Greatish Performances #47

lindo greatish

#47 — Delroy Lindo as Rodney Little in Clockers (Spike Lee, 1995)

Through the nineteen-nineties, there was no shortage of gangstas and drug dealers in U.S. cinema. It was partially a reflection of the fretful concerns of the time, when the crack epidemic was a regular facet of alarmist television news reports. The prevalence of such characters could also be attributed to the box office success of handful of films near the beginning of the decade — led by New Jack City and Boyz n the Hood — which spurred studios big and small to decide these asphalt-hard stories of urban life were suddenly worth telling. Whatever positive opportunities arose from diversifying the viewpoint were quickly threatened by the ways in which the new subgenre quickly fell into tropes of predatory villainy and ravaged innocence. Nuance was too rarely part of the narrative.

As might be expected, one of the welcome exceptions to the degradation into cliche came when Spike Lee turned his camera in the proper direction. In directing an adaption of Richard Price’s weighty novel Clockers, a project inherited from Martin Scorsese, Lee took what he needed from the increasingly familiar milieu of street-level hustlers and added careful complexity. In a film well-stocked with fine performers doing first-rate work, no actor reflected and exemplified Lee’s approach better that Delroy Lindo, playing the drug kingpin Rodney Little.

In the standard execution of the story, Rodney is a villain, and similar roles at the time were played like Thanos with a do-rag and a pistol. Lindo has a different take, centered on the relationship with the film’s anguished protagonist, a corner dealer known as Strike (Mekhi Phifer). In his interactions with Strike, Rodney is poised somewhere between father figure and benevolent manager. Without ever layering in warmth that would automatically play as disingenuous, Lindo is constantly expressing concern, as Rodney tries to get Strike to understand the parameters of their business, to personally abstain from their addictive product, or even to get his young charge to see a doctor to address intensifying stomach issues. All of these moments are played with a charismatic calm, Lindo projecting self-assurance through betraying no need to overtly command any given moment. He is a man obviously accustomed to having all around to him bend to his will, and no posturing is needed to maintain his preferred balance of power.

Even in the scene in which Rodney’s anger rises to the point of engaging in violence and threatening far worse, Lindo barely raises his voice. He lashes out with a a firmly maintained control, issuing brutal commands in roughly the same register as his more benign instructions. The lack of escalation — in Lindo’s choice to eschew a moment of florid forcefulness — makes the scene far more menacing and effective. It’s easy to roar and rage through such a moment. An entirely different level of confidence is required to underplay it. Lindo’s performance is so skillful that the brave choices begin to seem like the only feasible way to play the character.

Previously….

About Greatish Performances
#1 — Mason Gamble in Rushmore
#2 — Judy Davis in The Ref
#3 — Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
#4 — Kirsten Dunst in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
#5 — Parker Posey in Waiting for Guffman
#6 — Patricia Clarkson in Shutter Island
#7 — Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise
#8 — Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
#9 — Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy
#10 — Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny
#11 — Nick Nolte in the “Life Lessons” segment of New York Stories
#12 — Thandie Newton in The Truth About Charlie
#13 — Danny Glover in Grand Canyon
#14 — Rachel McAdams in Red Eye
#15 — Malcolm McDowell in Time After Time
#16 — John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
#17 — Michelle Pfeiffer in White Oleander
#18 — Kurt Russell in The Thing
#19 — Eric Bogosian in Talk Radio
#20 — Linda Cardellini in Return
#21 — Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King
#22 — Oliver Platt in Bulworth
#23 — Michael B. Jordan in Creed
#24 — Thora Birch in Ghost World
#25 — Kate Beckinsale in The Last Days of Disco
#26 — Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys
#27 — Wilford Brimley in The Natural
#28 — Kevin Kline in Dave
#29 — Bill Murray in Scrooged
#30 — Bill Paxton in One False Move
#31 — Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight
#32 — Essie Davis in The Babadook
#33 — Ashley Judd in Heat
#34 — Mira Sorvino in Mimic
#35 — James Gandolfini in The Mexican
#36 — Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man
#37 — Kelly Marie Tran in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
#38 — Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
#39 — Kristin Scott Thomas in The English Patient
#40 — Katie Holmes in Pieces of April
#41 — Brie Larson in Short Term 12
#42 — Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums
#43 — Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings
#44 — Matthew Macfadyen in Pride & Prejudice
#45 — Peter Fonda in Ulee’s Gold
#46 — Raul Julia in The Addams Family

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