Saturday, September 19, 2009

façade: Aaron Eckhart

Aaron Eckhart is a throwback - a real Movie Star
Last summer, I stood by dumbfounded and helpless as everyone else predictably rushed to praise Heath Ledger's compelling posthumous performance in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight."

I liked Ledger, too, but frankly, Aaron Eckhart was much more impressive as Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face). In fact, I thought it was his film. Still do. It certainly wasn't Christian Bale's film. Oddly enough.

Eckhart has been in movies in full force for about a dozen years now. Following a couple roles in TV movies and one in something called "Slaughter of Innocents," he had his first starring role in mentor Neil LaBute's lacerating 1997 film, "In the Company of Men," playing a business cad who might have been the inspiration for AMC's hit series, "Mad Men."

He followed that a year later in LaBute's wonderful ensemble drama, "Your Friends and Neighbors," taking on heft for his role as a conflicted husband - one of the few times that the gain (or loss) of an incredible amount of weight served the film, not just the actor-in-question's PR ploys.

Other roles came - one with Thomas Jane and Paula Marshall in Skip Woods' little-seen "Thursday," another in John Duigan's studio-compromised "Molly," starring Elisabeth Shue in the title role (and Jane again). He also worked for Oliver Stone on "Any Given Sunday."

And then came Steven Soderbergh's "Erin Brockovich," opposite Julia Roberts. Blockbuster! Career-maker. This is it!

Well, it wasn't exactly a breakthrough role, but it made Eckhart bankable by association and, after doing two more titles for LaBute ("Nurse Betty," with Renée Zellweger, and "Posession," with Gwyneth Paltrow), he's worked steadily and reliably in a pleasing selection of films. I love his post-"Erin Brockovich" filmography.

Here goes:

Sean Penn's "The Pledge" with Jack Nicholson; Ron Howard's "The Missing" with Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones; John Woo's "Paycheck" with Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman; Hans Canosa's "Conversations with Other Women" with Helena Bonham Carter; Jason Reitman's "Thank You for Smoking" with Maria Bello; Brian DePalma's "The Black Dahlia" with Josh Harnett and Scarlett Johansson; Scott Hicks' "Mostly Martha" remake, "No Reservations" with Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Brandon Camp's current "Love Happens."

Meanwhile, Joshua Michael Stern's "Never Was," is a lost film from 2005, also toplined by Ian McKellen, Jessica Lange, Nick Nolte, William Hurt, Michael Moriarty, Brittany Murphy, Vera Farmiga, Alan Cumming and Cynthia Stevenson. I won't burden you with a synopsis because, with that list of players, who cares? It's available on DVD.

Upcoming is John Cameron Mitchell's "Rabbit Hole," based on the David Lindsay-Abaire play about a couple whose young son dies in an accident, upending their lives and marriage. The material - which reads like prime Oscar bait - pairs Eckhart with Nicole Kidman (in the role played on stage to great acclaim by Cynthia Nixon); that's them in the still below.

Who knows. "Rabbit Hole" may be Eckhart's "Heath Ledger moment."


Marilyn said...

Something tells me that Eckhart's time will come shortly. Of course, like a lot of actors, he's likely to be rewarded for the wrong performance. I agree. His Harvey Dent was major.

wwolfe said...

He was terrific in "Thank You For Smoking." I expected a smarmy, impressed-with-itself movie that would chicken out in the last ten minutes, but instead I saw a smart, (mostly) tough-edged movie that wobbled a little, but managed to stay on course to a solid ending. Eckhart brought a gusto to his role that was refreshing to see in today's world of emo boys, and that was essential to the movie's success. Put that performance next to his patient, brawny-but-sensitive biker dude in "Erin Brockavich," and you've already got an actor with impressive range.

Sylko said...

I like Eckhart. He's manly without being macho. You were right about The Dark Knight not being Christian Bale's film. I find that Christian Bale, as much as I like him, is a cold actor. He excels in parts that require him to be distant (like Patrick Bateman or Batman). He had more emotions as a child in Empire of the Sun. I'd love to see him in something that stretches his emotions.

joe baltake said...

Bale need to do a comedy. Like NOW. That real-life incident last summer with the director of photography on one of his films was like life imitating art. I like him, too, but he's become a hugely unpleasant actor.