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Retro Rental: Relive Bob Hoskins’ Greatest Moments With ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’

'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'
Disney

[Each week, inspired by what's in theaters or in the news or even just by random firings of neurons, 'Retro Rental,' by film critic James Rocchi, looks at an older film on disc or download that links up to the here-and-now ...]

The release of ‘Jaws’ to Blu-ray already had me thinking about the past, and then news came that Bob Hoskins had announced both the sad fact of his Parkinson’s Disease and his retirement. This is a private tragedy to those who knew him, of course, but certainly, even in a minor key, a moment of note for anyone who loved good film acting.

In fact, I can tell you my moment with Hoskins, and my moment of recognizing him as a great. Thanks to the accident of age and upbringing, it was not ‘Mona Lisa’ or ‘Brazil’ that marked my first brush with Hoskins. It was his work in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ as private eye Eddie Valiant, and that work is a masterpiece of film comedy acting.

I don’t use the “M”-word a lot, or I try not to, but I mean it here. Up alongside, say, Kaye. Hoskins didn’t just have to work opposite ludicrous Rube Goldberg contraptions that moved props and objects; he had to bring animated characters to life as characters without them even being there. At the time I remember seeing the film and noting a visible cable with disdain as an animated muscle-bound bouncer roughed Hoskins up and hurled him out of a cartoon-character’s bar and across an alleyway. My teen brain, ahead of itself, noted with an arrogant sneer (It should be noted for the record that yes, my teen brain, like teen me, was kind of a jerk): See, they had to use a cable; there’s no way that animated bodyguard could have thrown Hoskins that far. …

And if there’s magic at the movies, it’s in that kind of moment of the film’s state-of-the-1988-art trickery, when my 18-year-old brain outsmarted itself. And all due credit to Robert Zemeckis — yes, a phrase I’ll not often say — and his army of technicians and lawyers working out every cross-over, but it’s Hoskins who makes the film come alive in every shot with the classic skills of a master clown, which are a very particular set of skills, one which not all great actors have. The fact that when, in the film’s great “hero” moment, Hoskins saves the day by turning his frown upside down and not just performing but delighting in a musical number — one which he executes every part of flawlessly, with a flesh-and-blood liveliness to match any presence painted on-screen by that film’s delightful, diabolical inventions and inventors.

And that led me to ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘The Long Good Friday’ and Hoskins himself kept on taking lively roles when he could have retreated into age like a comfy cardigan. His work in 1999′s ‘Felicia’s Journey’ was his squalid masterpiece. Even up to now, he jolted and jazzed up productions — perhaps even some that might not have deserved it. He was always and ever a tough, adept actor, a diamond in the rough.

Even at 18 when I saw ‘Who Framed…’ or however old you were when you saw it, even in that broad and bright and oddly wonderful film, even that long ago: You knew Hoskins had it. We cannot begin to imagine the private pain of his family and associates. But as members of the moviegoing public, as anyone whoever got to see as little as five minutes of him in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit,’ it isn’t hard at all to imagine what we lose this week.

‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ is on DVD and VOD.

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