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This is a film with excellent performances, even if Liam Neeson is probably the weaker of the three leads. He seems to gasp to keep up with two ladies that have lived theatre and film all their lives and know how to be and unload at any minute. His character is good but not as strong as the other two. The other two stand out, and Liam's characterization only stands out because he is in the way between the outside and Nell, and just about everyone has to go through him. But he manages to hold himself well, even if the acting has to descend into the level of mechanics to be able to get something across. One never feels this lack of ability and confidence in the other two ladies. But it is not fair to say that Liam is not good. He is very good.

-- Review for Nell - www.imdb.com

Been seeing this phrase a lot, but the meaning of it is a little ambiguous. It looks like it generally means despite some parts being flawed, one still manages to cut the mustard?

  • This is strange, because maybe I've never gave any thought at all when I read "hold someone's self well", which I'm sure such a phrase must cross my eyes more times than I can count. Perhaps the best rephrase I can think of at the moment for "hold himself well" may be "hold himself up against sth.", where sth. in this context seems to be the expectation. – Damkerng T. Dec 8 '13 at 7:16
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Let's have a look at some of this reviewer's other handiwork:

The recent wave of films from the Netherlands, and some other parts of Europe, shows one thing that Hollywood has yet to learn. That one does not need massive budgets to make films, and that with some clever work, and well thought out acting, a small film can look much better than many high budget productions that show more gloss than dedication.

Did you notice how that passage is mispunctuated? That first period should be a colon instead of a period, and the comma usage could stand some improvement.

English comedy has been around for a very long time. And unlike much of the American stand up and living room comedy styles the past 50 years, it translates well to the screen. Perhaps it is that English comedy appears to have to stand up to its massive literary tradition, whereas the American style is still searching for a character of its own. In the 50's there were the Goons. After the Goons came Pete and Dud.And after them, comes Monty Python. And they have lasted.

This paragraph has choppy sentences; plus, using and to begin a sentence may not be prohibited, but it's definitely overused in this small sample. I don't even know what "living room comedy" is, and a 10-minute web search proved fruitless. The lack of a space before the second-to-last sentence is transcribed from the original. There is much more that could be said about the quality of that paragraph, but I think I'll simply sum it up by saying I would not recommend gleaning any English skills from this writer.

What's my point? These are excerpts from two other movie reviews submitted by Mr. Sena, who wrote the passage you quote in your question, and I didn't have to look hard to find these samples of shoddy writing.

One thing that can't be emphasized enough is the meaning of anything is inexorably tied to context, and part of that context is who wrote the English. In this case, from the three movie reviews I suffered through, I can tell you one thing with certainty: Mr. Sena is a terrible writer, and is badly in need of an editor or proofreader.

Consequently, only Mr. Sena could really tell you what he means by manages to hold himself well in his movie review. My guess, though, would be that he really means that Mr. Neeson holds his own alongside the other two actresses. NOAD lists:

hold one's own retain a position of strength in a challenging situation : I can hold my own in a fight.

If I was his editor, I would rewrite the sentence as follows:

However, he does an admirable job of holding his own, even if his acting becomes a bit mechanical when he hammers a point.

Maybe that's not perfect either, but I stand by my assertion it's at least an improvement over the original. In any case, I certainly wouldn't want to be his editor – that would be a taxing job indeed!

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I think you got it right!

His character is good but not as strong as the other two.

In this context it does mean that Liam managed it, though somehow, up to a satisfactory level.

Nevertheless, hold good/well can be used in different ways:

Reference lists hold well/good under the category of Idioms & Phrases

Hold good (also Hold true): Be valid, apply.

Cambridge defines it, though in other context -

Hold good: to continue to be true. As in "Their arguments were valid a hundred years ago and they still hold good today."

  • 2
    I think you got a general idea of the quote right, but I'm not sure we should translate "hold himself well" the same way as "hold good". – Damkerng T. Dec 8 '13 at 7:11

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