Sometimes the “most” acting isn’t the “best” acting.

Subtle Performance Burning

Well Go USA

By Meg Shields · Published on December 28th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the times when subtle on-screen performances were preferable to going big.

First things first, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: there is nothing wrong with a big performance. Performing for the nosebleeds is an art unto itself and a tried-and-true tradition that goes back to everything from pantomime to kabuki. And that does raise an interesting point: while “theatrical” performances on-screen are all well and good, they aren’t exclusively “cinematic.”

I’m not so sure that the same can be said about more restrained examples of screen acting. When a camera is capable of picking up every subtle muscular twitch, eyebrow raise, and darting glance, actors are capable of achieving something that, arguably, is unique to the moving image. Microexpressions are something that can only happen on film. And while bold performances where actors are doing “the most acting” tend to draw the most eyes, as the video essay below argues, the more subtle showings are just as praiseworthy.

If you enjoy learning about acting as a craft, I’d recommend checking out our own Jacob Trussell’s column, The Great Performances, which explores the art behind some of cinema’s best roles. In the meantime, give this great video essay a watch:

Watch “In Praise of Subtle Performance”


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Who made this?

This video essay on great subtle performances in movies is by Virginia-based filmmaker and video editor Thomas Flight. He runs a YouTube channel under the same name. You can follow Thomas Flight and check out his back catalog of video essays on YouTube here. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How’d They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).

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