Anytime an actor has two films currently in circulation, as well as being pegged to play Spiderman in the upcoming franchise reboot, it's easy to say he's pretty much made it as an actor. But before "The Social Network" opened to critical acclaim this past weekend, Andrew Garfield probably wasn't identifiable as a house hold name just yet. And in reality, even though I'm probably in the minority for not doing handstands over "The Social Network", Garfield has been universally singled out as the real main character of Fincher's icy trip into early 2000's dot com explosions headed by geek sociopath Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg). Garfield's portrayal of Zuckerberg's college chum, initial partner and money investor Eduardo Savarin holds the audience key to empathy in an otherwise distant examination of upper class Harvard blowhards. It's also his scene, when he realizes he's been pinched out of the financial windfall of the now international Facebook idea, that holds the most zing in "The Social Network". Garfield's expression of betrayal and momentary reclamation of his emotions is a thing of beauty in a film that chooses to avoid emotions. This is why "best supporting actor" awards were invented.
Garfield first popped up on the radar in 2007 as the troubled youth running from his past in John Crowley's understated "Boy A". Encompassing each frame of that film with a tense presence, Garfield projected the uncomfortable sense that the camera couldn't hold him if he wanted to dash away. Yet when the film called for him to settle into the pose of a well-adjusted twenty something as he goes on dates with a fellow co-worker, Garfield immediately flipped a switch and turned the dangerous into something timid, unsure of himself and tongue tied. It may seem easy to portray a damaged soul, but Garfield takes things to another level in "Boy A", aided by a superb script and melancholy finale.
After his role as the intellectual doubter in Robert Redford's "Lions For Lambs", Garfield's next amazing performance came in "1974" of the "Red Riding Trilogy", a triplet of films so brutal, so well structured and intimate that I watched them in a complete five hour sitting and they still remain as one of the very best films of 2010. While each episode has its strengths, Garfield kicks the torrid affair off as new investigative reporter Eddie Dunsford who comes into the town of Yorkshire, prodding his stagnant peers and the local police to look beyond the obvious when a series of schoolgirls are found murdered over 6 years. It's his investigation that eventually emanates through the next two films, "1980" and "1983", uncovering webs of police corruption and perversion. Garfield makes a convincing turn from cocky journalist to bloodied avenger, but again, it's the warmer moments that define his performance. During his investigation, Garfield comes in contact with the mother of one of the murdered girls (another actress on the rise both overseas and here, Rebecca Hall). His questioning about the young girl's death butt up against the sorrow of a mother, and it's a refreshing compromise made by both actors in the scene that plays out with real emotion instead of a rote narrative. For what its worth, Garfield is great here, but Rebecca Hall breaks my heart in this film.
I've skipped over two performances, namely the weird (what else) Terry Gilliam film "The Imaganarium of Doctor Parnassus" which finds Garfield playing the mortal dreamer in a universe of imagination. It's not a bad performance by any means, its just always hard to find the acting propensity in Gilliam's overly decorated and saturated fairy tales. The other current film in rotation for Garfield is Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go", which I'll hopefully catch later this week. Judging by the previews, Garfield gives another knockout performance.
Reading through viewer comments about "The Social Network" on several blogs these past few days, it's clear that audience enthusiasm is lagging behind critical appreciation a bit, but everyone singles out Garfield's performance. In just three years, Garfield has materialized into something special. I predict a certain gold statue in his life very soon.