Paul G — #4

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Last time we were here, Paul had plunged himself into a truly despicable role as a slave trader in Louisiana who played a fundamental role in the fate of Solomon Northup, a free man abducted in Washington D.C. to be sold into slavery in the south, where he’d remain for 12 years. Given that we’ve had two fairly nasty roles in succession, let’s move the discussion to a character who is a little easier to get along with, even if ultimately he, too, isn’t without a few tricks up his sleeve — a record producer who finds himself doing whatever’s necessary to keep riding the wave of success off the back of newly signed rap group N.W.A.

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Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller in F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama/biopic

Plot Synopsis: The group N.W.A. emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, California in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes hip-hop culture with their music and tales about life in the ‘hood.

Character Profile: A successful American businessman, record producer and the co-founder of Ruthless Records along with rapper Eazy-E, Jerry Heller’s most notable for his discovery and development of rap group N.W.A., something that led to him becoming inextricably linked to the emergence of west coast rap, including the birth of groups such as The Black Eyed Peas, Above the Law, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Heller came to prominence in the 1960s and ’70s with his support behind bands like Journey, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, Crosby Stills & Nash, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, REO Speedwagon, and Styx, among others, placing him at the top of a very tall pillar of successful American producers. While his business acumen spoke for itself, Heller was also never short of a few self-serving schemes. The eventual fall-out between Eazy-E and the producer spoke to the level of frustration that members of the group had started to feel towards Heller’s exploitation of their popularity. Parting ways with N.W.A. proved to be a painful, bitter and somewhat protracted process, and it got ugly enough to inspire Ice Cube to lay down a few raps specifically calling out Heller and the way he mistreated the others.

Why he’s the man: While I can’t say this is a character that no other actor could make suitably smarmy, Jerry Heller is brought to life entirely effortlessly by Paul Giamatti’s natural gravitation towards playing untrustworthy types. Here is a man we start off on the right foot with immediately and it takes so long for cracks in the façade to appear. But, unfortunately, they eventually do and Giamatti reminds us once again why he’s so good at playing these types of people. He makes it far too easy to buy into the tricks Heller shows a group of up-and-coming talented rappers, but soon enough he’s taking a bigger cut of the royalties than what he initially said he would take and he’s having clandestine meetings with Eazy-E and making moves to try and manipulate the direction of the group. Never trust Giamatti, especially when you can’t even trust his hair color.

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com

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18 thoughts on “Paul G — #4

    • I wish I had seen it more than once. There’s a horse load of info about the band and the people in it, almost too much to take in all at once. It will definitely reward repeat viewings. I highly recommend it, even to those who aren’t into rap/hip hop. It’s a straight-up great biopic and Paul G contributes bigtime to it.

      It’s great to hear you are enjoying the feature!

    • Tip of the hat to you sir. Thanks, Paul G is in good form here. Straight Outta Compton uses his sleaziness to great effect and it’s a movie full of good performances

  1. He was good here, but I felt funny because I’d just seen him play a nearly identical role in Love & Mercy. Weird that he did those back to back.

    • I think there’s enough to distinguish the two. His doctor/psychiatrist role in Love&Mercy was far more overtly villainous/outwardly douchey. Here he plays a more complicated man who appears good at first then kinda goes south. Eugene Landy was really shitty from the outset from what I remember. Might have to update that though, been awhile since I saw it. Both are great performances though!

  2. Big G really captured a fine balance between sympathetic, conniving, pathetic and heartfelt in this movie. It’s not his finest role but he is as solid as he ever is here.

    • Great point. He really goes encompass all of those qualities and it’s interesting to watch him change over the course of the film. It’s perhaps inevitable that he turns out to be kind of a mook at the end of it.

  3. I don’t think I’ve seen him ever give a bad performance and his versatility highly impresses me every time I see him in a movie.

    • You’re telling me, man. He was a name that immediately popped into my head when I thought ‘versatile, reliable character actor.’ Hopefully I’ll be able to make 10-12 equally compelling blurbs about him. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

    • Yeah I do too. A lot. It’s a credit to his talent that there’s always this amazing divide between him in character and him out of it. He seems like such a nice guy when he’s not on-screen. 😉

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