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    Competing with Himself: Ed Harris

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Actor/director Ed Harris turned 65 over the weekend, but this Jersey boy’s magic digit in the Twilight Time numerological world is four, as in four fabulous and formidable performances in the label’s hi-def Blu-ray library. “One of the first things I learned about acting was,” Harris once said, “the only person you compete against is yourself.” Harris had two great parts that hit theatres simultaneously in October 1983, and in his review of director Roger Spottiswoode’s gritty war thriller Under Fire (1983), Vincent Canby remarked in The New York Times of one key character: “He is a viciously amoral, apolitical American mercenary soldier, extremely well played by Ed Harris, who, I report with some awe, uses many of the same mannerisms here that are so effective in his performance as John Glenn in The Right Stuff.” The following year, Harris soulfully, tenderly played a small-town philanderer in the sterling ensemble of Robert Benton’s majestic Places in the Heart (1984), again a flawed character who nonetheless connects with the audience. Harris went darker the following year in Louis Malle’s brooding Alamo Bay (1985), as a downtrodden Texas fisherman allying himself with racists who want to rid the area of Vietnamese emigrés who, though they fought side-by-side with Americans in the Vietnam conflict, now constitute competition and a threat to the locals’ livelihood. His frustrating helplessness and seething anger are only assuaged by his charged and consuming adulterous affair with an old flame (Amy Madigan), and the mix of desperation and desire in his character are fueled by the very real bond the two actors share as an off-screen married couple (still happily hitched, recently celebrating their 32nd anniversary) who wed following their work on Places in the Heart. The fourth face of Harris is a blend of all the above, world-weary and weakening from years of the criminal grind, but fiercely loyal and ominously menacing at once, in director Phil Joanou’s knockout State of Grace (1990). The figurehead of a Westies-inspired Irish gang on Manhattan’s West Side populated by neighborhood returnee Sean Penn and loose cannon Gary Oldman, his veneer of suburban respectability is no match for the ferocity of the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. Harris’ calculating cold-bloodedness here occasioned film historian David Thomson to observe that he “outplays both Sean Penn and Gary Oldman.” A four-time Oscar® nominee, Harris has played the famous and the infamous with equal gusto and complexity, and his TT quartet of Under Fire, Places in the Heart, Alamo Bay and State of Grace are proof-positive that the 65-year-old powerhouse shines uniquely even in the most stellar company.