Many thanks to the team that put this show on the air. Pix not necessarily from show.
Used for illustrative purposes only, available here.
I did not watch Law & Order: Criminal Intent when it first aired, so I was free to observe this character Robert Goren from start to finish but not in chronological order. And it didn’t take ten years like it did for original fans. Reruns skip around the sequential narrative built over the seasons; different channels showing the episodes at their own point in a progression. I see Bobby Goren on his first day… two years in… six… four… eight. The essence of my appreciation is that here we observe a man through the prism of time: forwards, backwards, freeze-frame.The coherence of the acting is attractive because we like a rock-solid guy on our side identifying unsavory behaviors in people we thought we knew.
Bobby works his cop job, he goes stoic in dress blues; he is conscious of the force in his position. He’s hideously inquisitive, relentless in his love for the bedrock of confession. His own included.
He gives us a common reference, this tall brusque thinker, self-contained for the most part, filled with facts. Detective Goren jolts us with his temper now and then, righteously hot. His bursts of physical dominance are rare but memorable, manhandling a perp up against a wall, bam. (Rewind. Bam.) We see this big dude take a whiplash slap upside the face from a crazed teen prophet – Detective Goren rocks to the side. You realize he probably doesn’t get hit often, but in a twinkle he is back in the space of this deluded evil man-child, snaring him by the arms. Exerting control. Then Goren says “Ouch.” (Kudos to Billy Lush, the young actor who stepped up and smacked Vinnie D’, one hell of a cool acting moment. (Surely I’m not the only one who has thought of it, at one time or another.))
I write about these real-world guys in my books, so I am fascinated by Goren’s gestation. My “guys” are tow truck operators, grocery store managers, woodworkers, and disillusioned lawyers. I’ve studied them and admire their masculinity. I then proceed to portray their humanity. Bobby Goren is our civil gladiator, he’s cognizant of the ways of the world even if aloof from them. What fun for me to see this crime chronicle in bits and pieces, in long runs, mixed with flashbacks from any old episode that pops up on the channel guide. There are sturdy people out among us, good eggs and strong souls, we need to believe that (it’s a form of faith) and Goren reassures us it is ever so.
He had bosses, he had partners; he had his D.A. (devil’s advocate). Faces changed and rearranged, plots thickened; and Robert Goren held his place. This was a showcase of method, and the tantalizing madness therein. Master Thespian Vincent D’Onofrio bestowed on all of us the enduring embodiment of male humanity, striding ahead in a suit and overcoat, extending his already large presence with those great hands that he made sure you saw framing, gesticulating, drumming. I believe he used us, the TV audience, to sharpen his impact on the little audience of people he worked with every day – the people who knew what they were capturing. What I see here is an ensemble player with a solo talent. Maybe it wasn’t like that at all, I just don’t want to think our star could be, uhh, sloppy, but you see the show rolling along, rolling like a river – there’s a little bit of back beat; it’s Bobby’s pulse. (We felt it stutter when Eames was gone.)
People fall in love with enduring characters like that, we appreciate that the show didn’t muck up his sterling performance by having him rutting with co-workers, victims or witnesses. It would not have been possible for him to retain his dignity if portrayed as some kind of a hound (although he would sniff almost anything at a crime scene or in the morgue). This was a whole man, a grown man but not a saint. We can paint our own backdrop for his off-camera time because D’Onofrio nailed Goren; he “got” the guy then gave him to us.
Many thanks to cable TV for letting me rocket around a decade of work in a matter of months. I know you can get the shows in order, on various media, ever so tidy, but this time travel approach seems a way better way to appreciate the depth and breadth of talent it took to make that particular Law & Order world plausible even when deconstructed by time. I certainly didn’t expect to fall in love with an actor-lawman… until I realized it was a cousinly love, in honor of what I prize in that half of the species. Not desire, not that kind of love (but almost); it is a bit of hero worship mixed with self-indulgence as I avoid my own desk by watching that man work.
KATHLEEN K. invites you to read…