Now Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale has premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, many are being reminded of Brendan Fraser’s greatness. The beloved actor, who was a ’90s movies mainstay, is on a victory lap, having fought his way back into the limelight after some time away.
The drama movie is an Oscars frontrunner, with Best Actor among the categories where a nomination seems assured. It’s all coming up Fraser, prolonged standing ovations and all. Some of us never needed reminding of his talent, of course, but that’s neither here nor there – what matters is he’s back.
The ‘Brenaissance’ is in full swing. Like Ben Affleck, Matthew McConnaughey, and others before him, the prestige festivals are part of a rehabilitative arc for Fraser’s career. It’s a well-trodden journey in Hollywood, and one that started with Fraser doing some of his best work for grossly under-appreciated DC sci-fi series Doom Patrol.
If you’ve never seen or heard of Doom Patrol, that’s not entirely your fault. Since debuting on the ill-fated streaming service DC Universe in 2019, Doom Patrol was moved to HBO Max, where it has since lived with little promotion or advertising.
The TV series follows a group of misfit mutants, each with powers that have manifested from some sort of heinous accident or circumstance, who’re forced to battle villains like Mr Nobody and the Candlemaker. They’re brought together as a sort of body horror X-Men by the Chief, a kindhearted doctor who believes he can help them.
Fraser plays Clint Steele, a former top NASCAR driver who’s so badly deformed in a car crash that his consciousness is placed into a robot body. Not exactly sleek, his metal prison is angular and bronze-coloured, forcing him to relearn how to walk and manoeuvre all over again, not to mention being practically impossible to hide if he ventures into the outside world.
He might have it easy when you consider his teammates: Larry, a pilot covered in radioactive burns who has a mysterious, ephemeral spirit living inside him; Rita, a glamorous actor with a habit of melting into a gelatinous blob; and Jane, who erratically shifts between her multiple distinct personalities.
Clint’s portrayal is split between flashbacks, fully performed by Fraser, and the present where the former George of the Jungle voices his cyborg self, bodied onscreen by Riley Shanahan. Either half is worth commending – Fraser finds and keeps Clint’s tenderness among all his philandering, bingeing, and nihilism, while his voice always sounds on the edge of tears in his current predicament.
It’s the duality that’s truly remarkable. When playing Clint, Fraser’s performance is loose and arrogant, almost flippant. As a man, Clint Steele had been swallowed by all the fame and excess. He treated everything and everyone as disposable. Tragically, his accident happens right when he realises he wants to fix things with his wife Kate and daughter Clara.
Once he wakes up in his metallic cage, he becomes angry and depressed, struggling to contemplate the depths of what’s happened to him. His facial features are limited, giving Fraser only a small amount to work with. Every line still sounds full and committed, coated by some vocal effects to demonstrate he’s echoing through his own iron cranium.
Everyone in the Doom Patrol suffers a distinct kind of loneliness, but Clint’s includes the particular sting of being self-imposed. He’d pushed everyone that mattered away. When he loses his human form, all that’s left are his thoughts, still percolating with remorse and regret. But now that’s all there is, echoing around the confines of a humanoid shell doomed to never age.
He’s caught right at the point where he wanted to fix things, in a position where he never will. That’s a heavy kind of heartache, a burden that puts a lump in your throat just thinking about it. Fraser keeps it there, right on the tip of his tongue. He wants to cry but can’t, stuck with that light crackle on every other sentence.
It’s incredible, as is most of what’s achieved on Doom Patrol, and were it part of a prestige drama on HBO or on a platform people knew existed or how to access, it would’ve caused more commotion. Still probably wouldn’t have gotten Fraser the kind of approval he’s currently enjoying, mind, because renaissances are only regarded when they reach the big screen.
McConnaughey’s occurred on Mud and Dallas Buyers Club, the latter where he got his Best Actor Oscar. Affleck had Argo, which earned him the Best Director trophy. Mickey Rourke was only nominated for his work on The Wrestler, but being in contention is enough. You don’t even need to be on the awards circuit, as evidenced by Robert Downey Jr’s comeback as Iron Man in the MCU.
These all being cinematic resurgences have made career revivals synonymous with film festivals, Academy Awards, and the box office. Even though television is often where the biggest actors do some of their best work these days, it’s still not considered in quite the same light as standing around awkwardly for ten minutes of applause after a premiere at Cannes.
Even if people had been watching Doom Patrol – and anyone who hasn’t yet absolutely should – TV viewership and awards don’t make such easy benchmarks as spearheading a cinema-altering franchise or getting an Academy Award. The stigma of television lingers still, absent the same historic prestige and Film Twitter approval.
Believe you me, I’m ecstatic that everyone’s back on the Brendan Fraser train. He’s such a loveable, charismatic leading man, and anything new with him involved is a pleasure, some misgivings about The Whale aside. But his return to form is only ending with Darren Aronofsky; it started some years ago, when Fraser joined one of the most dysfunctional superhero teams committed to screen. In life, as on the page, the Doom Patrol does all the work only to go unsung. Not this time.