It really must be noted -- because perhaps it isn't entirely obvious to some -- that there is a distinct before and after period for Murray and his career, and it's obviously delineated by Wes Anderson's "Rushmore." Sure, it marks the beginning of Murray's turn as a dramatic actor (if you ignore 1984's "The Razor's Edge," and most do), which perhaps unleashed the tidal wave of soul and pathos we were heretofore unaware that he possessed, but in rewatching his old films there's a remarkable shift in quality, both in his performances and in the caliber of the films. In writing this feature it became clear to us that while Murray was always a fine comedic actor, he's almost never looked back since his first Anderson collaboration, and it's something for which we're eternally grateful to the filmmaker. Anyone who says "Rushmore" is not Wes Anderson's best film bar none should have their head examined, and Murray is instrumental in balancing the melancholy dolor and the bittersweet comedy that makes this film an autumnal modern classic. While always admired, Murray gained new-found thespian respect (plus his first significant award-season plaudits) for his forlorn and humanizing turn as the lonely and self-loathing millionaire Herman Blume, who falls into a love triangle with a 15-year-old prep school boy (Jason Schwartzman, in a career-making role) and schoolteacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams). Blume is both shameless and petty, and yet a genuine friend to this ambitious, yet always-underachieving teen. They're made for one another and Murray's soulful and hilarious turn as the aging steel magnate evinced a quiet inner ache that's remarkably watchable, and one for the ages.
Just over 25 years after he made his debut on "Saturday Night Live," Murray finally received his first Oscar nomination. While he may not have taken the loss to Sean Penn gracefully, the nod was more than well-deserved. Director Sofia Coppola wrote the role of a movie star in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial, who begins a friendship with a newly-married young woman (Scarlett Johansson), and for Murray himself, and he's never been better. He just about pulls the film's more culturally insensitive moments back from the brink, while remaining consistently funny throughout (Coppola really knows how to use Murray to a tee -- it's a shame they haven't yet reteamed). Most importantly, it's Murray's performance that balances the central relationship out; with another actor in the part, it might have seemed inappropriate, even creepy, but there's a lovely quality to Bob Harris that prevents this. Instead, it mostly seems platonic, even paternal, on his side at least. Along with "Rushmore," it seems to mark Murray's entry into the third act of his career, and what an entrance it was.
Most people prefer the wry, sarcastic Murray, but we have a soft spot for the melancholy loner version that populates low-key independent films like this Jim Jarmusch-helmed gem. As the center of the “Broken Flowers” universe, it’s possible Murray’s never been sadder. A former bachelor now living in solitude, save for nosey visits from his amateur detective neighbor, Murray’s Don Johnston decides to pry himself from his couch upon receiving a letter informing him that his son, whom he’s never known about, is coming his way. His sudden, rushed journey isn’t made as a last-ditch effort to find intimacy, or to repair broken bonds, but a task undertaken through fear. Unable to confront his past, and ignorant about whatever potential future he might have, he goes through the motions in a stubbornly oblivious search for his son’s mother. Once Johnston realizes that, even at their worst, each former paramour has lived a much fuller life than his, around loved ones of their own, he searches for a survival instinct his character doesn’t possess, in the process allowing a flood of interior emotions to rise to the surface. It's a deeply lovely turn, arguably undervalued by many fans of the actor and overshadowed by his work with Coppola and Anderson, but certainly one of his very finest.