After finally seeing Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn (it was pretty good), I’ve found myself taken aback by the onscreen power that is Jeremy Davies, who has a supporting role in the film as a crazed POW. Now, this isn’t news to anyone (including myself) who has been paying attention to the young actor over the last 12 years or so, after making his breakthrough starring in David O. Russell’s Spanking the Monkey.
From there on, he kept making smart and/or unusual decisions on his screen roles that seemed more like great opportunities to work with adventurous directors (Wim Wenders’ Million Dollar Hotel, Roman Coppola’s CQ, Lars von Trier’s Dogville). The closest he’s come to a big studio blockbuster (the bit part in Twister doesn’t count), is Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.
Many inaccurately predicted that Davies might earn an Oscar nomination for his tortured, weak, and clever portrayal of Corporal Upham. Just rewatch that scene in which he collapses with fear on those stairs, and allows for his comrade to be brutally killed. According to IMDB, though, the only award Davies has won on his own (not as part of an ensemble) was from the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, for his Upham performance. That’s it.
Maybe Davies doesn’t care about big paychecks or huge recognition, but he warrants both more than most American actors his age. And, when I saw Rescue Dawn, it was his performance – not Christian Bale, not so much Steve Zahn – that really haunted me and showcased an enormous talent. As Gene from Eugene (Oregon), you can never quite tell if he’s friend or foe, calculating or just plain crazy (he’s probably all of the above). All you know is, as usual, you can’t take your eyes off Davies. He’s always been great at disappearing inside his roles, so then again, maybe that’s why he doesn’t get noticed more often.