William L. Peterson
I was reminded today of an actor I like very much ... William L. Peterson. He's best known for his role on the tv series CSI, but he's done a number of movies as well, and there are four that have especially touched me ...
* To Live and Die in L.A.
Made in 1985, and directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection), this also starred Willem Dafoe, and was based on a novel by a former Secret Service Agent. Peterson plays (surprise :-) a Secret Service Agent who works for the Treasury Department, and who is after counterfeiter Dafoe. The most talked about part of the movie is a chase scene, with a car going full tilt backwards on an LA freeway. It's extremely violent and nihilistic and I found it both disturbing and riviting. Roger Ebert writes in his review ...
The central performance is by William L. Petersen, a Chicago stage actor who comes across as tough, wiry and smart. He has some of the qualities of a Steve McQueen, with more complexity. Another strong performance in the movie is by Willem Dafoe as the counterfeiter, cool and professional as he discusses the realities of his business.
I like movies that teach me about something, movies that have researched their subject and contain a lot of information, casually contained in between the big dramatic scenes. "To Live and Die in L. A." seems to know a lot about counterfeiting and also about the interior policies of the Secret Service. The film isn't just about cops and robbers, but about two systems of doing business, and how one of the systems finds a way to change itself in order to defeat the other.
This is a 1986 film, directed by Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans), that was based on the first Hannibal Lector novel by Thomas Harris, Red Dragon (pre-Silence of the Lambs). Peterson plays a former FBI Agent and profiler who had captured Lector sometime in the past. The movie is notable both for the accalimed performance of Tom Noonan and for the soundtrack . Needless to say, this film is also very violent, but I liked the vulnerability Peterson gave his character. (There was a recent remake of this film, titled Red Dragon with Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins and Ralph Fiennes, but I prefer the original). Wikipedia writes ...
Petersen plays Will Graham, a former FBI agent who captured the infamous Lecter and was almost killed in the process; he is so traumatized by the event that he retires from the FBI. His former partner, Jack Crawford, calls him out of retirement to help find a killer called "The Tooth Fairy" who is murdering entire families. Graham is a profiler who has an uncanny ability to get into the mind of a killer and think as he does. Graham visits Lecter in prison in order to help get back in the state of mind necessary to empathize with a psychopath.
The other two movies were hard to hunt down online as they were made for TV and not exactly ... ahem ... well received, but I liked them. One is about a miraculous (and true life) staircase, and the other is about a giant man-eating squid :-)
* The Staircase
This was a 1998 made for tv movie which tells the story of an unusual stairway built in the 1870s for the Sisters of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Peterson starred as the mysterious carpenter who built the staircase. Here's a bit about the story from The Loretto Chapel site ...
To find a solution to the problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Legend says on the ninth and final day of prayer, a man showed up at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later the elegant circular staircase was completed and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself. The stairway's carpenter, whoever he was, built a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today. The staircase has two 360 degree turns and has no visible means of support. Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails -- only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers compared to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway's construction. Over the years many have flocked to the Loretto Chapel to see the Miraculous Staircase. The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies including "Unsolved Mysteries" and the Kraft movie called "The Staircase".
* The Beast
This was a 1996 made for tv movie, taken from a Peter Benchley novel, and Peterson played a struggling fisherman, widowed and with a daughter. With the help of a marine biologist, he manages to destroy a giant squid which has been snacking on the citizens of his village. He's good in it ... really! And thers's the giant squid ... need I say more? :-)