Colin Farrell has some of the most flexible follicles in show business. Over the decade or so he’s been working in film his hair style has changed so often it’s hard to keep track. He’s done the buzz cut in military movies, the floppy young star look, variations on the mullet and everything in between. And while it does work out more often than not, there have been some travesties along the way. He also hasn’t really held major sex symbol status since 2003, which I totally blame on a series of miserable hair choices. Now that “Horrible Bosses” is opening this weekend, with Farrell’s first intentionally embarrassing coif, it seems like as good a time as ever to look back over those more unfortunate moments. Maybe we can even explain away all of the ill-conceived hair decisions in the context of his career as a whole.
The problem started in 2003, with “Daredevil.” The year before, Farrell had starred in three major films with slick and carefully swooped hair in each: “Phone Booth,” “Hart’s War” and “Minority Report.” This was when the star really started breaking out, appearing in five films and showing up on People’s list of the 50 Most Beautiful People. Yet somehow it seemed like a good idea to cast him as Bullseye in the ill-conceived Ben Affleck superhero movie, and make him as bald as possible. This of course disregards that Bullseye in the comic books has a hood as part of his costume, and doesn’t just run around with a target on his giant bald head. The filmmakers made a conscious and unfortunate decision (which totally ruined the sex tape, filmed at the same time as “Daredevil”).
From there it just gets worse. 2004 saw the release of Oliver Stone’s embarrassing pseudo-historical epic “Alexander,” which involved some of the worst bleach-blonde hair ever to grace the screen. Clearly it’s an attempted variation on the flowing locks that worked so well for the star in his prior “heartthrob” roles, but it just looks ridiculous. Almost as distracting as the collection of bad accents assembled by the cast (Irish, American, English, and…I have no idea what Angelina Jolie was going for), Farrell’s hair has you asking how anyone this oblivious of his own scalp could have conquered the entire known world.
Then there’s “Miami Vice,” which is perhaps the most egregious example and a bit of a nadir in the actor’s career as well. Michael Mann apparently decided that Don Johnson’s original hair for the TV show wasn’t nearly sleazy enough, and that Farrell needed to exude grease from the neck up. Again playing around with lightening the color, there’s absolutely nothing about this look that works. It may also be the earliest sign of the penchant for longer hair that would dominate his films in the last couple of years. Yet no matter your opinion on his lengthy style, be it the Country ponytail in “Crazy Heart” or his loose fisherman’s locks in the wonderful “Ondine,” it’s hard to deny that the slick mop of “Miami Vice” is about as low as he’s ever been.
Not that the comb-over in “Horrible Bosses” is much better, but at least that’s on purpose. And it’s hardly Farrell’s fault that he’s underused, or that the film it turns out to be a disaster on the whole. In fact, that brings me to an interesting thought. Looking over the actor’s career, you begin to see trends. At the beginning, things were very clean-cut. He first turned heads in “Tigerland,” which of course as a military film involved the buzz cut. “American Outlaws” gave him short hair as well, and most of Farrell’s style in 2002 and 2003 was of the short but lush variety. The Michael Cunningham indie drama “A Home at the End of the World” even has a haircut scene, which gives the actor quite the brooding/dreamy look. Yet that same year saw the comparative tragedy of “Alexander.” It seems that only in the more embarrassing, big budget films does he have terrible hair. Maybe there’s something going on here?
I would hazard to say that Farrell may very well have spent the mid-2000s pursuing terrible hair as a career strategy. He clearly doesn’t want to be the kind of heartthrob actor that spends all of his time making films like “S.W.A.T.” and “Miami Vice,” or doing endless magazine photo shoots. In the smaller and more serious films he’s done, especially around the middle of the decade, his hair is often fantastic, which suggests that he’s much more concerned with his appearance in films like “Cassandra’s Dream” and “Ask the Dust” than any big-budget disaster. “Horrible Bosses” may very well be another example of Farrell taking a hit to his sex symbol status in order to establish some acting credentials. Bette Davis did that sort of thing all the time, going bald for “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.” Of course, the young Irishman isn’t quite Davis (though he is one of the most talented actors of his generation), and his recent work in acclaimed independent films such as “Ondine” and “The Way Back” have finished off any worry he might have of becoming the dull heartthrob. Now that he’s doing more commercial stuff again, we’ll see what happens; posters for “Fright Night” reveal a slick style that hearkens back to his early career. We’ve got a whole new phase in the evolution of Colin Farrell’s hair to look forward to.