Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ruminations on the film choices of Billy Bob Thornton

Do you remember a time when you'd watch a movie featuring Billy Bob Thornton and you would actually see a nuanced character every time. I mean, he got his breakout role in Hollywood was playing a husky mentally deficient man who killed his parents in Sling Blade, and it seemed like he would soon be one of those top-flight thespians we enjoy seeing on the stage and screen.

I am not saying that he hasn't taken some challenging roles since that movie, but it just seems like he is getting way too comfortable playing the variations of a single character type: the alpha jerk, or in a more succinct form, a dick. This is a relatively recent phenomenon with him, but it is still troubling for me.

Don't get me wrong, he plays a fabulous dick, he really does, but knowing that he is capable of so much more than that, it is disappointing to see him play the same kind of role over and over again. Look at the long list of movies where he has essentially played this kind of role: Bad Santa, School for Scoundrels, The Bad News Bears, Mr. Woodcock, and there were elements of this same kind of character in Pushing Tin and if I remember correctly, there was a similar strain in his performance in The Ice Harvest. That's a lot of pricks. Maybe he is taking these jobs because they reflect something deeper about himself... or maybe he is just in those movies for the money. Yeah, it is probably that latter one, because a man with 5 ex-wives could never be an asshole himself.

Now, I can hear some of you out there grumbling that I've never pointed a finger at Samuel L. Jackson for playing a quick to anger black man time and time again, and I will point out that Jackson has both been nominated and won a lot of awards playing that guy, while Thornton only seems to get nominated when he plays a character outside the above type.

So, while it is occasionally funny to see Billy Bob Thorton play a total asshole, I think he should avoid making it the crux of his career this millennium.

10 comments:

SinisterDan said...

It would be interesting to start categorizing actors based on the roles they've fallen into.

Morgan Freeman constantly playing the old black friend of old white men. Liam Neeson always playing the mentoring guy.

The actors who play wacky and irascible grandfather's could spawn an entire web page of its own...

MC said...

When he took The Bad News Bears, I just sighed because Walter Matthau so embodies that role...

But on the list of roles people have fallen into... how about Tommy Lee Jones as the jaded, deadpan figure of authority and the traditional way of doing things.

Great video clips said...

Categorizing Actors for their roles .. what about Jim Carey.

The Foo said...

good post. i don't particularly like him, he is good at playing that weird very challenging character (like you mentioned). still can't get over how angelina jolie married him.

Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken are two other actors I can think off that you can categorize for their roles. However, I think they are more flexible in a way that they can vary their role without us frowning. They are just that good. Tom Hanks comes to mind too but he doesn't take on very diverse roles now that he is older.

Jim Carey just can't deviate from his stupid annoying funny man role. When he did a serious one like the majestic- that one tanked as he is just not good enough to pull it off. The other forgettable one is that recent horror flick too.

MC said...

I don't love him, and I haven't specifically watched a film because he is in it. I was just starting to get troubled by this trend of superdickery on his part.

Walken has a very definite persona, it's true, but he seems to really be able to have fun with it, and I think that makes his typecasting a little more acceptable.

gary said...

Good call MC. I have to point to his role in Bandits as a brainy, semi-neurotic bank robber as a refreshing departure. He still had the snark and fire on occasion in that flick too, however.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed Bad Santa, maybe because it caters to my inner teenager who still giggles heartily at excessive vulgarity.

MC said...

You know, I always wondered what Bad Santa would have been like with Denis Leary... I think he could have pulled that off really well.

Micgar said...

I would have to agree with sinisterdan about Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson.
For a while Deniro too was typecast as a tough/someone connected, but he was great in Awakenings. There are others I can't think of now.

MC said...

Well, there was Raging Bull and Ronin etc.

Micgar said...

yep forgot about those-he's one of my favorite actors. pretty versatile.