I’m of the opinion that “Intruders,” the new horror film from “28 Weeks Later” director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo starring Clive Owen, is not very good. The only really interesting thing about the film, in my eyes, is Owen, doing something he does an awful lot in movies lately: playing an embattled father. In an interview with Gabe Toro at The Playlist, Owen explained that “Intruders”‘ examination of fatherhood was the reason he signed on to the role in the first place:
“‘When I read the script, I saw it [as] more of a psychological thriller,’ he says. ‘I was interested in the idea of parents passing their fears onto their kids. I don’t think that’s a supernatural thing, I think that kids soak up everything about their parents, including fears and worries… There’s no accident that in the last few years I’ve done ‘The Boys are Back,’ ‘Trust,’ and this,’ he says, regarding the shift in his career. ‘I am a father, and to explore that on film is interesting to me.'”
As a Clive Owen fan, I’ve been waiting to hear him talk about this in an interview for a long time. In the last couple years, it seems like he’s consciously defined himself onscreen as the ultimate movie dad. In 2010’s “Trust,” he played a father searching for the man who raped his daughter. In 2009’s “The Boys Are Back,” Owen was a single father trying to balance the responsibilities of career and family. Heck, even his big budget action films, the ones that help finance the little passion projects like “Trust” or “The Boys are Back,” often cast him in the role of a father/protector. In 2007’s “Shoot ‘Em Up,” Owen played a mysterious drifter who must save a baby from a bunch of violent mobsters. In 2006’s “Children of Men,” humanity has lost its ability to reproduce, but when one woman magically conceives a child, she needs someone to ferry her to safety. Who you gonna call to be the surrogate father of mankind’s future? Clive Owen, of course.
It’s not simply that these characters are dads; their fatherhood is fundamental to their identities and to the plots of the film. “Intruders” is a supernatural horror movie, but it’s also about what parents pass on to their children. This is no coincidence. Most of us are taught that film is a director’s medium, but it’s often a bankable actor, like Clive Owen, who makes the financing for a film possible. Owen’s body of work says something about what he believes to be true about fatherhood, just as surely as Alfred Hitchcock’s body of work said something he believed to be true about paranoia, duplicitous women, and motel bathrooms.
The question, of course, is why Owen is so preoccupied with being such a great movie dad. He’s a father himself, but lots of actors are fathers, and few of them focus so much time and energy on playing fathers onscreen. Brad Pitt has, at last count, 635 children with Angelina Jolie, but it wasn’t until last year’s one-two punch of “The Tree of Life” and “Moneyball” that he tackled this subject onscreen with any amount of depth. Here’s an interesting biographical detail from Owen’s Wikipedia page that could potentially provide some additional motivation:
“His father left the family when Owen was three years old, and despite a brief reconciliation when Owen was nineteen, the two have remained estranged. Raised by his mother and stepfather, a railway ticket clerk, he has described his childhood as ‘rough.'”
Maybe it’s silly to psychoanalyze an actor and his choices this way. Maybe Owen’s personal life has absolutely no impact on his roles. But maybe it does. Maybe what happened to Owen as a child shaped his voice as an artist. As Owen told USA Weekend in 2004, “I am one of those where it’s all about the work.” And his work is all about fatherhood.