“To the end of his life, Marlon Brando insisted that he had done nothing special. In his view acting was a trade like plumbing or baking. The only difference was that he played characters instead of unclogging drains or kneading loaves of bread. This was not false modesty; he believed in what he said. But what believed was untrue.
There was screen acting before Brando and after Brando, just as there was painting before Picasso and after Picasso and writing before Hemingway and after Hemingway and popular singing before Sinatra and after Sinatra, and even the casual observer can tell the difference. As film historian Molly Haskell pointed out, the film star’s legend “is written in one word. BRANDO. Like Garbo. Or Fido. An animal, a force of nature, an element; not a human being who must, as a member of society, distinguish himself from other members with a christian name and initial as well as a surname. There is only one Brando.”
…From his debut film, The Men, in 1950, Brando worked without a mask. The inner wounds were manifest, and the risks he took- doing anything, no matter how outlandish or unflattering, to make a character credible- had never been attempted by a Hollywood star. His predecessors drew a line between their private lives and their movie roles. No such boundary existed between Brando the actor and Brando the man. They were one and the same: complicated, dangerous, vulnerable. That, too, was different.
…When Brando first appeared, he shook up screen acting in a way that had not been seen since performers were given voices in 1927. His work had been sedulously imitated by performers for more than half a century. Those actors have unwittingly obscured the contributions of the man who started it all… Marlon was the first to show a profound vulnerability beneath the male exterior, as well as a willingness to depart from the script not out of perversity or an inability to remember his lines, but because he was going for the truth of the character at that moment.
Along comes Brando, and an art form is transfigured.”
-Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando, Stefan Kanfer