House Logo
Explore categories +

Agora (#110 of 2)

On the Rise Oscar Isaac

Comments Comments (...)

On the Rise: Oscar Isaac

CBS Films

On the Rise: Oscar Isaac

You know Oscar Isaac’s face. You’ve seen him in one film or another over the last 10 years (including 2012’s high-school-reunion dramedy 10 Years). He’s the guy with the forceful presence and dark, gruffly handsome features, who always makes a memorable impact on the sidelines. Maybe he’s your favorite actor to tell your friends about. Born in Guatemala and raised in Miami, this 33-year-old Juilliard grad has an early filmography that’s fairly stereotypical, listing a single-episode arc on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and bit parts in the Ice Cube actioner All About the Benjamins and something called Pu-239, directed by Scott Z. Burns. That Isaac had never emerged from the supporting-actor ranks before this year is what had some viewers gobsmacked at Cannes, where he knocked them flat with his title role in the Palme d’Or frontrunner Inside Llewyn Davis. Gifted the part by the film’s directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, after sending in a highly convincing audition tape, the actor is suddenly gaining the most press of his career, and if the Oscar buzz is legit, it’s not likely to stop soon. As noted in a piece in The Guardian that ran amid the festival, even journalists were stumped after the movie made its debut. “Where have you come from?” a press-conference attendee reportedly asked. But fans who’ve been watching Isaac already know the answer to that.

A Movie a Day, Day 17: Agora

Comments Comments (...)

A Movie a Day, Day 17: <em>Agora</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 17: <em>Agora</em>

Agora is an odd duck, a cautionary tale for our fundamentalist times disguised as a swords-and-sandal epic. It’s also a defense of science and rational thinking that uses simplification and soundbites to make its case. The setting is Alexandria, Egypt, at the end of the 4th century A.D., just before and after the destruction of its great library by a rampaging Christian mob. At the start of the story, Christianity is on the rise and the Pagans have become a smaller minority than they realize, though they still hold the reins of power. Over the next few years, the Christians gain ascendance, trashing the library that was also the Pagan’s temple and converting nearly all the Pagan holdouts or intimidating them into submission.

One of those holdouts is the movie’s heroine, Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), a brilliant young philosopher and astronomer who has taught some of the city’s most privileged young men. Hypatia’s students adore her, of course. Her mind is part of the attraction, but it’s not the whole thing, any more than people used to read Playboy for the articles. A light-bathed, large-eyed beauty, Hypatia is another of the saintly objects of desire Weisz specializes in, and the camera indulges in a fair amount of ogling, including a shot of her emerging from her bath like Venus on the half shell.