John Turturro Is The Secret Weapon Of The Batman

I cannot write this post without spoilers for "The Batman." It's out now. Go see it and return later to read this or I curse you with the sound of Paul Dano's howling in your head for the entire weekend. 

In a sea of powerful characters, it's the subtle that stands out. John Turturro's performance in "The Batman" is likely to get overlooked at first glance, with the glut of wonderful work by this cast. Paul Dano's Riddler actually gave me nightmares this week. Robert Pattinson absolutely nails the still-figuring-it-all-out Batman. Jeffrey Wright is, well, perfect in every single thing I've seen him in and continues to be. Colin Farrell's Penguin would be amazing from the makeup alone, but his low-level crime guy is spot on. Turturro's Carmine Falcone, though, is understated. Sure, he's a sleaze who runs the criminal empire in Gotham, but he's really, really charming. He's subtle in his vileness. He sure smiles a whole lot to cover it up, and a smile will get you pretty far. 

Have you ever heard the advice that tells you to start speaking quietly if you want attention in a room full of people yelling? They have to quiet down to speak to you. They have to pay attention to you instead of saying their piece. It makes you seem like a reasonable person while everyone else is out of control. Carmine Falcone has mastered that, and he's used it to get ahead.

Hiding behind dark glasses

Turturro could have chosen to play this part as a tour de force of a man. It would have made sense to see a crime boss with a huge presence, making people cower before him. What he does here is so much more effective, though. He's a master of emotional manipulation. Falcone sees Bruce Wayne on the steps of the memorial for the slain Mayor, and he immediately tries to make a friendly connection. He remembers Bruce as a little boy, who watched Thomas Wayne patch Falcone up after an injury. Connections make you more likely to trust people, and he's hoping to make a one with a very rich young man whose family he's been twisted up with for decades. When Bruce shoots back that it was only about the Hippocratic Oath, he realizes he can't charm this one, so he turns it all into a laugh for his hangers-on. It freaks me out more than watching Paul Dano's baby face, knowing the evil this man has done. 

I know this may be costume designer Jacqueline Durran's work, but those red-lensed glasses only add to the subtlety of Turturro's performance. There are many reasons someone might choose those, including chronic migraines, but what they do here is keep people from seeing the really small reactions that you can't hide in someone's eyes. Falcone can keep up his smiling face, his smooth conversational techniques, even if something surprises him. You see just enough to be not enough. It's the perfect move for a mob leader. 

Hello, beautiful

The really insidious thing with Falcone that Turturro does so well is the way he treats women. It's that infuriating paternal thing. He can't manage to be a father to Selina, but he treats the women around him as though they're interchangeable children. He calls them all beautiful, smiles brightly, and forgets they exist the second he turns his back. I hate it. I'm supposed to hate it. It's good that I hate it. This man murders women because they're tools to him, but he never shows outright sexism outside of treating them like little babies to be smiled at and forgotten when someone else has them. You start calling a woman names or giving them the up and down eyes, and they're immediately going to be on the defensive (and rightly so). 

Again, this quiet and "friendly" treatment makes him stand out. You have a club full of men either pawing at these women or fawning over them pathetically. They're going to feel more comfortable in a room with a man who is always smiling and polite to them, who never appears threatening. He's more dangerous than the rest, but in that environment, he's going to appear as a safe harbor. God, I'm shuddering just thinking about it.  

The way he sounds so calm and paternal in the recording as he murders Annika is chilling. No one is a threat to him. That is, until Selina tells him that he's her father and tries to kill him. That's the only thing that shakes him out of his almost preternatural calm. Then it's, "My own flesh and blood" is trying to kill me. That's the moment that you realize that loyalty to himself is the only thing this man actually cares about. Even facing death doesn't rock him like this does. 

Rata alada

I'm paraphrasing, but there is a line in the Anne McCaffrey novel "Dragonsinger" about how if you only sing loudly, all they hear is noise. As a former singer, that really sticks out. No one notices how powerful your voice is unless they have something to compare it to. I thought about that line every time Turturro was on screen. He gives us this measured performance, this calm and steady exterior even while committing murder. When it breaks for Selina, it's all the more notable. 

Yes, we'll all notice the bigger performances first, but having this calm and friendly villain makes them even better by comparison. He is, in fact, a falcon, gliding silently over a field until that moment he sees a mouse and strikes with viciousness, then flies silently away again. It's horrifying and it's effective, and he's probably going to get an award for this. It would be well-deserved.