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Perfect for every part

In his review of “Burn After Reading,” Roger Ebert remarked that Frances McDormand has a “rare ability to seem correctly cast in every role.” Truer words were never spoken, I’d say, but they made me little mind take a wander and a ponder. (It’s dangerous to do both at once, but my mind sort of walks on the wild side.) And so I considered: Are there other modern-day actors/actresses out there who seem perfect for every role no matter how good or bad the movie?

(Prepare for some serious anticlimactic-ness. I would have stopped writing if the answer to this question was “no.”)

Eventually I devised a list of modern actors/actresses who impress me every time I see them. Today I’ll keep the focus on the men.

The actors

  • Christian Bale — OK, fine, so this one was a gimme, you’re screaming at me. Maybe it was. But any list of chameleonic actors that does not contain Bale’s name is a fraud because nobody does it quite like Bale. He’s gotten stuck in a rut of late, but his talent tells me he’s got a lighter (though no less brilliantly acted) role in him somewhere.
  • Adrien Brody — From big-name critic pleasers (i.e., “The Pianist”) to low-budge, so-so indies (“Dummy,” “Love the Hard Way”) to a movie with Tupac (“Bullet”), Brody’s done it all, and every character’s believable. Now that’s real talent, and not the kind you can learn in acting school.
  • Don Cheadle — It goes without saying that no one’s quite as willing to try anything as Cheadle, who moves from Oscar-worthy stuff (“Hotel Rwanda,” “Crash”) to slick fun (the “Ocean’s” trilogy) to pure fluff (“Hotel for Dogs”) with an air of cool that can’t be penetrated. Bring on the new Col. Rhodes.
  • Johnny Depp — Everyone remembers Johnny Depp as someone different. (To me, he’ll always be Jack Sparrow/Gilbert Grape/Sam.) He’s never the same character twice (though he does bring that left-of-center attitude to many roles), and that’s why he continues to captivate us so. Anyone who has the stones to attempt to remake Willy Wonka gets in on sheer guts.
  • Richard Jenkins — All hail to the (until recently) unsung hero of Hollywood. Relegated to way-too-small parts, this superb character actor routinely steals scenes (“The Man Who Wasn’t There”) or improves a terrible movie (“Step Brothers,” anyone?). “The Visitor” was his chance to take the lead, and I hope he gets many, many more. He certainly deserves them.
  • William H. Macy — Macy’s the low-key guy who makes a point to sneak up and win us over when we’re not looking. TV, drama, black comedy (check him out in “Thank You for Smoking”) — there’s nothing this actor can’t handle. I think we all know he was the only heavy-hitter in “Wild Hogs” … which is a compliment even if it doesn’t quite sound like one.
  • Sean Penn — He’s a tricky, tricky fellow, this one, and a chameleon who just plain disappears into whatever character he’s playing. All talk of his petulance, snippy interviews, volatile relationship with the media melts away when he’s Harvey Milk, or Jimmy Markum, or Matthew Poncelot.
  • Joaquin Phoenix — There was a time (you remember it, and fondly) before Joaquin grew the mountain man beard and turned weirder than Kristen Stewart’s hair that he was quite the transformer. He could make funny (“8MM,” “Buffalo Soldiers”), do action (“Ladder 49”) and go for wrenching drama (everything else he ever did). Will someone order the exorcism so we can get the real J.P. back?
  • Geoffrey Rush — Rush has been so many colorful characters that it’s hard to pick a favorite (Casanova Frankenstein — wait, it’s not so hard). From the Marquis de Sade to Javert (how literary!) to Peter Sellers to the intellectual Captain Barbosa playing, well, Javert to Johnny Depp’s Valjean, Rush makes it look so darn easy, and cool to boot.
  • Benicio del Toro — Benicio always gets us with the drama. Nobody does “tortured and mysterious” quite like him (see “The Pledge” or “21 Grams”), and so the comedy — when he unleashes it — shocks us silly. But he’s got jokes, too, and a sly sense of humor that will come to good use in “The Three Stooges.” If anybody could revamp Moe Howard, it’s Fred Fenster, alright.

What say you, readers? Let’s hear your suggestions.

Blog love (Vol. 1)

Sometimes you have a great idea. But sometimes someone else has a great idea, and all you can do is applaud and stand, slack-jawed, in awe.

Such is the case with one Edward Boe, who has been stricken with the intense desire to see — and review — every one of the 1,001 movies listed in Stephen Scheider’s “1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.” ‘Tis a bold, time-consuming, gigantic undertaking. It might be a little crazy, too, but most great ideas are.

So mosey on over to 1001 Movies I Must Comment On Before I Die! to read, learn, enjoy and perhaps be inspired to try a cultural experiment of your own choosing. Inspiration is far too rare these days, if you ask me, and those who have flashes of it deserve support — and, of course, blog love.

Review: “Reservation Road” (2007)

reservation_roadBy all rights, Terry George’s “Reservation Road” should be a 2 a.m. Lifetime Television weeper. All the trappings are there — a freak car accident that turns into an unsolved hit-and-run case; a grieving father who sees closure only in revenge; a driver whose sanity is buckling under the weight of what he’s scrambled to cover up — just waiting to be exploited shamelessly. But here’s the real shocker: That … never … happens. “Reservation Road” is no crudely simplified fable with a villain and a hero and a gift-wrapped ending; it’s not that kind of movie. No, what happens here is complex, delicate and deliberate. Don’t expect to walk away unshaken. 

Of course, part of what makes “Reservation Road” so compelling is the (admittedly) hokey-sounding crisis at its center: Driving home from a late Red Sox game with his son, Dwight (Mark Ruffalo) veers off the highway and rams into a child on the roadside at a gas station, killing the 10-year-old boy while his father Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) watches, too shocked to remember the car or the driver’s face. Dwight, without quite knowing what he’s doing, drives away, leaving Ethan, his wife Grace (Jennifer Connelly) and their daughter with a dead body and no answers.

All of this happens very early, and there’s a reason for those emotionally punishing first 10 minutes: These events provide a framework for the rest of “Reservation Road,” which grows more unsettling each minute. The pile of coincidences is a stretch — or is it? In a small town, is it so hard to believe that the victim and the criminal might know each other? Have kids in the same school? Maybe George pushes this angle a bit too hard, makes it a bit too unsubtle, but perhaps this is necessary to pull us in. After all, nothing about this film is easy because “Reservation Road” splits us right down the center, forces us t0 see humanity in the criminal (a divorced dad afraid to lose partial custody of his son), demons in the wronged man (whose grief takes him to an ugly place). To identify with one man is to identify with the other. Phoenix and Ruffalo’s gut-wrenching performances ensure this much.

Oh, and speaking of the performances: Many argue that the faceoff of 2007 was DiCaprio/Damon in “The Departed.” Hardly. What Phoenix and Ruffalo do in “Reservation Road” lays waste to that claim. These two pour themselves into roles that require a frightening amount of emotional energy. Phoenix, who specializes in surly intensity, shows how close resignation can be to blind rage. He takes Ethan’s sadness to a place no one can touch, not even his wife (Connelly, who’s more nakedly emotional than ever). “How do I get you back?” she asks. Damned if Ethan knows, either, and Phoenix makes this internal confusion hard to watch but impossible to ignore. Unglued, too, is Ruffalo’s Dwight, whose decision to leave the scene sticks in his subconscious like a hunting knife in the gut. He can’t shake the guilt. Credit must go to Ruffalo, one of the finest actors out there, for not reducing Dwight to weepy, drunken heap. Ruffalo is too smart, too intuitive an actor to make that mistake. Instead he gives us a man who is slowly unravelling, who knows more with each day that he did much more than kill a child: he killed himself.

And so “Reservation Road” leave us with a whole mess of unanswered questions. Dwight takes a life, reacts badly and suffers dearly for it. But does he suffer enough? Can he ever suffer enough? Does he deserve to die? Would his death give Ethan the kind of closure he wants and needs? Don’t expect an eleventh-hour hug, a Kleenex or a cheat sheet. “Reservation Road” offers no comfort and no answers … which, in an odd way, makes the film something of a miracle. 

Grade: A-