One Of James Caan's Great Movie Moments Was In An Unlikely Family Film

James Caan, a legendary actor with decades of classic roles under his belt ranging from "The Godfather" to "Thief" to "Elf," passed away yesterday at the age of 82. The man is the definition of a legend in Hollywood and leaves behind an impressive body of work for cinephiles of all ages to explore. 

But one of the man's truly great, shining moments came at a bit of an unexpected time, in an unexpected place, in a film that doesn't get talked about all that much these days. Believe it or not, Caan delivers a truly great performance in the 2009 animated flick "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." And, to top it all off, he punctuates the whole thing with an emotional gut punch that is very much capable of making grown men cry.

The scene in question

"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" was directed by the dynamic duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and is based on the children's book of the same name. It centers on Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), a struggling inventor who finally finds success by building a machine that literally makes food rain from the sky. However, this goes a little off the rails, as one might expect, and animated hijinks ensue. All the while, Flint is contending with his complex relationship with his father, Tim Lockwood, played by Caan. Tim is a man's man who does not nor has he ever understood Flint's inventions. They are polar opposites in this world, as parents and their children often can be.

After a harrowing mission to stop the machine, Flint reunites with his father for a post-chaos father/son moment. Throughout the film, we have seen that the love is there between these two, but Tim has a great deal of trouble expressing that love — he simply doesn't appreciate his son's interests, and can't find that connection. Plus, with Flint's mom and Tim's beloved wife out of the picture, a connective buffer hasn't been there to nurture their naturally distant relationship. All of this sets the table for an emotionally devastating yet beautiful scene, glimpsed above.

Tim attempts to express his feelings towards Flint and, seemingly, it's more of the same. But then Flint's animal thought translator is placed on Tim's chest and we get a true glimpse at the father's feelings about his son. What Caan manages to convey using merely his words through a character that doesn't even have eyeballs and isn't opening his mouth is downright remarkable. It is emotional, effective, resonant, and beautiful. It is also really unexpected in a film with such a silly premise, but Lord and Miller are great at this sort of thing.

A tale as old as time

Voice acting does not get enough credit for being as hard as it is (just watch "I Know That Voice"). Some view it as just having to use your voice, which might be perceived as easier than acting in live-action. However, in reality, an actor has to convey a great deal more with fewer tools. Yes, it is married to the animation, but the vocal performance is key, and it is not easy. To that end, what Caan brings to Tim throughout this film all leads up to this moment.

The character is animated in such a way that helps to mask his emotions. He isn't as expressive as so many other characters in this film, particularly Flint, and that's by design. Caan plays things very understated because he is very much incapable of expressing his emotions through words. It's not his strength and, as this final scene indicates, he's been dealing with pain ever since his wife passed. It all paves the way for this final, more emotive bit of the performance to shine through. And it's all Caan.

Part of the reason that it works so well is that this is truly a tale as old as time. Children often feel like aliens to their parents, yet there is a longing to connect despite the differences. The way that Tim and Flint finally do connect in "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" truly resonates because it is such a universal feeling, and Caan delivers that feeling so many of us want to experience in the way only an actor of his caliber truly could. All with nothing but the power of his voice and a whole lot of eyebrow animation. That's the power of a great performer firing on all cylinders.