READ MORE: Cannes: Why ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ Isn’t the Minor Coen Bros. Movie It Looks Like
Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with DIRECTV and the thriller, “Mojave,” which is available now, exclusively on DIRECTV.
Although his performance in this drama is partially obscured by an overwrought narrative that flits between equally ill-fated love affairs in different times and places, Madonna’s “W.E.” did afford Isaac an early romantic role as the sweet and well-meaning Evgeni. The film, which chronicles the infamous romance of King Edward VII and Wallis Simpson, juxtaposes it with the “modern” love trials and tribulations of Abbie Cornish, torn between a jerky husband and a sweet security guard (guess which one Isaac plays). At turns pragmatic and just plain appealing, it’s one of of Isaac’s most overlooked parts to date.
“Sucker Punch,” 2011
Zack Snyder’s critically maligned candy-colored revenge tale may have been a bust at the box office, but it did give mainstream audiences (well, those who actually saw the film) the chance to see Isaac serving as the ring leader of a mental hospital that may actually be a literal circus. Isaac has rarely been this showy and over-the-top, but such antics suit the appropriately unhinged role of Blue Jones. Isaac made the part his own, no easy feat in such an overstuffed feature.
Isaac was still mostly unknown to American audiences when he popped up in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Ryan Gosling-staring showcase as a vaguely menacing ex-con who just so happens to be the husband of the alluring Carey Mulligan. As Standard, Isaac has a tough line to walk, continually outshined by Gosling’s slick scorpion-jacketed antihero, but sympathetic enough that the audience has to wonder if he may actually be the guy worth rooting for (he’s her husband!). A second-tier role transformed by Isaac’s grace, he (mostly) ably matches up against Gosling in the star’s most exciting role yet.
“A Most Violent Year,” 2014
Similar in both look and feel to Isaac’s later turn in “Show Me a Hero,”J.C. Chandor’s National Board of Review-voted Best Film features the actor as a troubled businessman in a troubled time: 1981 New York City. The moody film allows Isaac to tap deep into his passionate (and to a fault) side in a surprisingly underrated outing that relies so much on what’s not said and done. It’s a solid showcase for Isaac’s finely tuned skills, one that only grows better with subsequent watches.
“Ex Machina,” 2015
Although Alex Garland’s sci-fi instant classic is inarguably Alicia Vikander’s big show, Isaac’s work as genius rich guy Nathan is filled with its own sneaky power. Initially generous and chatty (if a bit mysterious), Nathan suddenly sinks into ink-black moods and abusive behavior before Domhnall Gleeson’s way-too-trusting Caleb can make heads or tails of his inscrutable boss. A fresh twist on the Frankenstein model, Nathan is nearly impossible to keep a handle on, but Isaac’s full-bodied performance (and his stellar dance moves) makes him even harder to turn away from.
“Show Me a Hero,” 2015
As tragic anti-hero (or actual hero? hard to tell, worth arguing over) Nick Wasicsko, Isaac’s big foray into the world of HBO miniseries saw him tasked with making the ins and outs of local-level government exciting, understandable and dramatic, all while playing a man tortured by the slings and arrows that life had thrown at him. That “Show Me a Hero” was based on real events never diluted its power, and neither did a “big reveal” that came early on in the series that made plain Wasicsko’s ultimate fate, a heavy moment that Isaac earned every heartbreaking second of.
“Inside Llewyn Davis,” 2013
Brutally denied Oscar glory for his turn in the Coen brothers’ ode to the drifting talents that populated New York City’s Greenwich Village in the early sixties, Isaac’s best role still got plenty of attention and firmly established him as a leading man capable of carrying all kinds of material. At turns funny and unexpectedly heartbreaking (all that stuff with Llewyn’s dad? get out of here), “Inside Llewyn Davis” gets to the heart of a complicated man with demons to spare (and plenty of excellent songs to croon), a part artfully inhabited by Isaac, who is able to join together both his unmistakable charm and the just-under-the-surface darkness in ways he’s never been asked to before. (Also, bonus points for acting alongside an ill-tempered tabby cat without batting an eye.)
Indiewire has partnered with DIRECTV to present the premiere of the thriller “Mojave,” available now, exclusively on DIRECTV. Mojave is a classical, cerebral thriller about a brilliant, near-suicidal artist, Thomas (Garrett Hedlund), who attempts to escape his privileged existence into the desert only to encounter a homicidal, chameleon-like drifter — Jack (Oscar Isaac). Find out more and how to watch here.