This week, for example, we lost David Warner, at 80, and Paul Sorvino, at 83. However, with different backgrounds (Warner hailed from Manchester, England, while Sorvino was born and raised in the beautiful borough of Brooklyn, New York), both men had long, distinguished and valued careers as character actors. The two frequently played imposing to intimidating men who, even in relative rest, conveyed implicit threats.
Overall, Warner, whose breakthrough came in the title role of “Morgan!” (1966) as an amorous London artist, had more credits than Sorvino as a hard-core villain, whether as Jack the Ripper escaping HG Wells through the decades to come in “Time After Time (1979), the slimy technical director turning into an even slimmer digital program in “TRON” (1982), a high-ranking Klingon official in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991), and the Hatchet Man sinister and sinister Kate Winslet’s sleazy and sleazy fiancé in “Titanic” (1997). On top of that, there were dozens of television and cartoon voice credits where he was so grimly reliable he had his own coterie of fans who appreciated his durability, professionalism, and strains of dignity. ruined which he managed to conjure up even in the most slander of his villains.
Sorvino was even more beloved, though what many called his signature movie role, mob boss Paulie Cicero in “GoodFellas” (1990), wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy. Paulie de Sorvino towered over finks, cops and co-workers with a gel thick enough to keep the steaks in the next room from spoiling. In a living room teeming with wise men with motorized mouths, Paulie was the one who just stared silently at the others.
Scary — and yet at one point in “GoodFellas,” you see an unexpected side to Paulie. It’s when, with intense concentration and attention to detail, he uses a razor blade to cut the thinnest layer possible from a clove of garlic. Seeing this for the first time in a theater, one imagines a thought bubble illuminating the darkness above everyone’s head saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” This interlude seemed somehow close to the real Sorvino, whose eclectic off-screen pursuits included figurative sculpting.
This summer of transition between the wise men of the big and small screen all but began with the May 26 death of Sorvino’s “GoodFellas” co-star Ray Liotta at 67. Since then, we’ve also had to say goodbye to Tony Sirico, who played Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualteri on HBO’s “The Sopranos.” Sirico, who died July 8 at age 79, played Paulie Walnuts, one of Jersey capo Tony Soprano’s most unstable lieutenants, who maintained a fierce sense of justice and duty in his calling. Nothing chilly or distant in Sirico’s Paulie compared to Sorvino’s. If anything tied the two of them together, it was a crude charm that made them almost—emphasis “almost”—adorable.
Last (so far), but certainly not least, was the move of James Caan, whose name has become a household word for playing the angry Sonny, the eldest of the three cursed sons of Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone. in 1972’s ‘The Godfather. Chicago Bears convicted running back Brian Piccolo in the 1971 TV movie, “Brian’s Song.”
When Caan died, no one could find a single obituary that did not place Sonny Corleone at the forefront of the actor’s oeuvre. I guess that’s how it should have been, given its impact on Caan’s career. But I also think it’s kind of ironic since, in many ways, Sonny was among Caan’s least interesting or multidimensional roles. Considering how things have changed over time for Sonny’s brothers Michael (Al Pacino) and Fredo (John Cazale), he wasn’t even the most interesting Corleone.
In fact, of the criminals played by Caan, the coolest, toughest, and, therefore, most intriguing was in Michael Mann’s 1981 heist thriller “Thief,” in which Caan’s Frank was a veteran safecracker. and an ex-con who conveyed both a serene confidence in his abilities and a delicate caution that enveloped his personality like a force field. I don’t remember Frank saying, “Don’t mess with me, otherwise,” at any point in the movie, because he didn’t have to.
This is what it really means to be a “bad” man – in the best sense of the word.