Monday, March 16, 2009

R.I.P. Ron Silver (1946-2009)

In the wake of Ron Silver's passing at the ridiculously early age of 62, I'm afraid we're going to be reading a lot of nonsense about how his switch from left-wing activism to right-wing zealotry in the wake of 9/11 irreparably damaged his film career. Unfortunately, the truth is something a bit more complicated -- and, in a way, far more frustrating.

Silver did indeed make quite a splash during the late '80s and early '90s with memorable lead performances in Enemies: A Love Story (which greatly impressed me when, by bizarre coincidence, I viewed it for the first time only a few days ago) and Reversal of Fortune (neatly balancing the sardonic sub-zero cool of Jeremy Irons' Claus von Bulow with the barely contained intensity of his Alan Dershowitz.

Unfortunately, Silver never caught on as an above-the-title star -- and by the mid-1990s, he was playing villains in direct-to-video B-movies (Deadly Outbreak) and picking up paychecks (and, to be fair, some Emmy nominations) as an occasional TV series regular. He never seemed to go very long between acting gigs. But he never really regained the momentum that he gained from Enemies and Reversal of Fortune. When I watched Enemies a few days ago, I found myself wondering: "What the heck ever happened to this guy's career?" Unfortunately, I found myself wondering the very same thing, for far different reasons, back when I saw Deadly Outbreak.

Please get don't get me wrong: I'm not accusing Silver of trying, and failing, to jump-start a stalled career with a well-publicized political switch. (I'll save accusations like that for the likes of... well, can you say Victoria Jackson?) I'm sure he had firmly held beliefs, and I won't argue that those beliefs may have hurt him in the more liberal circles of Hollywood. But I would argue that the overall arc of his career is just one more illustration of a sad but inescapable Hollywood truism: For some people -- even for some very talented people -- for some reason, the magic never happens.

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