Saturday, 27 July 2013

Favourite Film and TV Characters: Jaw's Matt Hooper

When thinking about characters in Steven Spielberg’s classic Jaws, many would instantaneously reminisce about Robert Shaw’s Quint. But for me Richard Dreyfuss’s performance as Matt Hooper really captures my love for the film. Jaws is undoubtably an all-time classic and would easily find its way on my Top 5 list, and that’s mainly down to the film’s characters. Even with my strong interest in sharks from my childhood, it was the interactions and contrasting personalities that really attracted me to the film. The three leads present a set of unique and memorable characters that, through the course of the film, form strong relationships and converse in “charming” exchanges. 

Hooper for me, manages to stand out amidst the sheer presence of Robert Shaw’s sublime performance. Sure he doesn’t have the quotable qualities and iconic appearance, but it’s his reactions and mentality to the events that occur that really makes him an engaging character. From his smile to his witty banter, there’s an undeniable charm that resonates and adds humanity into the terror that ensues. To be honest other than Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goodbye Girl, I’ve never seen much of Dreyfuss’s other work. While these are arguably his most successful films, I’ve never really followed his career until seeing the dreadful Piranha 3D. That being said, from my limited viewing he always leaves a strong impression. His challenging performance in Close Encounters proved his commitment to a role, and that’s no different here in Jaws. 

Hooper’s introduction into the film is perfect. Amongst the hustle and bustle of fisherman trying to claim the bounty on the shark, there stands Hooper wearing a denim jacket trying to make sense of all the commotion. He’s presented as though he’s the “saviour” of Amity Island, even though nobody can quite quantify it. He also remains the only sane person throughout the first two acts of the film. And therefore there’s an immediately absorbing quality to his character. Additionally Dreyfuss and Spielberg thankfully didn’t simplify Hooper to fill the role of the comedic relief. On the sea, his focus and determination show his understanding of the environment and psychology. What's particularly fascinating about him is the undercurrent of contrast that dynamically makes his entire character. His rugged appearance hides his academic and wealthy background that Quint immediately questions/discredits. The early respect for Brody is flipped when they set sail to kill the shark, as he witnesses his incompetence. His changing attitude to Quint as they share stories starts to show the competition/ similarities between the two. These moulding components speak a lot for Spielbergs’ direction and Dreyfuss's exploration of the character.

Likewise, Hooper’s tone towards the rising body count is somewhat clouded by his love for sharks. And that’s a very interesting facet to him. His to-and-fro mentality throughout the course of the film, sees him constantly shift from “Wow, this is incredible” to “Oh crap, we’re going to die!”. Even with his light-hearted approach to the situation in hand, this never distracts from the film’s construction of tension, but rather enhances it. When the shark expert starts to loose his nerve, then you know for sure that the situation is bad.  

My favourite scene follows Brody and Hooper trying to convince Major Larry Vaughan to close the beaches after their discovery. Their attempts to warn him of an impending catastrophe are futile as  Hooper perfectly says “I think that I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and BITES YOU ON THE ASS!”. I have a huge grin every single time I watch that moment.

Jaws will always remain a personal favourite. For all the sniggering at the sight of a shark jumping on the backend of a boat, the film still manages to leave a lasting impression. Its premise, its writing, its score and its characters all culminate in a film that’s had a huge impact of many people’s childhood, cinema experiences and exposure to sharks (an unfortunate one during the time of the film’s release). If I’d have been cheap, I would have simply stuck the three leads together because of the fantastic chemistry and “bromance” between them. But narrowing it down, Hooper’s charming and humorous charisma just resonates with me more on a personal level and is one taps into my “inner child” as a shark-lover. 

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