Willem Dafoe has long been lauded as one of the best performers operating in Hollywood. Not only has he regularly put on intense, impressive and memorable turns, but he has also been recognized several times by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Going back to 1987, he has collected four Oscar nominations — for PLATOON, SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, THE FLORIDA PROJECT and AT ETERNITY’S GATE — and if there’s any justice in the award season world, he will soon get his fifth nomination for his work in THE LIGHTHOUSE.
The actor stars alongside Robert Pattinson in the second film from writer/director Robert Eggers, and his performance is absolutely incredible. Not having him be up for the Best Supporting Actor prize would border on criminal. Why? Allow us to break it down for you.
It’s a fully committed performance
Much like Robert Eggers’ seminal film, THE WITCH, THE LIGHTHOUSE is meant to be a transportive experience that takes audiences back to New England circa 1890. It does this in part with the use of high-contrast black-and-white cinematography and a square-like screen shape, but arguably the most impactful element in this regard is Willem Dafoe’s performance as veteran wickie Thomas Wake. At first he seems kind of silly, like the perfect stereotype version of a grizzled sea captain, but as the story progresses, you become completely mesmerized by how he disappears into the role.
The tension he is able to create is incredible
THE LIGHTHOUSE operates with a high-concept plot, trapping two men in isolation and having them slowly go bad as they work to prevent ships from crashing into the shoreline. As time passes, the men start to truly hate one another, and the passion and intensity that Willem Dafoe is able to generate from this conflict is magical. During one particularly heated debate between the two characters in the middle of the movie, Willem Dafoe delivers what is truly one of the most transfixing monologues the big screen has seen in a long time, and for that scene alone he deserves an Oscar nomination.
He’s also remarkably funny
Willem Dafoe’s performance as Thomas Wake in moments turns your blood ice cold, but what’s particularly special is that he also has a shocking number of fantastic laugh-out-loud moments. Admittedly, a fair amount of the comedy is on the blue side (a character hasn’t farted this much in a big screen movie since Daniel Radcliffe’s SWISS ARMY MAN), but he also demonstrates some amazing timing when messing around with his subordinate and being a truly terrible boss.
He’s the best part of the film and does well representing the movie as a whole
There are a lot of amazing movies hitting the big screen this fall, and as a result there is some crazy competition already in all of the major Oscar categories. Because of this, THE LIGHTHOUSE may not get as much attention as it deserves, but at the very least, Willem Dafoe should be on the ballot to represent the film’s greatness. His turn is the best part of the experience, and while Robert Eggers may be challenged to get a nomination for Best Director or Best Original Screenplay, having Dafoe be up for Best Supporting Actor would be recognition on behalf of the Academy that the character-based thriller is one of the best features of the year.
THE LIGHTHOUSE is now playing in limited release.