A Tribute to Christopher Plummer
Ever since Ridley Scott made the unprecedented decision to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in All The Money in the World (just three weeks before the film premiered!), there have been countless jokes about the latter filling in for whatever performer was being unceremoniously removed from this or that film. Like most things, Twitter ran it into the ground, but it was still amusing in small doses; in fact it was only a week or so ago that someone joked he could replace Marilyn Manson on an episode of Creepshow. Unfortunately, the meme will no longer be appropriate, as the veteran actor passed away on February 5th at age 91, a number that surprised many (including yours truly) as he was more active and lively than actors twenty or thirty years his junior.
Thanks to Rian Johnson we got one last showstopper performance from the actor in his 2019 smash Knives Out, where he played Harlan Thrombey, the patriarch and only decent person of a wealthy family of backstabbers and potential murderers. Yes, his death is what kicks the plot off, but thanks to the flashback structure he gets to appear quite a bit, clearly enjoying himself in a manner most of us can only dream of at his then age of 88 or 89. The aforementioned All The Money in the World earned him his third Oscar nomination of the decade (he won for Beginners), and he seemingly never stopped working: not counting the asterisk laden 2020, per the IMDb you have to go back to 1972 (!) to find a year without some production benefiting from his talents.
A lot of that work was vocal; he was a go-to choice for any number of animated films and series (plus a few video games - he's the one that gave us Skyrim's "Sky above, Voice within!"), which shouldn't surprise anyone who ever listened to him. His voice offered the best of both worlds: grandfatherly but commanding, making him perfect for heroes and villains alike. And his on-screen appearances offered the same presence; despite his busy schedule he never felt over-used - on the contrary, seeing that he was in something made it that much more exciting. Maybe the film itself wouldn't be that great, but having him show up meant that there would be at least something memorable about the production.
With that in mind it's actually kind of shocking he made so few genre appearances over the years, as his name in the credits could have given several horror movies some much needed class. His most prominent was probably Dracula 2000, where he played the role of Matthew Van Helsing, a descendent of Abraham who was continuing the family tradition by hunting a modern day Dracula (Gerard Butler). It's no one's favorite Dracula movie, I'm sure, but Plummer earned deserved praise for his enjoyable performance, the sort that made you wish he had been cast in a more traditional version of the story. He also appeared in the action/horror hybrid Priest and the notorious Nosferatu in Venice, which means that vampire movies make up nearly half of his entire genre filmography.
But the bloodsuckers weren't the only classic monsters he tackled: he played the head of the publishing company that Jack Nicholson's character worked at in the underrated Wolf (1994), and lent his voice to a trio of animated children's films about (of all people) a young HP Lovecraft, inhabiting the role of Dr West (the "real" cinematic West, Jeffrey Combs, is also in a couple of them). And like just about every actor does at one point, he found himself in King Country, playing Detective John Mackey in 1995's Dolores Claiborne, one of the rare Stephen King adaptations that wasn't an outright horror film but still offered its share of chills. And the role was a perfect fit for Plummer, who excelled at heroes and villains alike, playing an officer who was technically right in that he wanted to put a murderer in prison, but doing so without knowledge of the circumstances made him come off as an antagonist - a "grey area" type of character that the actor was able to perfectly portray.
He played a few full on villains over the years in some thriller/action films (notably The Silent Partner, a 1978 film that has risen in popularity over the years thanks to its Christmas setting - it pairs well with Die Hard around the holidays!), however it was his dramatic work that earned him the bulk of his acclaim, and rightfully so. He was part of an ever shrinking group of old school character actors who would make every movie that much more appealing; "Oh, if he's in it then I'll see it" has been expressed more than once about his films over the years, where his presence elevated my interest in a movie I'd otherwise probably not see (including the aformentioned Beginners). It's sad to think I'll never again find myself in that position again, but the good news is that thanks to his tireless work ethic I'll probably never run out of older films that I haven't seen yet. RIP, Mr. Plummer, and thanks for classing up the world while you were here.