Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Popcorn Love: Dwight Yoakam

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 7, 2007

And when you smile for the camera, I know I love you better

I don’t know shit about Dwight Yoakam’s music. Stemming from a larger country ignorance, which I’m not proud of but feel I could hardly be blamed for, I’m pretty sure the only song of Dwight’s I’ve heard is the zydeco-ish (at least I think you could call it that, that’s what accordian-heavy New Orleans-sounding country is right? Maybe not) “Streets of Bakersfield,” which a friend of mine pushed on me a while back. It’s pretty good, but suggests remarkably little of Dwight Yoakam, the Creepy Character Actor.

I believe fairly strongly that if Yoakam wasn’t already a country mega-star, he would be one of the most in-demand supporting actors out there right now. Based on his performances in Sling Blade, Crank, The Panic Room, and to a significantly lesser extent, in The Newton Boys and Bandidas, Yoakam is one of the most talented (or at least, naturally gifted) actors in the biz at playing extremely sleazy, usually villainous low-lifes. It’s crazy how good this guy is.

A large part of it has to do with how the dude looks. Paunchy, balding on top but with improbable streaks of hair out the sides, weird teeth and and a downright disturbing smile, and cold, lifeless eyes. It’s remarkable how much of this is concealed with a cowboy hat (some I Love the 90s dude’s one-sentence summary of the moral to Sling Blade: “Dwight Yoakam, put that fucking hat back on”), especially when it’s covering his eyes and most of his mouth–good call, PR people. But honestly, this is not the sort of man you look at and think “pop superstar.” This is the sort of man you look at and think “Steve Buscemi,” and even that’s sort of generous. Creepy Character Actor really should’ve been this guy’s primary calling, the fact that he’s a best-selling country artist is the improbable part.

But this wouldn’t mean much if he couldn’t back it up with similarly creepy character acting, and oh man is the dude a stunner. The dude’s got a caustic snarl to contend with the best of them, and for the first half of Panic Room where his face is concealed the whole time, I could’ve sworn it was J.T. Walsh behind the mask. Especially when contrasted with Jared Leto’s constant high-anxiety freakouts and Forest Whitaker’s good-natured rationality, his humorless, unsympathetic calm is downright eerie (“WHO ARE YOU?” he is repeatedly asked by Whitaker, furious at his unwelcome arrival. “I’m Raoul,” he plainly responds). His understated battling with Whitaker and Leto provides most of the movie’s high points.

The only time I’ve seen the guy play anything besides total out-and-out villainy was in Crank, where he proves just as effective and sleazy as a morally corrupt independent practice doctor. His calculated calm is just as disarming when put up against Jason Statham’s obviously adrenaline-rushed performance, and his no-nonsense, completely unfazed responses to Statham’s increasingly ridiculous situation keeps the movie grounded (well, as grounded as it needs to be, anyway). “Wait a minute, so I’m not better?” Statham asks Yoakam when he tells him that the medicinal drip he’s got him on is basically just methed-up happy juice. “Fuck no, you’re not better,” Yoakam unempathetically responds. “You’re in such shit shape it’s stunning. I can’t believe your heart’s still beating. Shit should be in a fucking medical journal.”

Do any of his country hits suggest this kind of caustic, unfeeling lowlife persona? If so, please let me know about them ASAP, I gotta hear that shit.

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2 Responses to “Popcorn Love: Dwight Yoakam”

  1. […] Popcorn Love: Dwight Yoakam […]

  2. joe said

    this song sounds like “Eurotrash Girl”

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