"There can't be a conspiracy..."
Wanna hear one of the most insane but true statements in film history? Donald Sutherland has never been nominated for an Oscar. Now let me state that again for anyone who thinks they might have misread that sentence...Donald Sutherland has never been nominated for an Oscar. I can't think of many more oversights in the history of The Academy Awards more shameful than the fact that they have overlooked year after year after year one of our most intelligent and valuable actors. Sutherland shouldn't even be a candidate for this list (with one of the main rules being no Oscar nominees) but facts are facts and the man who has turned in some of the great performances in screen history has really never been given the due he has so deserved.
Frankly, there are dozens of Donald Sutherland performances I could have gone with for this list so I just went with my gut and chose my favorite...that of doomed Matthew Bennell in Philip Kaufman's stunning 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one of my all-time favorite films. I have written on the film before so I will leave most of the time to my contributor today, but I will just ask that you go back and watch this film again and pay particular attention to Donald Sutherland's performance. He slips into Bennell completely and projects the character's initial disbelief, questioning and finally terrifying acceptance with astonishing capability. Most actors might have looked upon a role in a science fiction horror remake as just an excuse to pick up a check, but Sutherland plays this role with all the conviction and power he could muster. His work makes what would already be a major film into something even more mesmerizing and powerful.
I am very pleased tonight to offer up a guest contribution on Donald Sutherland from my friend, the award-winning filmmaker John Levy. I first fell under the spell of John's incredible short-films a couple of years back and he has become one of my best online friends, and I am always amazed by how close our tastes always seem to match up. After reading John's terrific contribution on Sutherland please visit his La Belle Aurore page where you can read about, and watch, some of his amazing work, including his truly exceptional Tabula Rasa, which just won a much-deserved audience award at the Once a Week Online Film Festival.
John is a great friend and a great artist and I am honored that he offered up this piece on one of our shared favorite actors. Thanks so much John!
-John Levy on Donald Sutherland, written for Moon in the Gutter (2012)-
"Donald Sutherland has one of the greatest, and possibly most overlooked, bodies of work of any actor alive today. From the mid 60’s to the early 80’s he has a section of work that rivals the most notable and celebrated actors of all time, with roles both supporting and as lead that are so many distant worlds apart and yet equally impressive. From Kelly’s Heroes to Steelyard Blues. Don’t Look Now to The Disappearance. Klute to Ordinary People. What works for him time and time again is his subtlety and naturalism. No matter how many times you’ve seen him before, he is completely believable and unpredictable. Amazing actors like Deniro and Pacino (so brilliant) always kind of have one thing working against them, which is the audience expectation of always anticipating a performance that will reach to extremes levels of intensity. But Sutherland is kind of the other way. He is so subtle in carrying himself like the subject of a documentary that when he has a moment of vulnerability, or emotional eruption, it is absolutely polarizing to the viewers mind and memory. On the surface there is no ego in his heroics. No suave in his romance. No menace in his evil. Examples that come to mind are him succumbing to Jane Fonda’s manipulative seduction in Klute. And the revelation of his villainy then tenderness, then further villainy in The Eye Of The Needle. Even in later performances like Backdraft, where he plays an arsonist, the madness of his character is all in his eyes. He jolts the viewer’s preconception of character types. But even better, he humanizes all of them just as Deniro or Pacino would. But where some actors are intricate muralists, Sutherland is an ambiguous minimalist. There is a moment in Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, far into the ongoing chase of the film, when Brooke Adams literally crumbles in Sutherland’s arms. And his reaction is seemingly so void of performance that it pushes the emotional currency of the film to another level, reminding you of the stakes, that at that point in the film, may have fallen a bit to the background. It’s the last cry and whimper for humanity. And without that, it would still be a great film, but it was dramatic gravy that made it an indelible moment. That’s all Sutherland. "