Nicholas Barber's the Watch List: James Gandolfini


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The Independent Culture

A melancholy air hangs over Enough Said, a new empty-nest comedy, in that it’s the first James Gandolfini film to be released since his death in June. Fans can console themselves by rewatching DVD box-sets of six series of The Sopranos, but there are plenty of big-screen roles worth remembering, too, many of which capitalise on Gandolfini’s ability to flick between gentleness and viciousness, and to seem like an ordinary Joe doing an ordinary job, even if that job involves murder.

We first saw what he was capable of when he played Virgil, a jovial mob enforcer, in True Romance (1993). Waiting in a motel room for Patricia Arquette, a shotgun laid casually across his lap, he’s slimmer and more dapper than Tony Soprano, but he has that face-crinkling smile, that adenoidal New Jersey murmur, and that capacity for sudden, horrific violence which would become familiar a few years later. 

If (spoiler alert), Virgil had made it out of that motel alive, he might have gone on to become “New York” Mickey in Killing Them Softly (2012), one of three Gandolfini films which feature Brad Pitt. Mickey still shoots people, but in a tragicomic tour de force, he’s now a slovenly walrus, too addled by booze and prostitutes to pull the trigger.

Gandolfini was never what you’d call a chameleon, but two other films illustrate his range. In the Coen brothers’ neo-noir, The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), he plays “Big Dave” Brewster, a suburban loudmouth who jitters between confidence, rage and tearful distress. But in Armando Iannucci’s In The Loop (2009, above), he’s a dove-ish general who never loses his cool, whether he’s working out troop numbers on a singing toy calculator, or matching Malcolm Tucker insult for insult.