Greetings and salutations! Welcome to my post in the Philip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon (hosted by the wonderful Jordan Dodd of Epileptic Moondancer ). My part in this endeavor to celebrate the late, great thespian shall be to examine his portrayal of the wonderfully cunning and sadistic weapons dealer from my (at times) favorite Mission: Impossible, Owen Davian.
Now, to truly understand how much great of a villain Davian is, one must first know the complete and utter lack of competition that he has for his position of greatest M:I villain. In the 4 films, there have been, obviously, 4 villains: Jim Phelps from M:I, Sean Ambrose from M:I-2, and, in the fourth, Ghost Protocol, Kurt Hendricks. Let’s go through each of these, one by one, shall we?
Jim Phelps is just…alright, I guess. He starts out as an IMF agent who dies near the beginning of the film, only to turn up later, alive, as it’s revealed that he was the mole on Ethan’s team. He’s not terrible, but his motivation is just money, and he’s not very captivating or interesting, no insult to Jon Voight intended. I mean, I love National Treasure!
Sean Ambrose is a hilariously bad villain. He’s just a creepy Scottish man who is also an IMF agent, but he turned bad, even though there’s very little in his character to suggest a covert agent, and he seems more like some rich guy. He even dated a master thief while he was a federal agent! Plus, his plan is the “spread virus to sell cure” thing that is always dumb, especially since the cure in this is a cure to all strains of the flu. Seriously? You can’t make enough money on a pseudo-scientific magical flu “cure-all” without creating a pandemic that will kill millions and likely cripple the world economy? Less people means less consumers, less consumers leads to crashing economies, crashing economies leads to devalued currency, making you a lot less rich than you were before. Also, there’s another villain in the form of evil pharmaceutical company CEO-man, but he’s also stupid and boring. Have I mentioned I don’t like Mission: Impossible II? Because I don’t.
And now, on to Kurt Hendricks, the dullest of the dull, in terms of M:I villains. Ghost Protocol is superb in nearly every way, but when it comes to villains, it really drops the ball. Hendricks is basically generic Russian bad guy-man, and doesn’t really do anything worth remembering. He’s just there, and is as interesting in character as a sub-par Mario mini-boss. He wants to cause nuclear war to advance evolution, but he talks about this goal precisely once. In archive footage that Ethan and team look up in his profile. And that’s it.
Now, against this competition, almost any bad guy would look brilliant. I’d hazard a guess that almost every James Bond villain (excluding Dominic Green, of course) could give all of these guys a run for their money. But Owen Davian is better than that. He’s so far ahead of them that he’s on another level of acting entirely. Owen Davian is a sadistic, manipulative, methodical, menacing, and even physically intimidating villain. Yes, I called Philip Seymour Hoffman menacing. Just watch this!
And that’s the opening of the movie!!! I will always maintain that this scene is the best opening scene of any action movie, ever. This is this character’s introduction, and it’s filled to the brim with tension, drama, and suspense. The best part is how going through the motions the character seems to be. He knows what the best way is to get what he wants, and he’ll do that, no matter what that is. He portrays the role with a psychopathically laser-like focus on the objective, the objective is all that matters, and he’ll do anything it takes to complete that. He’s also charismatic, mildly witty (“Oh no, it’s fine. I always spill red wine on my white custom made shirt.), and physically impressive, even having the longest (and most dangerous to Ethan) fight scene with Hunt of any M:I villain. You could argue Sean Ambrose, but that fight is basically Ethan beating him to death for like 2 1/2 minutes. When Davian fights Hunt, it’s only luck that allows Hunt to win.
Not only that, but Davian states his threats so matter-of-factly that it’s really kind of funny, if outright scary (“Who are you? What’s you’re name? Do you have a wife? A girlfriend? Because if you do, I’m gonna find her. I’m gonna hurt her. I’m gonna make her bleed, and cry, and call out your name. And then I’m gonna find you,and kill you right in front of her.”). And he makes good on his promise. Julia does cry out “Ethan,” so he’s one of only a few villains to actually keep a promise. He’s an honest guy. And for a weapons dealer, he’s surprisingly not depicted as a greedy give-me-all-the-money kind of guy, but more as a man who seems like he could be a legitimate businessman, if not for his sociopathic tendencies.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is easily the best part of a movie that could easily have been mediocre without his performance, but was elevated to a higher level due to his dedication to a role in an action movie, making this my favorite Mission: Impossible movie, though that position is conflicted with Ghost Protocol often. I’m going to give Hoffman’s performance an A+.
So, that does it for this post (two in one day, can you believe it guys?), but I’ll see you back here again (unless you never come back? Please do) on Monday with my review of Jurassic Park. Good-bye, thank you for reading, and have a great day.