When a particular performance transcends the film it’s in and enters pop culture, even the whisper of reimagining it with a different actor in a new iteration can be greeted as an affront. On occasion, productions opt to go semi-anonymous with their replacement - see the RoboCop reboot, which swapped the singular gawky vulnerability Peter Weller brought to the title character in Paul Verhoeven’s original with the at-the-time "that guy" Joel Kinnaman. Other times, filmmakers opt to fill the role with the star of the moment, trading on the likelihood that their committed fans will follow them wherever they go, sacred cow role or no - see the ultimately abandoned attempt to land Shia LaBeouf as the scrappy up-and-comer ready to replace Indiana Jones in the eponymous franchise’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
And yet, there are times when the reinvention just plain works. The original lives alongside the reboot, a mutually legitimate take on a particular property. From Hannibal Lecter to James Bond, here are a few examples.
What Anthony Hopkins showcased as Hannibal Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs earned him not only an Oscar for Best Actor, but helped push the whole film to the not-since-repeated “big five,” with it also taking the statues for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Lead Actress. Hopkins is an undeniably unsettling presence throughout the film, deftly alternating between exuding the character’s trademark slick charm and demonstrating the capacity for truly horrific transgressions (the ambulance reveal remains particularly disturbing almost 30 years on).
How exactly Mads Mikkelsen managed to turn in a performance that - if perhaps not greater than Hopkins’s, then is probably equal to it - remains a testament to the Danish actor’s considerable skill. Skirting the actual Silence story in the three seasons Mikkelsen portrayed the title character on NBC’s Hannibal likely helped, as did the sheer volume of screen time. Mikkelsen got to play Lecter outside of the confines of prison, where he’s primarily trapped for much of Demme’s film. That freedom, coupled with executive producer Bryan Fuller’s loose leash from NBC, allowed Mikkelsen’s Lecter to be what Thomas Harris, who created the character, always intended: an elaborate, complicated slayer whom, try as you might, you couldn’t look away from.1,751219Did they do the role justice?
Cape Fear, the 1962 adaptation of John D. MacDonald’s novel The Executioners, boasts quite the menacing performance by Robert Mitchum as the obsessive, ruthless Max Cady. Opposite Gregory Peck, that paragon of straight-laced, old-school virtue, Mitchum’s a very creepy foil. His turn slaying Peck’s dog and shadowing his family remains chilling today, and it would’ve certainly stood as the definitive take on the character had Robert De Niro not come along.
Under Martin Scorsese’s direction, De Niro imbued Cady with a slicker, nastier charm than Mitchum had, very much making the character his own.90079Did they do the role justice?
While the 1960 Rat Pack heist film Ocean’s 11 is not quite remembered today as the star-studded event film it was intended, little of that has to do with Frank Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes’s turn as Danny Ocean, the laconic ringleader of a group of ex-GIs who turn into skilled crooks, is among his best. And, had Steven Soderbergh never come along, Sinatra’s take would’ve remained definitive.
Come along he did, however, three times. Soderbergh’s Oceans films reworked the original’s formula of stuffing enormously famous people into an Altman-adjacent character-fest for the early 2000s. As Ocean, he cast George Clooney, whose slick confidence was a natural update to Sinatra’s. The success of their work together largely displaced the predecessor, which is now better known as the film Soderbergh remade than as the Rat Pack classic it once was regarded as.1,109188Did they do the role justice?
While his legacy today is perhaps better cemented by his collaborations with John Ford and Howard Hawks on the likes of Stagecoach, Rio Bravo, and The Searchers, it took a full decade after the last of those for John Wayne to land his Oscar. The performance he turned in as Rooster Cogburn in Henry Hathaway’s True Grit has all of his trademark swagger and self-regard, and the Academy finally took notice.
How exactly Jeff Bridges got away with reviving the character as the drunken, comic quasi-hero Charles Portis originally wrote him to be likely owes some amount of debt to the Wayne films that, again, people simply know better than Hathaway's version. There just wasn’t an outcry over an actor reviving the western tough guy in the Wayne catalog, Oscar win or not. That was all for the better, too, as Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2010 version of True Grit may be their least-appreciated masterpiece, but masterpiece it very much is. It boasts some of Roger Deakins’s best work, an excellent score from regular Coens collaborator Carter Burwell, the feature debut performance by Hailee Steinfeld, and a downright alchemical pairing in the Coens and Portis’s respective sensibilities. For fans, Bridges’s turn as Cogburn now reads as the more definitive of the two, because how could it not? Cogburn loves to pull a cork, and Bridges plays that in every frame.878235Did they do the role justice?