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Soldier, vampire, motel manager … painter? What does Willem Dafoe have to do to win an Oscar?

Soldier, vampire, motel manager … painter? What does Willem Dafoe have to do to win an Oscar?

When you see “At Eternity’s Gate,” which opens Nov. 16, sit back and sink into Willem Dafoe’s remarkable performance as the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. This is not Kirk Douglas in 1956’s “Lust for Life” or last year’s animated “Loving Vincent.” Fimmaker Julian Schnabel, an artist himself who previously cast the actor in 1996’s “Basquiat” and 2010’s “Miral,” places his star and us in the middle of the rustic French countryside with paint, brush and easel. At one point, Dafoe covers his face with dirt, becoming one with the outdoors. We see nature through his gaze, as he thickly slathers paint on his canvas to create a visceral work of art.

At 63, Dafoe is far older than the tortured Vincent, who died from suicide at 37. But, at some point, you will think that with his chiseled cheekbones and perceptive eyes, “Of course, he should have embodied this misunderstood genius long ago.

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