Once upon a time, Robert Downey, Jr. was the go-to actor for onscreen weirdness. In fact, he was one of the guys considered for the role of Zaphod Beeblebrox in the 2005 big screen adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. That part eventually went to an actor who would be Downey’s closest competition for the title role in Iron Man: Sam Rockwell.
Even though Rockwell missed out on wearing the now iconic red and gold mecha-ensemble, he did make an appearance in the second Iron Man movie as Tony Stark’s arch-nemesis, Justin Hammer. You have seen his work in The Green Mile, Galaxy Quest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cowboys and Aliens, and yes, he was the voice of one of the guinea pigs in G Force. While many directors have made use of his trademark oddness to add quirk to their casts, there have been directors who figured out exactly how to use his skills set to carry a movie. Listed below are three performances you shouldn’t miss:
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002 Miramax) The biography of television gadfly Chuck Barris as directed by George Clooney and scripted by Charlie Kaufman looks like a fever dream. They never really answer the lingering questions of how much of it is true.
Frankly, that sort of inquiry would have pithed the story of much of it’s fun. Instead, they present the world according to Chuck. As the title character, Rockwell leads everyone down a proverbial rabbit hole of crime fighting intrigue and television production.
His Barris is the ultimate unreliable narrator, a mix of hyperkinetic weirdness and con man with a tender streak to go along with his personal body count.
Moon (2009 Sony Pictures) Imagine spending three years in an isolated work station on the Moon. Corporate astronaut Sam Bell is nearing the end of his three year tour of duty when everything starts to unravel. It’s hard to write about Rockwell’s acting without giving too much away. As an actor he does a lot of heavy lifting and the result is an emotionally complex performance that will stay with you long after the movie is over.
Duncan Jones wrote and directed this atmospheric movie that loops the audience in to the claustrophobic isolation that has to come with such an experience. So, it may sound odd, but the interludes of ensemble acting are stunning and the casting is inspired. Any science fiction fan will find it hard not to compare Sam Bell and GERTY (Kevin Spacey) with Keir Dullea’s duets with Douglas Rain as HAL 9000.
Even if you’re not into the chromed charms of futuristic storytelling, the emotional punch and narrative twists and turns will keep you hooked.
Seven Psychopaths (2012 Film4/BFI) I’m not an actor. but I can’t think of anything that would be as simultaneously exciting and thankless as sharing a screen with Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Colin Farrell, and Woody Harrelson. Rockwell fits right in with the whole twitchy, quirky bunch as Billy Bickle, one half of the dognapping team who steals Bonny, a shih tzu owned by an infamously deadly guy named Charlie Costello.
Martin McDonagh’s story is the hellishly clever love child of caper comedies and gangster movies. The humor is as dark as an 85% bar with cacao nibs. Somehow, among all of that toothsome, gritty darkness is a sweet note.
In this case, it’s Billy’s relationship with Bonny the Shih Tzu. (And while Charlie Costello might insist Bonny is a boy, in real life she is every inch a girly girl.) As maladjusted and scarily immune to the almost ambient carnage as he is, Bickle is the vulnerable guy who should never play poker.
Every rejection and triumph is telegraphed, giving the story some much-needed heart to go along with the snark
All of these features are in print and available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and most streaming services. Don’t miss out. (And hey, let me know what you think!)