Being a screen actor has to be intimidating. You spend months working on a movie, months hearing the anticipation (or not) surrounding it, and then you’re forty feet tall in front of millions of people. And then those people decide whether you’re someone worth watching or not. If you’re lucky, they love you and flock to see you every chance you get. If you’re unlucky, they never remember your name. And then there are some actors who hit it big, but nevertheless wind up as internet punchlines.
In honor of the people who made it to our screen but not to our hearts, here are a handful of killer performances from people who don’t get much love nowadays.
Nicolas Cage – David Spritz, The Weather Man
Frankly, I can’t tell how the internet as a whole actually feels about Nicholas Cage. There’s clearly something wonderful about his willingness to just go for broke in his movie roles, even if he doesn’t always turn in a “good” performance. I have a lot of fondness for, say, his gonzo criminal in Face/Off. But the Cage in this entry isn’t the crazy Cage. This is Cage at his dramatic best. He’s given several strong dramatic performances, actually, but my favorite has got to be The Weather Man.
One of the things about Nicholas Cage that sometimes gets him into trouble with audiences is his aloofness. In The Weather Man, that aloofness dovetails perfectly with the character he’s playing. That odd understatement Spritz emits in response to being pelted with food, arguing over takeout, or contemplating murder via archery perfectly suits the needs of this off-center comedy. In addition to having the perfect onscreen persona for Spritz, Cage shades his performance with an impressive amount of reality, never letting the innate weirdness of the movie overwhelm the humanity of the character.
Brendan Fraser – Rick O’Connell, The Mummy
Yes, this guy is kind of a joke now. I can’t remember the last time I actually went to one of his movies, nevermind actually enjoyed one. Still, though, he’s a falling star for a reason. There are certain people in the film industry who can take weak writing and make it something grand. One thinks of Jeremy Irons in Eragon, or Johnny Depp in Once Upon a Time in Mexico. There was one guy, though who very nearly made an entire career on such roles. His name was Brendan Fraser, and his most enjoyable turn came in The Mummy.
Every great adventure movie revolves around a great hero at its core. Raiders of the Lost Ark has Indy, Curse of the Black Pearl has (Captain) Jack, and The Mummy has Rick O’Connell. Of the three, I’d go so far as to say that The Mummy is the funniest of the bunch, largely owing to Fraser’s comedic chops as the lead. Somehow, no matter how crazy things get — and this is a movie with flesh-eating bugs and mummies that are scared by cats — Fraser always comes across like a real guy. Just watch the way he reacts to the number of shocking moments in this movie. It’s not with wry quips or detached calm, it’s with an entirely legitimate, “Whoa!”
Sam Worthington – Jake Sully, Avatar
Every time a Sam Worthington movie comes out, I hope that it’s going to be “the one.” I think, maybe this time he’ll turn in a performance that really solidifies himself as someone to look forward to. It hasn’t happened yet, but the reason I keep hoping that it will is because of his turn in Avatar.
In the extended (and superior) cut of the movie, Jake Sully starts the movie figuratively and literally beat. Worthington sells this guy, who starts bar brawls from a wheelchair and takes the job of his dead twin brother, by creating a deadened exterior that rarely changes no matter what happens to him. Stiff? Maybe, but it fits the character perfectly. As the movie progresses, Sully comes to life through his experiences on Pandora. Worthington still filters everything through the slightly-thick introversion he started with, but you can see his energy and vigor subtly start to return with his spirits. If this type of role is where Sam Worthington’s strengths lie, that’s good enough for me.