Rogue of the Week: Peter Sarsgaard

Thursday, 16 June 2011 17:40 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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Rogue of the Week: Peter Sarsgaard

As Hal Jordan,  the hero of Green Lantern, leading man Ryan Reynolds sports a CGI supersuit, flies around the cosmos engaging in derring-do, and of course, gets the girl, played by Blake Lively.  While he's doing that, Peter Sarsgaard is playing Dr. Hector Hammond, a scientist whose contact with the entity Parallax turns him from an ordinary guy with a bad haircut and a worse mustache into a cackling menace who looks like the Elephant Man's evil cousin.  Guess which actor walks away with the movie?  For his performance in Lantern, and his years as an invaluable scene-stealer, Peter Sarsgaard is our latest Rogue of the Week.

The subtle, unconventional actor made his feature debut in 1995, as the murdered student Walter Delacroix in Dead Man Walking, directed by Tim Robbins, who actually plays his character's father, Senator Hammond, in Green Lantern.  While the big roles in the earlier film are played wonderfully by Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, Sarsgaard's brief appearance in flashbacks makes an indelible impression, reminding audiences of the truly horrific act at the story's center. 

The role also provides a template of sorts for much of Sargaard's work over the years: creating nuanced, well drawn supporting characters who propel the story and compliment their protagonists.

In The Salton Sea, Val Kilmer plays a former jazz-musician immersed in the Los Angeles drug culture, with Sarsgaard as his sidekick and unwitting informant, a mullet-wearing, speed addicted innocent known as Jimmy the Finn.  Kilmer's quest dominates the twisty-turny, noir-inflected tale, but Jimmy's naivete and obvious need for approval make him stand out in a film populated by degenerates, eccentrics, and criminals.

As New Republic editor Charles Lane in the 2003 fact-based drama Shattered Glass, he found what is, in many respects, the prototypical Peter Sarsgaard role.  Erstwhile Anakin Skywalker Hayden Christensen stars in the flashier role of Stephen Glass, a star reporter who fabricated nearly all of his popular stories, but it's Sarsgaard who holds the film together as a new boss torn between his loyalty to his staff and the suspicion that Glass may be utterly full of it.

Then there's Garden State, in which Zach Braff writes, directs, and stars as a medicated young man returning home to New Jersey for his mother's funeral.  Sarsgaard plays a misanthropic gravedigger and confidant.  What could have simply been an amusing one note sidekick – the kind of guy who steals from corpses and refers to collecting Desert Storm trading cards as "investing" – is, in Sarsgaard's hands, a surprisingly soulful addition who supports the protagonist's arc, as is so often the case with this actor.

Speaking of Desert Storm, in Sam Mendes' Gulf War drama Jarhead, Jake Gyllenhaal narrates and carries the story, but it is Sarsgaard's character, Troy, who has a more substantial arc.  Sarsgaard, who is actually married to Gyllenhaal's sister Maggie Gyllenhaal, plays his partner-in-sniping, a low-key Marine who goes through real change and experiences real catharsis.  Like Shattered Glass, it's really Sarsgaard's story, albeit with another character moving things along.

Finally, there's 2009's An Education, where he plays a charming older British gent who is charming the much-younger high school student played by Carey Mulligan.  Mulligan continues to be justifiably lauded for her Oscar-nominated performance, but a whole lot of people overlook Sarsgaard as David, where the actor has to simultaneously convey an overwhelming charm and something very unsavory just beneath the surface.  Once again, he hits exactly the right note for the film and his fellow actors.

So if you check out Green Lantern this weekend, make sure to take some time to appreciate the work of Peter Sarsgaard, our latest Rogue of the Week.  He sneers, squeals, and screeches his way through a wonderfully disgusting, greasy performance, one that makes a big mark in a film jam-packed with summer movie spectacle and the biggest visual effects money can buy. 

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