From Will Poulter in Detroit to Adam Driver in Logan Lucky: 2017's seven most underrated acting performances
A look at seven actors who — are at varying points in their respective careers but — dazzled in their own unique way in 2017.
Acting requires talent. But sadly, our view of a good role is influenced not by good acting but the direction the script takes and the temporal context in which it is released. Most criminally, how we perceive roles is guided by our assessment of their physical attributes or their magnetism. Films are always likely to place a focus on likeability, which means only a certain kind of actor, a certain type of looks and physique steals the limelight. Despite the fact that some actors surpass the modesty of their physicality either in some or even in the length of their careers. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is testament to this fact.
Here we shortlist seven actors, who are at varying points in their respective careers, dazzled in their own unique way last year.
Ewen Bremner – Trainspotting 2
When director Danny Boyle announced the return of the gang from Trainspotting, most would have keenly looked forward to an explosive reunion of Renton (Ewen McCregor) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and their potential adventures. After all, the first installment was anchored by the reckless athleticism of McGregor and the overstated masculinity of Begbie. But despite minimal screen-time, it was Even Bremner’s Spud who owned the sequel. Bremner, whether it was Wonder Woman (2017) or Pearl Harbour (2001), has perennially essayed the role of the weak-link, the slender dweeb who somehow finds himself in the vicinity of more charismatic men. But in Trainspotting 2, Spud not only salvaged his weak self by ensconcing within a small role but produced some of the best moments in the film. Trainspotting 2, whenever it lit up, was largely down to him.
Benny Safdie – Good Time
The films of Safdie brothers are as indie as it gets; their camerawork, the texture of their films and even the characters they write are rugged, raw and improvised. In a film where Robert Pattinson gave what was easily the standout performance of his career, you wouldn't think any one else would leave an impression. But Benny Safdie, who plays Pattinson's younger brother, gave an assured performance of a mentally challenged twenty-something, who is easily prone to anger. Safdie’s sapphire eyes and thick eyebrows would have made him stand out in the school yard. In Good Time, his tender, sympathetic portrayal of a man pushed by the vitriolic company of his brother is brilliant even if brief.
Will Poulter – Detroit
Kathryn Bigelow’s highly anticipated Detroit felt like a missed opportunity. The film moons over its characters a tad too much and someone like Paul Greengrass might have captured the chaos in a more compelling manner. Though a large chunk of the cast was black, Will Poulter’s portrayal of the racist cop Krauss was one of the most chilling performances. Poulter’s raised eyebrows, and piercingly impassionate gaze seamlessly translated into the xenophobia that made the Detroit riots possible in the first place. Ominously, Krauss doesn’t even have a back-story in the film, which makes his near-paranoid opinion of African Americans all the more disturbing. Though John Boyega became the poster-boy for the film, Poulter was no less memorable, given the fact he had only a knot, and not a rope to work with.
Barry Keoghan – The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos’ films are the stuff of weird and wicked nightmares. Though his films are now preceded by an anticipation for the occult, the awkward and the discomforting, his latest film felt underwhelming and forced. Though the performances were consistent and Nicole Kidman’s resurgence as a "proper" actor continued, it was Barry Keoghan’s creepy and obsessive Martin who stole the show. Pronounced amusingly with an extra T by Colin Farrell, Koeghan’s character has the kind of couldn’t-care-less demeanour and monolid eyes that scream genuine creepiness. Keoghan had a similarly unsettling role in the Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-nominated Dunkirk last year. Watch out for this one in the future.
Caleb Landry Jones – American Made, Get Out
There are bad guys and there are guys who draw disgust. Jones starred in a number of A-list films this year, two of them (including Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) are on the best film shortlist. But it was the consummate ease, the at-home boorishness with which he played certain distasteful roles that underlines him as a potential breakthrough in the coming years. The pout, the drugged-looking eyes contrasted the sexual quotient of Tom Cruise’s American Made wonderfully well. In Get Out, he carried an obnoxious and, at times, fearful ego with stirring body language. Jones inspires antipathy like the sunset inspires poems. He seems like an ideal choice for more villainous roles in future.
Adam Driver - Logan Lucky
Adam Driver has been the find of Hollywood over the last few years. How could a man, who looks nothing like the A-listers and carries forward an awkwardly asymmetric figure become a star? His role in Paterson (2016) seemed more close to home playing a soft-spoken, reticent poet. In Logan Lucky, opposite blue-eyed men like Daniel Craig and Channing Tatum, the challenge was surely unique. But Driver held his own and that too with just one good arm. While Craig provided the goofball antics, and Tatum provided the stupidity parcelled in handsomeness, Driver embodied the soul of the film – the little speck of spirit and courage in a film that trivialised struggle to a large extent. His role in Star Wars was an acknowledgement of his growing stature. But Driver will be a force to reckon with in both indie and big-budget productions.
Steve Buscemi – The Death of Stalin
Oh, the wonderfully weird Steve Buscemi! For decades now, Buscemi has been the face of creepy elegance. His jumbled teeth, high voice and wide eyes have landed him odd roles over the years. But in the odd-boy category, Buscemi has excelled as an actor, at par with some of the greatest and most well known names of his time. In The Death of Stalin, he plays a wonderfully, elegiac political viper and owns the film with the sheer power of his onscreen presence. Armando Iannucci’s audaciously vitriolic script hands Buscemi the metaphorical whip and he conducts everyone else into the shadows with it. Buscemi is an acting powerhouse that has defied convention throughout his career.
Special Mention (despite the central role) – Will Arnett’s voice as The Lego Batman. The best Batman till date.
Some honourable mentions: The criminally underused Dave Batista in Blade Runner 2049, Adam Sandler getting his act together in The Meyerowitz stories, Martin Starr bringing a tiny chunk of Silicon Valley to Spiderman:Homecoming, Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird, Jesse Plemons in The Post and Jerome Flynn in Loving Vincent.
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