It’s safe to say that actors get more attention than any other position involved with making a movie. People like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise and so on are mega-celebrities, household names and constantly in the public eye. Those of us who are more into film than the average movie-goer can rattle off the names of this director or that screenwriter, but most people tend to focus on the actors. The Descendants isn’t “the new Alexander Payne film.” It’s “the new George Clooney film.” This line of thinking often seeps back to critics and bloggers in a way. I can only speak for myself (though I see this in the writings of many people), but I know I certainly spend some time in my reviews talking about the actors. He was great, she was awesome, this guy did the best work of his career, etcetera. Even a brief cameo can be worth mentioning. But when was the last time I talked about, say, the sound mix of a movie? I don’t think I ever have, which seems unfair. The sound of a movie is always present, affecting me from beginning to end. And yet I’ll still be more inclined to mention the performance of an actor with 15 minutes of total screentime. I don’t have any real reason for this, other than the fact that it’s an established way of thinking that I rarely reflect over.
Since the actors is what many people care the most about when they see a film, they get a lot of passionate support. Everyone has their favorites, whether they’re Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Catherine Deneuve, Tilda Swinton, Humphrey Bogart or what have you. The ones that make you want to see everything they’ve ever been in, or whose mention in the opening credits always puts a smile on your face.
But then there’s the other side of the coin: the actors you hate. They keep popping up in movies you see, and you’re never impressed by them. You find them distracting, boring, annoying, overbearing. You wonder how they keep getting work and why people would pay to see them. Whether they’re leading stars or supporting players, you wish they would just retire. Some oft-mentioned targets for derision nowadays seem to be Megan Fox, Michael Cera and Shia LaBeouf. Others have more unusual dislikes. For instance, a real life friend of mine thinks Peter O’Toole is pretty much the worst thing in the world. To each their own.
I try to maintain a positive attitude as much as I can when it comes to film. That’s not to say that I won’t point out stuff I don’t like, but I do try to focus on the good things. This goes for acting too, especially since acting is a two-man job. A great performance is the result of a collaboration between the actor and the director. The director needs to convey just what it is they want from the actor. Some director-actor pairings just don’t function, because the people work in ways that don’t gel. Time constraints during shooting can mean that there’s just not enough time to get that one really great take. There can be many factors at play, and a lackluster performance can not always be blamed solely on the actor. Actors are among the many tools a director uses to craft a film. Is the hammer to blame when a nail bends? Some actors can shine in anything. Others need the right project and motivation. That doesn’t mean that the latter group is bad at what they do.
All I need from an actor to convince me that they have talent is one good performance. No matter how many hum-drum rom-coms Kate Hudson stars in, I’ll always have Almost Famous to remind me of how good she can be. Adam Sandler can be in as many unfunny films as he likes, because Punch-Drunk Love still tells me he has real chops. And while I went a long time thinking that Keira Knightley was pretty much useless, that changed once I got around to seeing Atonement. Another example: Keanu Reeves. Often described as wooden and life-less, but what if he had stuck to comedies a la Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a film many seem to like him in? He’d be much more loved today, I reckon. On a side-note, I thought he was pretty good in Thumbsucker too.
As such, there are few actors I find unbearable. Few, but they’re there. Two examples stand particularly tall – or low. One is Orlando Bloom, who is just boring as all hell. Boring in Lord of the Rings, boring in Pirates of the Caribbean, boring in Troy, boring boring boring. The other is Anna Faris, a particularly annoying example as she happens to be in my favorite film Lost in Translation. Her effort there isn’t terrible, but then it boils down to nothing but a caricature of Cameron Diaz (would it be unfair to label her entire career as that?) with maybe 5 minutes of total screen-time. She tends to stick to comedies, despite the fact that she’s never funny or charming. Even when she ventures out of that comfort zone to try out different stuff, the results aren’t pretty. Evidence A: her turn in quirky horror film May, where she plays a seductress with a tone so disconnected from the rest of the movie. Highly jarring, and a blight on what is otherwise a very fine film.
That said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong about both Bloom and Faris. If you know of any great performances they’ve turned in somewhere, please let me know.