Category Archives: Characters that I love

Characters that I love #3 – Cosmo (He’s Chinese) – Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)

To commemorate Guy Fawkes Night (and the constant racket outside my window), here’s a reminder of the classic minor character who wanders aimlessly around drug dealer Rahad Jackon’s house, constantly setting off deafening bangers that cause coked-up-to-the-eyeballs Dirk Diggler and friends to repeatedly jump out of their skin. Amazing scene.

“It’s Cosmo. He’s Chinese!

Characters that I love #2 – Steve Park as Mike Yanagita in Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996)

Surely only the Coen Brothers could make time in such a lean, spare thriller as Fargo for an ostensibly meaningless character to temporarily derail the action so late into the film. Colourful bit-parts are par for the Coen course in their wackier fare (David Thewlis’ preposterous artist Knox Harrington in The Big Lebowski springs to mind), but when small-town police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) sits down to dinner with old school friend Mike Yanagita, Fargo grinds to an initially bewildering halt.

The dinner scene is funny-excruciating. Mike’s flirtatious and frankly sinister attempt to sit next to (happily married) Marge is rebuffed with clinical haste, and before long he is wailing about being lonely, and tearfully tells of the sad death of his wife Linda from leukaemia.  The two part ways, Marge sympathetic. However, it is soon revealed to Marge in a phonecall from a friend that Mike had made the whole thing up – Linda is alive and well, they were never together, and Mike lives with his parents (“He’s been struggling”). And that’s that for Mike Yanagita…

Yet there is more to this sadsack fantasist than meets the eye. In a perceptive analysis on the Kinosaur website,  it is suggested that Yanagita’s interjection is crucial to the forward mechanic of the plot; Marge, upon discovering that she has been lied to by Mike, is piqued by her own gullibilty and subsequently catalysed to pay a second visit to the wheedling car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H Macy), thus prompting him to flee in desperation.

Furthermore, Yanagita’s fantasist ways act as a subtle counterpoint to those of Lundegaard. His tragic fabrication of a wife and her demise is certainly sad, and not a little twisted, but exists in his head. Conversely, an equally perverse confection from the mind of Lundegaard, manifested in his doomed kidnap plot, makes it to reality and culminates in the decimation of his own family, leaving his son Scotty without a mother (deceased), grandfather (deceased) and father (jailed).  On a side note, it always gnawed at me slightly that the Coens didn’t show us a little bit more of the tragic impact that the whole familial house of cards had on young Scotty.

Yanagita is played by the veteran character actor Steve Park, who you may recognise from his role as the spirited Korean grocer from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. He also appeared in the brothers’ 2009 masterpiece A Serious Man as the deadpan father of a blackmailing student, inviting the hapless protagonist Larry Gopnik, in the film’s key line, to “accept the mystery”.

Characters that I love #1 – Mark Wahlberg as Sgt. Dignam in The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)

In a hit-and-miss film littered with wildly uneven performances, one man stands alone.

It’s not Matt Damon, nor Leo DiCaprio (yet to adopt ‘jaw-wired-shut and haunted with a slight moustache’ as his stock-in-trade) who, to be fair, give solid turns. It’s not Jack Nicholson, so over the top here that he makes Jack Torrance look as restrained as the girl who won’t talk from Corrina, Corrina. And it’s certainly not Ray Winstone, who mistakes a convincing Boston accent with speaking Cockney in a slightly lower register than usual.

No, the man who steps up to the plate is Mark Wahlberg, inhabiting his Boston roots with utter relish as Staff Sgt. Dignam, and stealing absolutely every scene that he’s in in the process.  Wahlberg hadn’t been this good since his mindboggling turn in Boogie Nights, and its arguable that he hasn’t been since, despite appealing performances in I Heart Huckabees and more recently The Other Guys.

Dignam is a solid cop, handy with his fists, and classically volatile.  He’s also the kind of guy we’d all love get away with being at work; nakedly, unashamedly scathing and unimpeachably rude to his colleagues as and when it suits him.  But his ire is not limited to just his workmates, rather anyone he encounters. His stinging one-liners provide the memorable highlights of the film:

“I’m the guy who does his jobYou must be the other guy.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s say you have no idea and leave it at that, okay? No idea. Zip. None. If you had an idea of what we do, we would not be good at what we do, now would we? We would be cunts. Are you calling us cunts?”

And just to confirm Mark Wahlberg’s absolute owning of the film, it is Dignam who appears at the end to plant the retributive bullet into the head of the treacherous Sullivan (Damon), and calmly exit stage left.

Sgt. Dignam, I salute you.

The Best of Mark Wahlberg as Sgt. Dignam on YouTube.