subject: Colin Farrell
overview: Here is one of my favorite actors ever since discovering him on an Irish soap opera called Ballykissangel. It was the summer of 2000, and I had just completed a year at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA. One of the perks I enjoyed there was an international film series, which led me to watch PBS more regularly than at any other point in my life since childhood, which in addition to Farrell also meant that I discovered the Moody Blues.
Farrell was already transitioning into film, and his starring role in Tigerland got him noticed by Hollywood in a big way. Everyone wanted to work with him. Movies like Spielberg's Minority Report and American Outlaws proved that it would be a little more difficult to figure out exactly where Farrell fit in the landscape than first supposed, while he was the lead character in Hart's War, which was otherwise assumed to be a Bruce Willis vehicle.
Farrell's biggest challenge was 2003, in which he starred in a glut of movies, and remains to this day his most successful year. It was also when I realized that I had become a big fan, because I tried to catch as many of them in theaters as I could, and succeeded with Daredevil (the first time Farrell goes for the comedic). I don't know know which of Phone Booth, The Recruit, or S.W.A.T. (I'm pretty sure the last one) I also caught in original release, but this was also the year I began my home video collection in earnest, and Farrell became an immediate and enduring centerpiece. Intermission was another movie Farrell saw released that year, as well as Veronica Guerin, both of which proved early on that he wasn't interested in leaving smaller films behind. Since he was always a movie star created by filmmakers rather than audiences, his lack of significant popular success shouldn't be so surprising.
It was Alexander that probably prevented Farrell from finally breaking out. It was Oliver Stone's big historical epic, but one that focused on character rather than spectacle, though it had plenty of both, and dared to suggest a famous figure was bisexual. Anyone could tell what the reaction would be when the film's whole reputation continues to be "You can see his balls in the one scene!" I will point out that Rosario Dawson is nude. Right next to him. In that very scene. Talk about some screwy priorities! Really, people? This remains my favorite film of all-time. Stone has released three different versions. For what it's worth, Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut is probably the best.
Farrell's next film was another exceptional historical epic, this time from enigmatic genius Terrence Malick. It was The New World, in which Farrell portrays John Smith in an impressionistic reimagining of the Pocahontas story. In 2006 he made another bid for popular favor with Miami Vice, costarring Jamie Foxx in the wake of the latter's Oscar for Ray. It was a modest success.
Farrell has since plunged directly into indy work. His Woody Allen movie, Cassandra's Dream, is a remarkable companion piece to In Bruges, which won him a Golden Globe and new support from critics. He appears unbilled in Jeff Bridges' Crazy Heart, and was one of three actors to fill in for the late Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, just one of the many things I love about that movie.
2011 was another bid to reclaim a mainstream presence, which worked in the comedy Horrible Bosses, less so in Fright Night, which foreshadowed the difficulty of selling a remake of Total Recall to the public last year. Apparently people love them some Arnold Schwarzenegger. Well, sometimes. But Farrell also appeared in Seven Psychopaths, which was another smaller effort.
Earlier this month he was seen in Dead Man Down, which was pretty much ignored by everyone, but Farrell is again poised to look for wide acclaim in such upcoming movies as Winter's Tale, an ensemble with Russell Crowe and Will Smith; Saving Mr. Banks, a film about the making of Mary Poppins with Tom Hanks; and Epic, his first animated feature.
Regardless of how many vocal fans he has, Colin Farrell remains my favorite actor. He's the most soulful presence in film I've ever seen, and is able to project that vibe into a wide variety of roles, with continually rewarding experiences to be found. And I guess that I started to mature as a movie watcher at the same time as his rise, so that doesn't hurt my appreciation of his career, either. I catch all his films, which is certainly something very few people can say, so I get to watch his transformations and patterns emerge in a terrifically organic way. The best part is, he's still young!
Tigerland (2000) Farrell debuts in his quintessential role, a rebellious, charismatic loner, in this instance an army recruit who endures basic training under his own rules.
Hart's War (2002) Featuring Bruce Willis and Terrence Howard, this is the same character archetype being pushed to its limits, in a WWII prison camp.
Phone Booth (2003) Brilliant character study of a different kind entirely, with Farrell initially a despicable individual who doesn't care how his actions affect others (although I guess the embodiment of how he's viewed in those other movies), forced in a Twilight Zone kind of way to reconsider his life.
Alexander (2004) As I said, my favorite movie, with an embarrassment of riches in terms of a supporting cast, and a fully realized vision of another maverick, this time someone anyone will at least think they know. From this point onward, Farrell seems to be deconstructing his basic archetype, and I guess it only figures.
The New World (2005) The reverse of the above role is a famous historical figure whose ideas of conquest are quite different, especially from those around him. Although it's pretty much the same role, without anyone believing in him.
In Bruges (2008) A hit man who accidentally kills a child and is haunted by guilt, this may be Farrell's most complete performance.
London Boulevard (2010) Seeking redemption again, this time trying to walk deliberately away from a life of crime and being dragged back in. One of his much smaller films, but increasingly one of my favorites.
Seven Psychopaths (2012) Trying very hard to keep his cool when everything spins increasingly out of control around him. Very fun.
Dead Man Down (2013) I'm putting this one on the list even though I'm only a week removed from seeing it for the first time. It feels like the first step in the next evolution of his career.