Brendan Fraser is an early contender for next year’s Oscars courtesy of his work in The Whale – and lots of us couldn’t be happier for him.
Over the weekend, reviews started to tumble in for Brendan Fraser’s eagerly-awaited return to a major movie leading role.
He headlines Darren Aronofsky’s new film The Whale, and at the Venice Film Festival, footage has emerged of him visibly moved as the movie earned a rapturous standing ovation following its debut screening. This isn’t Fraser’s only recent acting role, but it is his highest profile in some time, certainly on the big screen. It’s proven to be a very welcome one.
The response to The Whale has already started migrating to Oscar talk (and exposed a bunch of cretins who think fatshaming is a good idea, but moving on…), and Fraser – early days – is expected to be in the running come awards season. I’ve not seen the film, but can’t help but wish him well. The footage of him getting choked up led to a torrent of warm appreciation for him over the usually toxic waters of social media.
It might be remiss to call it his work in The Whale a full-on comeback, given that Fraser has been back for a little while now. But few Hollywood leading men over the last 25 years attract so much goodwill, and clearly continue to do so. I wonder just how aware Fraser himself is aware of that.
The core reason he’s attracting it? Well, he’s quite something, isn’t he, a quite brilliant presence on the big screen. And in particular, he had a run of films in the 1990s and early 2000s that rightly cemented him as a genuine big screen movie star. One who just happened to be able to act as well.
Let’s go back to those days when his star power ignited. There was a run of well-chosen films he made as his career ascended where he emerged as a first-rate Hollywood leading male movie star. The obvious jewel in the commercial crown was The Mummy from back in 1999, and even it’s not particularly strong sequel, The Mummy Returns.
Appreciating there are lots of reasons why those films hit as they did, and plenty more people who also deserve a slice of the credit, but surely it was Fraser that rocket-fuelled them. His work particularly in the first The Mummy is pretty much faultless. A film that could have skewed outright horror has become a firm rewatch favourite thanks to as good a blockbuster lead performance as we get in the whole decade. One that stands up today, to multiple rewatches, and deserves to sit alongside Harrison Ford’s work in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. You just want to watch him. Spend time with him. And then do it all again.
Just go and dig The Mummy out if you don’t believe me. Fraser is that rare big screen Venn diagram of funny, likeable, able to take an audience with the story, all with real charm. Thing is, it was no fluke. I often come back to 1997’s George Of The Jungle as the moment Fraser’s crossover potential was laid bare on the screen. Again, a superb comedy leading performance that he makes look simply effortless. There’s comedic range to the man, and what was a relatively low cost Disney comedy became something a whole lot more by a masterstroke of casting. Nobody, also, has smashed into trees better on the big screen.
Fraser’s ability to choose a good project didn’t desert him in the midst of his blockbuster highs either. His breakthrough, after all, came in the excellent drama School Ties. But reading some of the notices for The Whale, it’s almost as if there’s surprise that there’s an award-winning actor in him.
The evidence was always there, even if awards voters were reluctant to put the right mark in the right box. It was 1998’s Gods And Monsters for instance that earned Ian McKellen another Best Actor Oscar nomination, but Fraser’s superb supporting work in that film was robbed of major recognition for my money. Likewise, look at his turn in 2002’s The Quiet American. There’s no chasing the box office dollar there, instead an excellent drama that’s again well worth digging out if you’ve not seen it. Its leading man once more – Sir Michael Caine in this case – got a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Fraser’s superb supporting turn was overlooked.
Hollywood got good at this, of rewarding the leading performances whilst not acknowledging the terrific supporting turn that made them work. Look at Denzel Washington in Philadelphia as a further example of that.
Fraser’s successes were against a backdrop of living his life, not slagging people off, not showcasing his ego in his publicity and generally being decent. It’s Fraser that got me to films such as Blast From The Past, Bedazzled and even Dudley Do-Right. And whilst some of those are better than others, I never got a sense that he wasn’t putting in a shift.
For those then who haven’t followed Fraser’s career from its early days, perhaps all the fuss may be something of a mystery. But what’s coming across in the bulk of the coverage I’ve read thus far is a clear affection for the man and his work, and an appreciation of what he’s already put on the screen over the past couple of decades. He’s a stranger to most of us, of course, but that hasn’t stopped a groundswell of a support towards an actor who has given an awful lot of us so much entertainment.
But even as he was doing so, he then mysteriously dropped off the radar for a bit. And his work was missed, his absence noticed.
Of his disappearance from the public eye, Brendan Fraser is now the reason I no longer write ‘whatever happened to’ articles. With all good intentions, at my previous job I penned a piece wondering what had happened to an actor who’d given me so many hours of enjoyment on the big screen. The truth, horribly, came out not long after: firstly, that Fraser had undergone several rounds of surgery following the fallout from his Hollywood roles. And then, in 2018, he made an allegation of sexual assault. That he was sexually assaulted in 2003, and against a further backdrop of grief and separation, suffered from depression.
He opened up about this in a wide-ranging interview some time ago now, and here he is, putting himself out there back into the world when, well, who wouldn’t understand if he just wanted to give it all up forever.
What did Brendan Fraser ever do for us, then?
Well, he’s still doing it. He’s entertaining us, and putting his work out there for others to enjoy and appreciate. One of the finest leading men of his generation has found his voice and outlet again. And I hope that the huge support he’s been receiving from movie fans demonstrates to him that he absolutely hasn’t been forgotten about, and that his work still gives a whole lot of joy to a whole lot of people. Long may that continue.
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