James Gandolfini dies of heart attack… the news struck especially raw in terms of celebrity deaths. Sure, Gandolfini is most known for his groundbreaking work on TV’s The Sopranos. But, for this Movie Fanatic, he was a character actor whose talents knew absolutely no bounds.
We most recently saw Gandolfini in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Killing Them Softly. In the latter, as we said in our Killing Them Softly review, he gave perhaps the performance of his career on the silver screen. It was a turn that was heartbreaking, powerful and menacing. And think about it: How many actors can pull off that feat? Not many, that is for sure.
So, with his passing, not only has the TV world lost an icon, but the film world now has to adjust to life without the man whose gifts for the art were larger than his persona. And you see that is exactly why this particular celebrity passing is so shocking. Gandolfini was a bright light who illuminated every scene and in real life, every room. Sometimes we feel that those that burn that bright are not supposed to be extinguished so quickly. But then again, too sadly, that is often the case.
Gandolfini first caught our eye when he asked a few questions of an uber-stoned Brad Pitt in 1993’s True Romance. You could see the beginnings of an actor who could envelope any character, but also elevate any film that he was in as well. His being cast could even make a poor movie tolerable, such as his roles in Charlie Sheen’s Terminal Velocity and Sean Penn’s She’s So Lovely.
Can you imagine anyone else playing the roles he did in Get Shorty or Crimson Tide? Hardly, and that was years before the New Jersey native would come to embody one of its most famous fictional characters. When he starred opposite Julia Roberts and Pitt (again) in The Mexican, he crafted a hit-man character that was unlike any that had ever been seen on screen. He was overtly sympathetic, yet still able to instill fear.
Gandolfini could do it all, from comedy -- such as Surviving Christmas -- to noir drama (The Man Who Wasn’t There) and true story riveters such as Zero Dark Thirty. And each time the performance would top the last, but it was always pure Gandolfini.
Recently audiences got to discover even more depth of talent from Gandolfini with his scene stealing roles in The Taking of Pelham 123, providing the voice for Where the Wild Things Are, and showing us a whole new version of what a parent is in Welcome to the Rileys and David Chase’s Not Fade Away.
It is fitting that one of his last roles was in a film (Not Fade Away) written and directed by the man (Chase) who gave him the gift of immortality with the role of Tony Soprano. Yet still I feel as if a sinkhole has just appeared here in Hollywood and unfortunately, we cannot see anything or anyone that could ever replace it.