Monday, May 26, 2008

Sydney Pollack (1934-2008)

We could have just thrown in your Kansas City Royals as an annual death pool candidate, but word came down earlier today that Director Sydney Pollack has gone to his great reward. He's mostly remembered as an award winning film director, although a number of his movies don't hold up like many of his contemporaries, and I found him much better as an actor in small roles.

There are two great small but effective performances from Pollack that I'll always remember. The first was in Stanley Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut, where he played Victor Ziegler, a horny old man who ultimately warns Tom Cruise's character to stop going to those crazy orgies. Or at the very least, stop snooping around as to who's behind all of those masks.

The second, and most recent, was his brilliant turn in one of the final episodes of "The Sopranos", where he played Warren Feldman, an insane former doctor who becomes friends with Johnny Sack in a prison hospital. "Let me spare you the awkwardness," Warren tells Johnny when they first meet. "I killed my wife. Not that it's any excuse. I had reason to believe she was cheating on me at the time with her chiropractor. Granted, I was abusing cocaine at the time. And alcohol. But I came home one day, shot her four times. Twice in the head. I killed her aunt, too. I didn't know she was there. And the mailman. At that point, I had to fully commit." The episode ("Stage 5") finds Johnny dealing with the death sentence that came from almost 40 years of chain smoking, contemplating his legacy and ultimately dying in the prison hospital. But it's Pollack's performance that steals every scene. Yes, David Chase made it a point to cast old film directors in small roles throughout the course of the series, but Pollack made the most of his moment here.

The irony from that role is Pollack died in the same way that Johnny Sack did. Found out about a spreading cancer only to pass months later.

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