Jim Beam “Parallels”

Liquor advertising is fast becoming a canvas for virtuoso acting performances. In 2009, we saw Robert Carlyle march his way through a five-minute, continuous-take Johnny Walker spot from BBH, bringing the brand’s entire history masterfully to life with a wonderful walking monologue in the Scottish highlands. Now, StrawberryFrog has crafted this peculiar and compelling 90-second spot for Jim Beam, directed by Dante Ariola, with the chameleonic Oscar-nominated actor Willem Dafoe playing almost every character while ruminating on the nature of life’s choices and where they lead you. In the end, they mean nothing less than success or failure, the spot says—between being the trapeze artist or the manure shoveler, the bigwig or the chauffeur, the aristocrat or the skinhead, the chess player or (strangely enough for Dafoe) the sumo wrestler. “Life boils down to a series of choices,” he says in the voiceover. “All choices lead you somewhere. Bold choices lead you where you are supposed to be.” Jim Beam, the ad suggests, is among the latter. Dafoe is captivating as ever in this semi-autobiographic piece (the last shot represents his decision as a young man to head to New York City from his hometown of Appleton, Wis.), and his eccentric streak serves the artsy black-and-white spot well. Beam is following its own advice here. Hiring a quirky actor for a highbrow experiment outside its wheelhouse? That’s pretty bold.  – Tim Nudd