There are certain actors with an ability to absolutely transform themselves right before our eyes, and even if we’ve come to associate them with one particular role over one season — or the course of several years — they manage to somehow reset themselves in our brains. This is not an inconsequential feat, especially considering actors’ faces are (fairly) permanent. Too many actors find themselves a type, settle in for the many winters long that they’re able to play similar characters, and make a comfortable living playing variations on a theme.
Not only are the three actors I’m about to mention brilliant at becoming completely different characters, they’re also somehow always under the radar. Unlike big names like Bryan Cranston, Walton Goggins, and Edie Falco, pretty much any time you see them you’re like, “Shit, how did I forget how great that guy is?” Jeremy Davies is one of my favorites from this category, and when I finally got around to checking out Hand of God this past weekend, it was one of Davies’ Justified co-stars who’d tempted me into watching. This guy’s particular magic is in finding and exploring the emotional edge to every character he plays; whether he’s playing someone super mellow, or a guy who might snap your neck as easily as he coos a smooth “Hello,” he’s all in. And he, along with one of our The Wire favorites, and a remarkably transformed Sons of Anarchy main player, make Amazon’s streaming series a worthwhile watch.
Six episodes in, it’s see both sides of the critique coin — Amazon reviewers are mostly raving over Hand of God and the performances, while critics generally seem less enamored — not with the actors, so much as a lack of focus and a plot that ends up drifting off (since I’ve not finished, I can’t comment on that point). The opening of the pilot episode may well put people off; it’s contrived and really adds nothing to what could easily have been handled in a better way, but if you skate right past that and into the set-up, the characters will draw you in.
With a surprisingly disarming performance as Judge Pernell Harris, Ron Perlman manages to step a world away from his recent role as SOA’s Clay Morrow. Broken-hearted with grief over his hospitalized (and unexpected to recover) son, when Harris finally allows himself to come undone, Perlman lays his heart across the screen. Whether you believe Harris is suffering a breakdown, or actually experiencing spiritual visions may change from scene to scene, but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is
Hellboy’s Perlman’s complete and utter transformation; in between the drive and anger, his soft underbelly is visible even as Harris tries desperately to maintain his stolid image. He’s a beauty, folks.
Harris’ best friend and San Vicente mayor is played by Andre Royo, and other than having earned another “B” nickname (from Bubbles to Bobo), you’d be hard pressed to find the characters’ similarities. I feel compelled to warn you that in the sixth episode, there is a horrendously offensive — but beautifully acted by Royo — scene that may be too much for some people to take. I honestly don’t know how he got through it, and it blew me away.
Finally, as you’ve no doubt already surmised, the man at whose altar we should all be making strange gestures and leaving unmentionable gif(t)s,
is Garret Dillahunt. He plays Hand of God’s greatest loose canon cum introspective, desperately-seeking-redemption jailbird, who Harris “employs” for his own means. To watch Dillahunt’s emotions play across his countenance is indeed spiritual; as KD swings wildly from calm, scripture-quoting, would-be-peacemaker to right hand of Harris’ god. Watching KD’s expressions run through the internal fight between his own nature and fulfilling the job he’s been sent to do (extract information), will reaffirm that Dillahunt’s mantel should be overflowing with awards.
Hand of God is created and written by Ben Watkins (Burn Notice) and also stars Dana Delaney, Alona Tal, Cleavon McClendon, Emayatzy Corinealdi,Elizabeth McLaughlin, Julian Morris, Erykah Badu and John Tenney. All ten episodes are available on Amazon Instant now.