Season two of Homeland may have been divisive, even among the proprietors of this here blog, but one thing remained inarguable: the cranky wonder of Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenger.
Patinkin has been around forever, it seems, in the public consciousness since the initial Broadway run of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita. In the ensuing years, Patinkin has favored quality over quantity — he may not appear in a ton of projects, but the ones he chooses tend to be indelible. The high points (at least the top 4) of Patinkin’s career are pretty indisputable (unless we have some huge Criminal Minds fans around these parts, which I’m guessing we don’t). The issue is with ranking them in their proper order. But that’s why we’re here.
Counting down the top five career highlights for Mandel Bruce Patinkin:
5. Run Ronnie Run
This is the only one of the top five that was in any doubt at all. I was tempted to go with Patinkin’s recent trio effort with Michael Stipe and Stephen Colbert on “Good King Wenceslas,” but that needs more time to age. I was tempted to go with his one-man musical revue on Broadway, but that was pretty terrible:
Instead, we’ll stick with music and select Patinkin’s turn as the metafictional version of Ronnie Dobbs in Run Ronnie Run, the flop based on an all-time-great Mr. Show sketch. Problems with the production abounded, and both David Cross and Bob Oedenkirk have expressed regret with how the film turned out, but there are some strong moment’s and Patinkin’s is among the best.
“Y’all Are Brutalizing Me” is kind of a great song, and Patinkin’s studied Broadway technique adds an extra layer of farce. And as you’d expect, Patinkin wholly sells his role during his conversation with Oedenkirk’s director.
Maybe in a few seasons, this will rise in the rankings, particularly if Patinkin continues to be the only lead whose performance is remotely grounded in reality. In season two, Saul grew to become the primary reason to watch Homeland, as Claire Danes went bigger and bigger (with her eyes and her performance) and Damian Lewis showed less ability to play unhinged than he has shown at playing reserved and conflicted.
And as Homeland’s plot tangled into an ever-more ridiculous and implausible Rube Goldberg contraption of deus ex machinas and silly character behaviors, Saul keeps reigning us in and telling us that it’s going to be OK. Because if he can still buy all this crap, then maybe we can too.
I shouldn’t care more about Saul’s relationship with a terrorist cum prisoner he has a soft spot for then I do about the series main arcs, but I do. That’s solely because of Patinkin’s gruff charm and surprisingly subtle take on the Bear.
Before Russell Crowe came along, Antonio Banderas was the worst thing to happen to film adaptations of splashy hit musicals. Because he was trying to fill Patinkin’s shoes as Che Guevera-ish in Evita.
This is where Patinkin made his name and his bones, winning a Tony for Best Actor (and of all the people in the world who should have a serious shot at the EGOT, why is Patinkin only halfway there?) and launching his career as a singing/acting double threat.
The script of Evita is insane and only has the flimsiest relationship to reality or history. Che serves as Eva Peron’s conscience and as a Greek chorus, and the whole thing is bizarre, but Patinkin and Patti LuPone had an odd chemistry that made it work. And Patinkin’s voice is killer — he matches the justifiably lauded LuPone note for note, and his “Oh, What a Circus” should be the best-known song from the show instead of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”
Patinkin also uses a wry charisma, which would serve him well throughout his career, to make Che the standout character of the production, and one who is missed whenever he’s not on stage.
2. Chicago Hope
Though he would return for short runs here and there, Patinkin essentially spent one season on David E. Kelly’s competitor to ER, the show’s first, before leaving, citing family reasons. That one season represented a perfect confluence of Patinkin’s skill and David E. Kelley’s dialogue, before the latter went full lunatic.
On paper, Patinkin’s character (Jeffrey Geiger) is a cliché: a genius heart surgeon tortured by his crazy wife’s drowning of their baby, and who might be a little bit crazy himself. But Patinkin and Kelley made it work beautifully, and Geiger came alive on screen in a way that elevated the entire show. After he left (along with Peter MacNicol, the second-best cast member), Chicago Hope never recovered and devolved into a dull medical drama that Kelley couldn’t save with his increasingly insane twists. For that brief moment, though, Patinkin’s character formed Chicago Hope into something more than a procedural — at its best, the series represented more of an intense character study than an ER clone.
Hey, is there a fan-made tribute montage to Geiger on YouTube? Glad you asked!
1. The Princess Bride
An obvious choice at number one? Perhaps, but not so much when you consider the strong contenders at 2-4. In a movie filled with memorable characters, Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya is the MVP.
The “You killed my father/prepare to die” scene gets all the pub, but Patinkin is fantastic throughout the film, and I can imagine an even better version of The Princess Bride with Patinkin playing Westley.
And there you have it. The best moments of Mandy Patinkin’s career, ranked in order. What more could you want out of life?