaret Thatcher with nothing else on offer. So those arts of course need the right story to perform against, but when they get it right like they did in films like The Queen, the result is transformative for us as well as the actor.

But for Pete's (Venkman) sake Bill, please just do Ghostbusters III so we can all get on with our lives.

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