Random Thoughts: Much ado about movie accents

I’ve been wanting to ask this question for quite a while, but this recent comment from regular reader Mike B. inspires me to finally get it out there as a point of discussion.

Accents is no doubt a fascinating topic. There are countless sites out there listing their picks on who have the best or worst movie accents. Whether it’s American actors doing foreign accents or vice versa, everybody seems to have an opinion on the matter. Some names keep coming up as BEST (Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Gary Oldman – who’s known for using different accent in practically any movie he’s been in); and WORST (Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner). The king of bad accent is Sir Sean Connery, who’s voted by fans as having the worst movie accent of all time according to an Empire magazine poll. But hey, it didn’t stop the Academy to award him with Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for The Untouchables, despite his dubious Irish-American accent. Interestingly enough, his own Scottish lilt was at one point voted as UK favorite’s accent, so perhaps filmmakers should’ve just let the man use his own brogue instead?

Morgan Freeman in Invictus

Now, this post isn’t about who does a certain accent best or which ones make you cringe, as I find that subject very… well, subjective. I mean, take one of the most obvious offender of fake British accent, Kevin Costner in Robin Hood. He’s actually listed in the best category by Popeater! And Russell Crowe whom Mike and I regard as having one of the most convincing American accent was actually singled out in 15 most atrocious accent list by Total Film for his work in American Gangster. It also seems that accent might be critical to a certain role more than others. For example, Mike B thought that in The Ugly Truth, Gerard Butler’s American accent (or should I say lack thereof) was so unconvincing that his disbelief in the character ruined the movie for him. Now, I agree it was bad, but it didn’t bother me as much as the atrocious script and predictable plot did. At the same time, Butler’s Irish accent (which sounded very Scottish) in P.S. I Love You didn’t bother him much, neither did his uneven American one in Law Abiding Citizen. Which makes me wonder if our opinion on a given actor’s accent work depends on other factors, such as the script/storyline or even the character itself. Not to mention the origin of the audience’s familiarity with said accent, as South African natives no doubt have an entirely different opinion about Morgan Freeman imitating Nelson Mandela in Invictus than someone like me who don’t hear the language spoken very often.

It seems that there are three options that filmmakers can take in handling movie accents:

  1. Abandon using accents altogether, as this Guardian article suggests, as it did back in the day. “In Hollywood’s past, the voice of a film star was as much part of their persona as their looks. Had they distorted their voices, audiences would have felt as cheated as if their idols had worn masks. Therefore, stars rarely put on accents even when playing foreigners.”….
    Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg

    This one blogger actually praised Bryan Singer’s decision to forgo the German accents in his film Valkyrie, where all of the actors were told to speak in their natural accent. “We have an international cast — American actors, Dutch, German, British. To have everyone approximating German accents when, in reality, they’re supposed to be speaking German, which, I promise after the first 20 minutes, you’d be sick of it. It would ultimately sound silly. And it would distract from the drive of the plot. So, the decision was made pretty quickly.” Of course, the other side of the coin is that the mishmash of American/English/German dialects can be equally (or more) distracting, as this MSNBC review suggests. Some critics even call the decision ‘lazy’ and ultimately affects the entire movie’s credibility.
    ….

  2. Make all the actors learn to speak authentic said language and subtitle the film – The quandary with this is, people would be distracted from watching the actual film as they’re too busy reading the subtitles! With that said though, I didn’t have a problem with actors speaking in Aramaic in The Passion of the Christ, so it really depends on how the film is done. Besides, this route is certainly a far better option than having the actors’ voices dubbed by native speakers of a given language (as they did in some English/Foreign movies in Indonesia), which annoyed the heck out of me.
    ….
  3. Have the actors adopt the accents of the characters’ origin – this seems to be the most common in movies today, even at the risk of the accents being ‘butchered’ by the actor(s).

So readers, my question to you is this: How much weight do you put on it in regards to an actor’s credibility in a given role? In other words, do you think accent work make or break a movie?

60 thoughts on “Random Thoughts: Much ado about movie accents

  1. PrairieGirl

    To be totally honest, I never have paid much attention to accents in movies, and still don’t. I’m more of a casual viewer, so, as in the case of Russell Crow in the Insiders, I never knew he was Aussie (I think) to begin with, so never even knew he was having to use an American accent in that role. I’m much more interested in the acting and the story. However, if an accent is so thick (ala Penelope Cruz) that it’s hard to understand through the whole film, that bothers me a lot more than if an actor is doing a good job or not faking one.

  2. I guess I probably pay attention to actors’ accent a lot that it’s borderline obsessive 🙂 But you’re right, sometimes if I’ve never seen the actor before or don’t know where he’s from, his accent isn’t much of an issue. Funny you mention Penelope Cruz. Ivan can’t stand her speaking voice in whatever accent she does, so even though she’s gorgeous, he still doesn’t watch her movies. But apparently most people don’t have trouble with it as a lot of her movies are critically-acclaimed.

    1. PrairieGirl

      Hey, glad I’m with Ivan about PC. If I had to choose, though, I’d go with number 1, let the actors speak in their own voice unless it’s critical to the role (again, ala RC in the Insider). I agree with “audiences would have felt as cheated as if their idols had worn masks,” (although masked GB in Phantom was perfectly OK!) and isn’t this so true with much loved Gerry Butler. His lightly-accented real voice is what I’d really love to hear above anything else. Don’t know why he couldn’t have used it P.S. I Love You and TUT.

      1. Well, I think certain actors definitely can get away with ‘bad’ accent and GB is one of them for me. And yes his Phantom mask is what made me fall for him 🙂 He absolutely has to do Love Never Dies!

        Btw, he seems to be better at British accent than American ones, but I still prefer his natural one any day!

  3. Mike B.

    Movies often are about escaping disbelief so that one may enter the world the film maker has created. If a character is clearly American, but speaks with an Irish tongue for example, then that’s it for me. I lose it the same way I do when watching really bad special effects (a rarity today as 98% of films use high-end CG).

    “Believing” in what’s happening on screen is VERY important. It’s the engine behind what’s lead to films like “Avatar” – and we clearly love this trend. To have an over-paid actor ruin all the work the other artists have done on a film seems selfish to me.

    How much does a good accent coach really cost?

    1. I see your point. But clearly in a movie like Avatar, Sam Worthington could get away with his very Aussie-sounding American accent because people are too busy looking at the visuals and special effects. As to your second point, you can argue that people would rather see a certain famous actor with sub-par accent than an obscure/unknown one who can speak the language perfectly. I mean, a lot of people may make fun of say Leo DiCaprio’s South African accent in Blood Diamond, but the movie might not have been as successful if you replace him with a lesser-known actor. For me, if the acting and story is good, after a while I stop paying attention to how the actor speak.

  4. Samantha

    In my ideal world, people would do GOOD versions of the accents that they should be doing (representing the character’s nationality). However, there are plenty of good actors who can’t really do accents. Additionally, it’s all a very subjective thing. My love for Robert Downey, Jr. is well-documented, but I think that his standard British accent (see: Restoration, Sherlock Holmes) is absolutely dreadful. Ian McKellen, himself a Brit, is quoted as disagreeing with me. So what do I know? In some cases, I think that just having everyone do their own thing could work … perhaps in a film like Valkyrie, where the entire cast is supposed to be of a similar nationality, it’s ok. I do think, though, that in a film where it is important to an individual’s character (say, if they’re the only Brit/Aussie/American/whatever) within the structure of the film, they should work their butt off for it. If it’s done well, I won’t notice (or I will notice positively). If it’s bad … it might affect my enjoyment. Or not. I still love Ever After, despite Drew Barrymore’s wonky accent. 😀

    1. Yeah, that’d be nice wouldn’t it, like Mike said, how expensive can accent coach be? Aw, I thought RDJ’s British accent is pretty good, well, compared to other American actors anyways. Yeah, accent is a tricky one because what works for one could be a total deal-breaker for others, as in the case of Valkyrie. The funny thing is, even a good accent can be a distraction sometimes, too, as I keep thinking about how the actor achieved that, etc. I liked Ever After for a while, yeah Drew’s accent is ridiculous, but at least there’s hunky Dougray Scott to make up for it 😛

  5. Andrea

    I think the accent issues comes more into play when an actor does a really bad job. When an actor does a good accent, whether it is an american accent or a foreign accent you focus on the quality of the movie more than the actors ability in accents. But if the accent was bad and so bad that is was distracting in the movie – then it affects the overall quality of the experience. I think a better question is who can you stand to look at in movies, and I can go on a whole diatribe about Renee Zelweger and how much her face is distracting because it looks like she has sucked on a permanent lemon.

    1. Hi Andrea! Thanks for commenting girl… you’re awesome!

      I agree that good accent is definitely less distracting than bad ones, but if it’s REALLY good, and I know the actor doesn’t originally speak in that way, I marvel at his/her ability so much it sometimes takes away my focus from the story. Case in point, in Battlestar Galactica series, the character Lee Adama is played by Jamie Bamber. At first I didn’t know he isn’t American, so I didn’t really pay attention to his accent, but as soon as I found out he’s a Brit, I was so floored by how good his American accent is that I couldn’t even focus on what he’s saying. Or it could also be the fact that the dude is gorgeous! 🙂

      Hey, that’d make for an interesting post indeed. Poor Renee, I see your point but I’m kind of glad she’s famous despite not being classically beautiful.

  6. To be honest, I am having trouble really telling how well the accent is done. So as long as they are putting on some sort of accent, I’m happy 😉 Nicole Kidman is quite good at accents as well (I guess…)
    But what REALLY annoys me is when American (or British) actors play foreigners and they can barely speak the language of the character. It happens all the time and its sooo stupid! Every country has actors and there are a lot of foreign actors in America, why not use those?!

    1. Yeah, Nicole’s definitely one of the better ones, lots of Aussies are master at accents it seems, though Sam W. still have to work harder at perfecting his American. I agree about what you said, but for lead roles, the studios would always give ’em to actors who can pull in audiences even if they can’t master a certain language. Think about it though, if they go for sheer authenticity and just hire actors who are native speakers, they’ll be faced with another conundrum. They may speak the language perfectly, but can they act?

      1. gb

        of course they they can!

        as much as i love viggo mortensen, vincent cassel and armin muller-shtal all of them great actors, but they all they didn’t deliver, because their russian was so bad that it took them out of the role each time they spoke russian.

        one thing i don’t get is why not use russian actors in russian roles, there are so many good russian actors out there. they even have mila jovovich who’s pretty big name and speaks russian. the thing is they always use poles, czechs and slovaks even estonian in 2012, and estonians generaly have the worst russian accent.

    2. Zsolt

      Totally agree. Last time I saw some “fellow Hungarian countrymen” was when I saw IronMan. Of course we were portrayed as terrorists (what did some Hungarian do in an Afghan cave system is beyond me) and at one point they spoke Hungarian. I could only 1 or 2 word of it. It was pathetic.

      So yeah they should use foregin actors living in America. There are plenty of them.

  7. To me, accents bring something to the table only when used to highlight a character’s origin. If the entire cast is supposed to play Germans, then there is no point of having all the actors speak with a German accent but if the entire cast is supposed to play Americans and one actor is supposed to be German, then an accent is required.

    Accents are most useful when used to depict different accent from the same language like in English/American/Australian or US northeast and US Deep south

    1. Yep, that’s exactly Bryan Singer’s argument in letting the actors speak in their natural accent, as the whole characters are from the same place so the audience don’t have to rely on their speech to figure out where each of them is from. If we were to imagine the English language is a ‘substitute’ to German in “Valkyrie,” then we might as well imagine they’re speaking in different German dialects.

  8. mcarteratthemovies

    The one accent that has been butchered beyond reason in almost every movie it’s been used in is the Southern accent. And I’m not just saying that because I’m, you know, from South Carolina. Everyone overdoes it. EVERYONE. They assume we all talk like Scarlett O’Hara or Blanche DuBois.

    If we’re looking for bad accent royalty, let us place Nick Cage high on this list. If you saw “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” you understand what I mean. And if you saw “Con Air,” recall: “Put the bunny back in the box.” I shall say no more.

    1. I think you’re right, M, but then again a lot of folks think people from Upper Midwest talk like those in Fargo! Stereotyping is faster (like Clooney’s character says in Up in the Air) … or just plain lazy!

      Oh Nick Cage… that guy’s a riot, he seems to be more well-known for his faults than his strengths… not that it slows his career down much though. More power to him I guess. Yep I’ve seen both movies and he definitely should be in any ‘worst accent’ list.

    2. Sean C

      Might I add the Irish accent to that list. Whether it is Tom Cruise bordering on racist, Dennis Hopper in Ticker playing an IRA member with an atrocious accent. He uses this bad accent and drops it whenever he feels like it. Sometimes he’s Irish, sometimes American. Nicole Kidman has an awful accent in Far and Away, just like Tom. Julia Roberts did a terrible accent twice, once in Michael Collins, and again in Mary Reilly. Her awful accent in Michael Collins is unforgivable, she was surrounded by Irish people. By the time Mary Reilly came round, she should have known better. Horrible. Gerard Butler in PS. I love you, also horrible. Ewan McGregor’s accent in Angels and Demons, also awful.
      Angus MacFadyen in Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. The guy cannot make up his mind if he is meant to be Irish or Scottish. He’s meant to be Irish. Kevin Spacey in Ordinary Decent Criminal. Really bad, but then again, Spacey could never do an accent. Alexander, with Colin Farrell is filled with bad Irish accents. Finian’s rainbow, whether it is Fred Astaire or the british guy playing the leprechaun, is full to the brim with awful accents.

      Btw, I have to give a positive mention to Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep for working so hard to get their accents right. Pitt is meant to be from Northern Ireland, and the accent is decidedly different than the Republic of Ireland accent.
      And Meryl Streep works hard to get the accent. Sort of like Alec Guinness, or Daniel Day Lewis in terms of research and preparation.

      1. This bit from your comment made me laugh ‘…Colin Farrell is filled with bad Irish accents’ Isn’t he Irish?? But the bigger question is, why would he be speaking Irish in a Greek epic?!

        1. Sean C

          I forgot to add the comma. Meant to say”Alexander, with Colin Farrell, is filled with bad Irish accents.”

          There are quite a few differing accents in Ireland, same as anywhere, and Colin Farrel’s is a North Dublin accent
          Thing about Farrell, he’s never seemed to perfect the American accent. His Dublin accent is too thick and comes through quite often.

          Btw, I’m Irish, so the Irish accents in ancient Macedonia was a massive “What the hell?!” to me too. I like Val Kilmer, I really do, but his accent really bad in this. Really bad. He’s attempted an Irish accent before, in the Ghost and the Darkness, and it was just as poor.He was not the main problem tho, I mean, I was able to overlook his bad accent after a while, and accept the character, but Angelina Jolie was like a Bond villain, and not in a good way.

          Val Kilmer has also gone on the record as saying it takes him awhile to prepare the character, he has to learn the role, and absorb himself in it. See him as Jim Morrison and you can see that he is damn good when he wants to be, and often when he needs to be. It’s just some directors do not like his method of preparation. Others seem to enjoy it as it shows dedication.

          1. Oh, that makes more sense then, Sean 🙂 Man, I might rent Alexander just for a good laugh… Jolie like a Bond villain in a bad way, ha..ha… good one!

            I think some actors just can’t do accent per se, no matter how hard they tried. But some probably just don’t apply themselves as much as they should, for whatever reason. Btw, you mention Gerard Butler’s bad Irish accent in P.S., I think he actually apologized for sounding like a Leprechaun in several interviews… he..he.. at least he admits that it was bad. A lot of Scottish actors seem to have trouble with accents, I mean it’s all relative of course, but compared to say, Aussie actors who seem to be able to do British/American accent flawlessly, no wonder US TV shows are full of them!

  9. Monica

    I am an Australian and my pet hate is in American films where they have us sounding like Kiwis. Those who know, know the difference and an easy way to tell us apart is Aussies don’t say fush and chips. Or six for sex. If you catch my drift.

  10. Andrew

    Hugh Laurie. Simon Pegg. Daniel Davies. Bill Nighy. Cate Blanchett. Kate Winslet. Rachel Weiss. Nicole Kidman. Just to name a few of the celebrities whom have phenomenal dialect work. It is possible, and I think that if it it is needed to enhance the character for the audience, then it should be very well done. Also, if everyone else in the cast of a foreign based film is of one dialect, and one person is not, even though their character is supposed to have the same back ground as everyone else, dialects are needed. Case in point, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”. Even American Christian Slater had a form of a British dialect. Not a good one, by any means, but significantly more forgivable than Kostner’s non dialect. I think dialects should be used with care, but when they are they should be used to the max. Incidentally, Hugh Laurie is British, though his “House” is very American. Simon Pegg is also British though from more of the Western area and he has done Scottish (Star Trek) and he has done American. Daniel Davies, is more noted as the snobby British butler on T.V’s “The Nanny”. He is American. The list does go on with who can actually do it. I just wish more were able.

  11. Rhys

    Sam Worthington very obviously, can’t quite get the American accent down yet, but whilst I was bothered by it in Terminator, it didn’t bother me at all in Avatar. The reason is the background.

    In Terminator, Marcus was given a little backstory, and as far as I’m concerned, it portayed him as being 100% American. I don’t know why, I guess it’s because that film was set, in the USA, and you’d assume that everyone is American. Anton Yelchin did a great accent.

    In Avatar, though because there isn’t really any focus on nationality, who’s to say, that whilst being a marine, one of his parent’s wasn’t Australian?

    That’s the way I see accents, if I really like the film, I try and rationalise. If the accent is bad, and I like the film, it annoys the hell out of me, and in the end I might turn against the film. If the film sucks for other reasons too, it doesn’t bother me, because the movie was ruined by other things aswell.

    1. I absolutely agree with your reasoning here, Rhys. I think in some movies where the nationality part is left open then it’s not as big a deal, so the comparison between Sam W’s characters in TS and Avatar is spot-on. I truly believe it’s not only subjective but relative to other factors of a given movie, i.e. acting, script, etc.

    1. I think it’s well-established that Reeves can’t do accents … that’s why he’s probably more successful in movies where there’s less dialog and more action 🙂

      1. Tho I love keanu so much!! I have to agree with you. Hehe can’t act well..and accent is really not his thing. I hope he won’t try to do Japanese accent for his newest movie.

  12. BETTE

    I understand that when the TV show, “The Nanny,” was showen in the UK, they were critical of Charles Shuanessy’s (Mr Sheffield’s) British accent not being authentic enough, but they LOVED Daniel Davis’s (the butler, Niles) accent, and said that Shaunessy should strive to sound more like him. The trouble was, that Shaunessy IS a Brit (of nobility, no less!). Davis is from Arkansas!!!

    1. Oh now I really have to find clips of The Nanny just to see what you mean. That is hilarious that the Brit is thought to be not authentic enough… more power for Mr. Davis I guess.

  13. Sioux

    I thought Catherine Zeta Jones did very well with her Spanish accent in the Zorro movies.
    As for Morgan Freeman with the Mandela accent. Nelson Mandela has a very unique way of talking which does not necessarily have anything to do with his accent. Though not perfecting that, Morgan did a fine job portraing him especially in the way he walked – it was Matt Damon that left a lot to be desired – he was probably just the wrong guy for the role considering that Francois Pienaar is about 6’7″ and towered over Mandela.
    Personally I feel (being proudly South African) that american’s should rather stick to their own accents and leave the SA accent to the South African’s as they just can’t do it well enough. Or get tips from Arnold Vosloo seeing that he just can’t seem to loose his SA accent.
    Wasn’t Leo’s accent supposed to be Zimbabwean – it is different to SA.

    1. That’s exactly what I thought about Damon’s casting. Seriously, the guy is almost a whole FOOT shorter than the real guy, and his accent is so intelligible I’d opt to watch it on dvd so I can turn the caption on.

      Btw, I didn’t know Vosloo is South African, good to know. Are you talking about Leo in Blood Diamond? I don’t believe he was in Invictus.

  14. Eline

    There’s only one show where accents are allowed: ‘Allo ‘Allo.
    Furthermore if film maker want the accents or language real bad, cast actors who speak it.

    And about subtitles, I am from Holland so I read subtitles all the time. Subtitles ain’t bad. (only for men who can’t do two things at the same time)

    1. Being from Indonesia where ALL movies shown in theaters have subtitles when I grew up, it doesn’t bother me much either. I’ll take that over dubbing… that’s just plain wrong! I mean, parts of what I like about certain actors is their voice and how they talk, so if they replace ’em with some unknowns it’s like taking away a HUGE chunk of their individuality. But yeah, those who have problem multitasking would definitely have issues with subtitles 🙂

    2. Sean C

      That’s a tad sexist to say men won’t read subtitles. Lazy too.

      I’m a guy, and I watch the old Chaplin films, and the Keaton films, as well as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, as well as more modern films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, and I can tell you that we have no obligation to reading subtitles. I know some of my friends dislike Hero and Crouching Tiger not because of the subtitles, but moreso because of the ‘flying’.

      So subtitles are not a problem for me, or many others. What does annoy me, however, is when the subtitles are too small. When one has to squint to read the darn things, it sucks us out of the movie. It’s like they deliberately chose to use size 8 font, instead of the regular 12 or 14 that are used every day. It becomes annoying fast when one cannot read the words without having to squint, and sucks one out of the film.

    3. Zsolt

      Eline your are idiot. Maybe you constantly met the wrong men. Everybody in the world (except the Americans no offens just plain experience) read subtitles and has no problems with.
      If you have issues with men solve it and you will get a life. Cheers!

  15. Brother Shamus

    Two pet peeves of mine regarding accents:

    1) In old-school Hollywood films, if the movie takes place in another language, they’re all British. First century Jews and Romans? British. Eighteenth century French? British. And not just any British dialect, but that very proper, slightly theatrical Gielgud/Olivier variety.

    2) Charlton Heston in “Touch of Evil.” He plays a Mexican, and despite being surrounded by ACTUAL Mexicans with genuine accents, doesn’t bother to attempt one. Far worse, he doesn’t even pronounce his few Spanish lines anywhere near correctly. He sticks out like a big Gringo sore thumb.

  16. For me, accents are very important. I view it as adding or subtracting credibility to a film. While I love Gladiator, I can not stand Russel Crowe’s “Spaniard” accent. Other than that particular film I think his accent is fine. Also, Gerard Butler’s American accent is down right terrible. His roles should not require him to act American. I wish that directors would cast actors who can convincingly speak in the required accent, or scrap the accent all together.

  17. Shaun

    Just FYI — Kevin Costner did NOT adopt a British accent for his role in Robin Hood. As the story goes, he tried in rehearsals, but it was so bad that it was decided that he would have to do it accent-free. Given that most of the other actors donned accents for their roles, it made Costner’s overt Americanism stick out all the more.

    My opinion is that if ALL main members of a cast cannot do the appropriate accent passably, then none of them should, and the audience should be left to use suspension of disbelief.

    1. Drive-By Correction

      Actually, Kevin Costner started off production attempting an English accent. It was actually during filming that Costner and the director, Kevin Reynolds, threw in the towel. This is why his accent actually varies from scene to scene—the ones in which he is butchering the accent were the first to have been shot.

  18. JM

    I actually prefer subtitles to a heavy put-on accent. I don’t know why people in my country (U.S.) are so against subtitles–they’re so easy! I’m glad that at least a few movies in the recent past have done well with most/all of the movie in subtitles, such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “The Passion of the Christ”, and most recently “Inglorious Basterds.” I was SOOOOO glad that IB chose to use the real languages! It made the movie that much more amazing, and the fantasy history that much more involving.

    1. I just recently caught Inglourious Basterds, yes I totally agree with you. The use of real languages is a great choice, that’s one of the best use of subtitles in a film… one of the reason that make up a great film. That one’ll be a classic!

  19. manxman

    Angelina Jolie in Alexander. And just about everybody else in this movie except Val Kilmer, who stuck to his guns and spoke normally. There were so many regional English accents at large and Colin Farrell’s Irish Macedonian that the end result was hysterical.

    1. Sean C

      Um, Manxman, if you listen clearly, or watch it again (not recommended) you can clearly hear that Val does actually try to put on an Irish accent. The fact of the matter is that, just like when he did Ghost in the Darkness, he half heartedly attempts an Irish accent, yet does such a bad job that it’s barely noticable.

      But the film is littered with bad accents, Jolie and co, and bad acting, such as Colin Farrell, that the film is unbelievably unwatchable.

      1. Thanks for the warning about ‘Alexander,’ guys, I won’t waste my time with that one. I think the case of bad accent becomes irrelevant if a movie is littered with bad acting, which seems to be the case here.

  20. Knut

    I think the actors speaking the original language with subtitles is definitely the preferable option, I am used to subtitled films though, as I grew up with them. The main problem with this method is that the actors quite often suck at the languages they’re supposed to speak, in which case the role should either be recast, or the entire film should switch to English. I hate it when characters who are supposed to be speaking some other language use English with accents; the accents are almost always atrocious and it makes no sense to me. The only time accents should be used is if the accent or geographical origin of the character is important to the film.

  21. Guinnesslad

    I prefer use of appropriate accents in many circumstances such as historical stories. I realize that foreign, to the US, characters should be speaking in there native tongues I think the use of proper accents instead can and do add in the total story immersion that you are hoping to feel. Most specifically when the story in corporates both American/British main characters as well as other nationalities because the separation of “sides” is interesting. The problem is that all too often the accents are not done well at all and the immersive effect is lost.

    I really appreciate the choice and execution done in “Hunt for Red October”. Sean Connery aside, starting the movie in actual Russian and then shifting to English was a good move for a blockbuster American film and the way the changeover was composed and edited was excellent. I am not sure if filmmakers now can adopt that approach more often or if that might be seen as stealing or cheating. In any case I liked the choice and the movie and was not put off by Sir Connery’s lack of proper accent after the switch when I very probably would have been with out it.

    1. Shaun

      Yes, The Hunt For Red October is an excellent example, because they actually LEAD you to suspend your disbelief. It’s right out front.

  22. Followed the link from IMDB today. To Rhys: Why assume that the mercs in “Avatar” are *any* kind of American, with or without one Australian parent? It’s 2154 and surely therefore an Earth company, not an American one. For all we know (IIRC we aren’t told), the whole Earth is under one government, or under one multinational evil corporation, much the same thing, and the evil corporation would naturally recruit grunts and henchpeople from the whole planet. Which they do even now. I’m surprised that all the Terran characters are the same shade of non-blue, thought we had gone beyond the “all earthlings are USA-ian” syndrome. Even Verhoeven knew better than that.

    I’m with Castor and rtm. Having “Germans” speak English with a German accent is wholly ludicrous. They speak their own language quite perfectly, thank you! So if they’re going to be played by Anglo actors, they should be played without linguistic tics.

    On the other hand, if it’s important that one German is a noble and another is a hick like You-know-who, one might have the former speaking old-school BBC English and the latter some English dialect that sounds uneducated to our ears. I guess I missed some of the flavour of Bruno Ganz doing Hitler for not being a German-speaker; but in the last analysis, this is not a soluble problem.

  23. Jay Auritt

    Don’t be so quick to give “The Hunt for Red October” credit for originating the method of beginning the movie with Russian dialog for the Russian characters and then, after it is established that the Russians are indeed speaking Russian, switching to English. “Judgment at Nurenberg” did the same thing back in 1961, something John McTiernan, director of HFRO, pointed out in his DVD commentary.

    1. Guinnesslad

      Quick note, I wasn’t trying to imply that “Hunt” originated the concept just that they it was a good idea and was well done. I do think it something that should be employed more frequently.

  24. Willandra

    If accents are important to creating a sense of place I value and enjoy them… on True Blood the South and the town of Bon Temps are almost characters.

    Of the actors who play the four leads only Sam speaks with an American accent, Jason is Australian, Sookie has a New Zealand accent and Bill is British. I think they do a great job. It would be hard to believe Sookie and Jason as siblings who lived in that town all their life if their accents were wildly different.

    A Professor of Linguistics once wrote an article about why so many Australian actors do ‘good’ accents (pre Sam Worthington!) and why British and American actors have trouble doing an Australian accent.

    The Australian accent is produced at the front of the mouth with small movements. Australians move their lips and jaws the least of any English speakers.

    And it is much easier to go from limited movement to big movements (like those that produce some American accents), than the other way around.

  25. I go with No. 2. I can’t stand it, for instance, when Nazis speak English to each other in WWII movies. Why would they do that? That’s why I like A Bridge Too Far (1976) so much… Because only if they’re talking to Americans or Brits do they speak English.

    I think actors should assume accents IF: 1. It’s necessary, and 2. They can fake them well. In conclusion, I didn’t contribute anything to the conversation. So sue me. 🙂

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