Best Narrator's in Films
No list can exist without Fight Club, either because of mass hysteria people have about the film or because it is actually that good. While I somewhat agree with the former statement, Fight Club nonetheless deserves a mention when we talk about role of narrators in the film. It is so iconic.
It is Edward Norton’s voice we hear throughout. Sarcastic, ironical, hilarious and completely unique. Based on the book by same name, the film does justice to the book by incorporating the narrative element from it.
Goodfellas could also be mentioned in the list, but it is omitted from the top 10, because while Goodfellas’ Henry might be an iconic narrator, Casino have 3 such narrators. In many ways the voice over techniques of both the films are quite same, ie, one of the characters or in the case of Casino more than one of the characters tell the story. Casino’s voice over is so unique, not just adding an extra layer, it is also effective in many ways. It propels the story forward in a very different pacing, in such way that the film around 3 hours long doesn’t feel that long at all. It jumps right on time, never letting our attention go other directions. It is also extremely in sync with the visuals of the film that it feels an integral part of the film.
The Shape Of Water in a sense is a modern fairy tale. And it is essential to have a storyteller. And Richard Jenkins voice is quite perhaps most beautiful. Its gloomy, natural, mature and full of empathy and feeling. Its quite soothing as well. The film is really whimsical and works on sense of undefined feeling. The voice over of Richard Jenkins, who also plays a major character in film, fits perfectly.
Guillermo Del Toro also used same kind of voice over in Pan’s Labyrinth as well, but it just worked like a charm in this one. Completely suitable for what the film was. The first line of the film is so iconic and representative of the whole film, enhanced even more by unreal visuals and gorgeous score.
Martin Scorsese uses voice over quite a lot in his films. And he makes his own characters talk about their lives. Let it be Wall Street, Casino or Goodfellas. They are some great examples of voice over done right. And more importantly his voice over do not hinder in his visual storytelling, instead it enhances the overall effect. One thing is quite frequent in his films is the fact that how much is shown in the film in how less of time.
Having said that, Taxi Driver’s narration is quite different than his other films, like say Wall Street or Goodfellas. In Taxi Driver we cannot trust what Travis says, he is a contradiction, he doesn’t do what he says and don’t mean what he says. He is complex and unreliable, unlike say Henry in Goodfellas. While Henry’s voice over is definitive, we can trust him, he is outwardly describing, but in the case of Travis, his thoughts are quite jumbled up. Even he don’t know. And it’s a very interesting experience to see things through mind of Travis and making sense out of it.
The voice of Alex in A Clockwork Orange is a prime example of unreliable narrator in a film. He is central character, completely in control of what he says. In a novel too, from which this film is adapted, Alex spoke as a first person. It was important for the book too. It is the voice of Alex which makes the book and film as insightful and impactful as they are. It lets us know what Alex is, and how he thinks. And its one of the examples of knowing the characters through themselves. And interestingly they might not be accurate or appropriate narrators, like Alex, but that’s what makes it more absorbing experience. The mindset of people like Alex can only be understood by themselves. A Clockwork Orange makes us understand what goes in mind of hyper violent people like him.
The narration in this film is familiar to all. It is iconic. It is impossible to remember this film without Morgan Freeman’s iconic voice. His character Red describe the life of Andy and his stoicism, his toughness and his hope, his persistence and his eventual escape. This film couldn’t have worked without the voice over, especially so without the voice of Morgan Freeman. And Red’s voice is most powerful and authentic to the story since he had been in Shawshank for over two decades. And he knows what’s this all about. It works like a charm. It also helps because it lets us know what characters think and it doesn’t seem like a technique to tell the story but an integral part of the film.
There are reasons to believe that the narrator in Amelie is an imaginative part of Amelie herself. He knows everything about her, about her parents and characters concerned with her. He is omniscient with great observation but completely different than our regular narrators. He is quirky like Amelie, he is oftentimes childish as well. He say things from the point of view of Amelie. Yet he is different entity. That makes it an interesting case of narration in a film. He speaks in a way that makes the film a fairy tale about the princess Amelie. A very mellow voice, with tenderness all about him, making this film more whimsical.
The central character of Mirror is the narrator of the film, Aleksei is his name and he is not seen in the entire film, only his voice is heard, the voice and what it says is the character. The film revolves around that character, or simply the character is the film itself. The film is nothing but confused, dying and decaying memory of our protagonist, as he remembers his childhood, his mother, the mundane events which happened with her mother, her bad day at factory, or strange visit from a wandering doctor, all this makes up this strange, poetic film, while our narrator talks about it, quite free flowingly, without any efforts, restraint and with much evident poetical prowess. Its a memoir of sort. And the film is portal to mind of a thinking and musing person. And his voice is fascinating as it the only thing that makes any sense in this jumbled, confusing and truly bizarre experience, though a beautiful one.
Barry Lyndon works entirely like a classical novel, with a certain storytelling techniques, with a gentle, sometimes ironic and a voice which predicts the future of its characters throughout, intentionally killing all the suspense. Watching Barry Lyndon feels like reading kind of classic British book. And importantly most of the humor and insight comes from the narrator, not that the film itself is not humorous in some parts or other and not entertaining as well, but what narrator does in the film enhances that quality of humour when he comments on characters with certain sense of irony and humour, albeit very subtly.
The narration is a major part of lustrous Barry Lyndon, so much so that, there are around 40 commentaries by the narrator in the film. And the narrator himself can safely be called as an essential character of the film. Not just it was enhancing but was it was impossible to make this film without the narrator. In Kubrick’s words, ‘There is too much story to tell. A voice-over spares you the cumbersome business of telling the necessary facts of the story through expositional dialogue scenes which can become very tiresome and frequently unconvincing’.
The voice is judging voice, often in contrast with the visceral beauty of the film. It judges the characters harshly though not with any apparent passion, which makes it an interesting case. It shows how superficial the world of Barry Lyndon is, and maybe its Kubrick’s own interpretation of events. There is certain detachment, lack of emotion throughout his the film, which is majorly portrayed by the narrator(voiced brilliantly by Michael Hordern)- through his calm, ironic and voice which kills all the suspense there might be, and quite intentionally too. Its not a film manipulating us to build suspense but to kill any suspense there is and to show exactly what is happening and how it is happening. And the voice over of Micheal Hordern is masterfully adept in its attempt to do exactly that.
1. The Assassination Of Jesse James By Coward Robert Ford
2007 ‧ Western/Drama
Director: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Nick Cave, Brooklynn Proulx, Sam Shepard
IMDb Ratings: 7.5/10
Jesse James is a slow, leisurely and gloomy film about two paranoid characters. The film is a technical masterpiece, with one of the most beautifully shots put on screen, an another brilliant Roger Deakins achievement. The performances are thoroughly complex, subtle and nuanced. All things in Jesse James have a character in itself; the out of the world cinematography, the brooding music, the script is like no other, its a modern masterpiece, often forgotten and not given its due. But more so in the case of its unique narration, voiced by Hugh Ross; brilliantly narrated and a character in itself, the narration of the film is uniquely different. Its a gloomy, neutral voice telling the extraordinary story of two complex characters with great effect but having seemingly minimum strain in delivery.
Oddly enough, Hugh Ross, was just a temporary narrator for the film, and actually was the assistant editor of the film. But everyone fell in love with the narration of Ross. And they couldn’t find anything better, even after couple of years of constant search and re-recoding. Apparently even Ross couldn’t do any better! The rawness or essence the temporary and poorly recorded voice had, couldn’t get any better. And what we see in the film is mostly that poorly recorded voice! Not only did it made huge impact on the career of Hugh Ross but it importantly gave Jesse James the feel and essense it had.