Last week brought the borderline-absurd news that Nicolas Cage was in talks to star in a new take on the god-bothering “Left Behind” franchise (this is a WTF even for Cage). This week brings the first major movie starring another Oscar-winner, Halle Berry, in five years, in the shape of “Cloud Atlas,” as well as the barely-noticeable release of Gerard Butler vehicle “Chasing Mavericks.” These things mean many things, but perhaps first and foremost among them, it’s that certain actors aren’t having the best of times.
Careers ebb and flow and always have in Hollywood, but there seems to have been a particular trend of late, exemplified by Cage above all others, of actors who once sat atop the world now finding themselves in lesser work, long without a hit or an acclaimed performance. To pay tribute to Cage, Berry and Butler, and to wish them better luck in future, we’ve put together a list of ten performers who really need to have a think about the direction that their careers are heading in. Some are in need of serious help, possibly an intervention. Others are considered some of our best, but lord knows they’ve made some spotty choices or in the case of folks like Colin Farrell, keep getting positioned by the powers that be as a leading-man hero when clearly the actor is better suited to character work with depth and texture. Check it out below, and let us know which actor you’d most love to pull themselves up by the bootstraps in the comments section below.
After winning Best Actor for “The Last King of Scotland” in 2007, it feels like Forest Whitaker had one of the fastest ever turn-arounds from Oscar-winner to star of… well, a lot of undesirable crap. A character actor favorite who’d long been familiar from the likes of “Platoon,” “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “The Crying Game,” it was the rare chance of a lead role for the actor, who around the same time was appearing in a TV stint on “The Shield.” Whitaker got a little post-Oscar boost, getting some paycheck roles of the kind he wouldn’t have had before, in mid-level programmers like “Vantage Point” and “Street Kings,” but none were especially well-reviewed, or big hits. Would-be awards bait like ‘The Great Debaters” and “Hurricane Season” turned out to be anything but, and the best thing he’s done since his Oscar remains a vocal turn in “Where The Wild Things Are.” But a glimpse over his CV for the last few years reveals a very disconcerting bunch of direct-to-video movies that you’ve never really heard of (“Fragments,” “Powder Blue,” “My Own Love Song,” “The Experiment,” “The Truth,” “Catch .44,” “Crossfire“), along with a season back on TV with short-lived “Law & Order” rip-off “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior“). It may be that Whitaker simply wasn’t getting the offers that some do — he’s always been a very specific physical type. But it also seems that there were a lot of bad decisions along the way. You’re an Oscar winner for crying out loud! Fortunately, things are looking up these days — he has the lead in Lee Daniels‘ starry “The Butler” (unfortunately still directed by Lee Daniels, but it’ll at least get a theatrical release), he’s in Scott Cooper‘s “Out Of The Furnace” with Christian Bale, and he’s backing up Arnie in “The Last Stand.” So a comeback to the roles that should have arrived post-2007 seem to be on the horizon. And hopefully we’ll get more of those, and fewer 50 Cent and Bruce Willis movies that go straight to VOD.
Brody co-starred in “The Experiment” with Whitaker, and the film seemed to mark something of a cautionary tale for future Oscar-winners. Like Whitaker, Brody was a popular character actor, and he recovered from having a lead role cut down to shreds in the editing room (Terrence Malick‘s “The Thin Red Line“) to win an Oscar for Roman Polanski‘s “The Pianist” in 2003. And understandably, Brody seized the chance to become a leading man quite quickly, taking roles in “The Village,” “The Jacket” and Peter Jackson‘s “King Kong” in quick succession. And they were all disappointments to varying degrees, and things have only gotten worse since. Some of what Brody’s done since (“The Darjeeling Limited,” “Hollywoodland,” “The Brothers Bloom,” “Splice“) were good movies in which he gave good performances. Some (“Giallo,” “Predators,” “Wrecked,” and once more for emphasis, “Giallo“) were bad movies, and bad performances. But really nothing managed to properly capture the imagination of the public. Brody was delightful in a tiny cameo as Salvador Dali in “Midnight In Paris,” but that hasn’t necessarily signaled an upward swing — he has Paul Haggis‘ “The Third Person” coming up, but also something called “InAPPropriate Comedy” starring Rob Schneider of all people. Hopefully, that’s some kind of nadir. At least “Midnight In Paris” seems to suggest he’s willing to do what he should be doing, and taking smaller roles for great filmmakers, rather than leading man roles he’s unsuited for (see “Predators”). You’re an Oscar-winner, how did you fall off the track this far?
After Halle Berry won the Best Actress prize in 2002 for her raw and blistering performance in “Monster’s Ball,” her response to her bruising, powerful turn was to try and cement her A-list status with a series of action or horror leads. Aside from two more entries in the “X-Men” franchise she’d already began, there was “Die Another Day,” “Catwoman,” “Gothika” and “Perfect Stranger,” films that steadily got worse and worse as time went on. Berry pulled out of the nosedive with Susanna Bier‘s “Things We Lost In The Fire,” an excellent, underrated performance that might actually be better than her one in “Monster’s Ball,” but not one that was seen by many unfortunately. She then took three years off, for the most part, with the seen-by-even-fewer people “Frankie & Alice” following in 2010, with only “New Year’s Eve” and DTV shark thriller “Dark Tide” coming since. This week, she’s starring (multiple times) in “Cloud Atlas,” her most high-profile picture in half a decade, and whether you love or loathe the film, it’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction for Berry. But it may not last; next year brings another genre entry in “The Hive,” a small role in portmanteau comedy “Movie 43,” neither of which suggests an absolute return to form. She’s clearly got the chops, but she’s definitely got to find some meatier roles.Hilary Swank
Ok, so one Best Actress Oscar isn’t a guarantee of future success, but surely once you have two, you’re set, right? Not so much, at least in the case of Hilary Swank. The one-time “Next Karate Kid” gave an astonishing turn in “Boys Don’t Cry,” and only five years later, won for the second time for Clint Eastwood‘s “Million Dollar Baby.” But the trouble is that almost everything in between, and since, disappointed. Swank landed on her feet reasonably well after “Boys Don’t Cry,” with “The Gift” and “Insomnia,” but “11:14,” “Red Dust” (the forgotten feature debut of Tom Hooper) and blockbuster-that-never-was “The Core” all barely made an impact. The Eastwood film and a second Oscar gave her a second lease of life, but she soon squandered it away on ill-advised genre efforts and leading roles like “The Black Dahlia,” “The Reaping” and “Freedom Writers,” with only the middling success of “P.S. I Love You” providing a bright spot. Attempts at a third Oscar with “Conviction” and “Amelia” fell flat, and things reached a nadir last year with the barely-released Hammer horror “The Resident.” There’s some stuff on the way that looks a little more hopeful with the Richard Curtis-penned HBO TV Movie “Mary & Martha,” and weepie “You’re Not You.” But it seems to us that more parts along the lines of “Insomnia,” and fewer where she has to carry the picture by herself, might be in order.
Reese Witherspoon picked up the gold statue for “Walk The Line” and was one of the highest-paid stars around, thanks to the one-two punch of “Legally Blonde” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Since playing June Carter Cash, she’s been relatively sparing in picking roles, with only five live-action-leads, plus “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” and of those films, only “Four Christmases” was an unmitigated hit. “Rendition” was a critical and commercial flop, as was James L Brooks‘ “How Do You Know” (something that theoretically should have been in her sweet spot). “Water For Elephants” was a modest success, but any goodwill from that was sort of undone by this year’s “This Means War,” which remains one of the worst films of 2012 (although technically grossed more than ‘Elephants’ worldwide, though it cost more). What sums up most of these picks is that the young star of the brilliant “Election” doesn’t seem to be anywhere to be found in these films. Fortunately, Witherspoon seems to have realized this too and change seems to be on the horizon; she got good notices for Jeff Nichol‘s “Mud” at Cannes, and stars in Atom Egoyan‘s forthcoming West Memphis Three drama “Devil’s Knot.” If she can keep away from the mooted “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” movie, all the better. She was up for Amy Adams‘ role in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s original version of “The Master” before it fell apart, and you can understand why, she’s a terrific actor when she wants to be (see “Walk The Line”), but she could stand to make a lot better choices and become part of the dramatic A-list that Adams has now ascended to.
It’s about a decade since British actor Clive Owen started to be exposed to American audiences. The delayed release of 1998’s “Croupier” ultimately became a surprise indie success, which saw Owen get a tiny and memorable role in “The Bourne Identity,” star in “The Hire” series of short films for all-star directors like Wong-Kar Wai, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Ang Lee, and finally get picked out as a leading man. Those first few attempts — “Beyond Borders” and “King Arthur” — didn’t pay off, but things went much better over the next few years, with an Oscar nomination for “Closer,” and impressive turns in the successful duo of “Sin City” and “Inside Man,” as well as a great performance in “Children Of Men.” Things haven’t been so great since the middle of the 00s, though. From “Shoot ‘Em Up” to “Intruders,” nothing really paid off (minus “Duplicity” that still didn’t really connect with audiences, but a strong turn it was), with a villainous turn behind a silly mustache in Jason Statham vehicle “The Killer Elite” probably marking the low-point. In fairness, 2012 has been better with the acclaimed Sundance thriller “Shadow Dancer,” and an Emmy nomination for “Hemingway & Gellhorn.” With a lead in Guillaume Canet and James Gray‘s “Blood Ties” coming next year, hopefully that, and “Sin City 2” will put him back on top, though, because otherwise we’re worried that a future on some network detective show may beckon and clearly the actor is far above that fare.
The career of Irish actor Colin Farrell has had more ups and downs than most — it sometimes feels like Farrell’s had multiple comebacks over the last decade or so. Ten years ago after starring in “Tigerland,” Farrell was the hottest leading man in Hollywood, with parts in “Minority Report” and “Phone Booth” really putting him on the map, and blockbusters “Daredevil” and “S.W.A.T.” on the way. But the actor’s substance abuse problems reached a peak, at the same time that films like “Alexander” and “Miami Vice” proved to be expensive flops, and it seemed like he might be done as a Hollywood leading man. Farrell took time off, sobered up, and won acclaim for a terrific performance in Martin McDonagh‘s “In Bruges,” seemingly taking stock again and choosing smaller, more interesting projects; absolutely the right thing to do. But Farrell’s career since then has been unpredictable at best. “In Bruges” was a modest indie hit, but another terrific little home-grown project, Neil Jordan‘s “Ondine,” went virtually unseen. He was a blast in an unlikely role in the comedy smash “Horrible Bosses,” but only a month later top-lined “Fright Night,” which was pretty much a disaster. And this summer, he had another tentpole lead, in “Total Recall,” but the box office returns suggested he’s not much more of a draw than he was half a decade ago. The studios keep trying though as Warner Bros wanted him in “Arthur & Lancelot,” and put him in “A Winter’s Tale” when that film fell apart. But ultimately, Farrell feels like Jude Law — a character actor whose good looks saw him pushed into carrying films that probably aren’t playing to his strengths (whereas something like “Seven Psychopaths” does). The sooner he (or his reps) come to terms with that, the happier he’ll probably be and discerning audiences will simply be able to enjoy the actor in solid, interesting parts instead of having to topline middling tentpoles like “Total Recall.”
Like Farrell, Butler has been touted for leading man status for a decade or so, cropping up in “Reign of Fire,” “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life” and “Timeline” in the early part of the ’00s, and impressing in homegrown picture “Dear Frankie.” And while “The Phantom Of The Opera” was something close to a disaster, it looked like he’d actually made it when he toplined surprise smash “300” in 2006. And unlike some of these actors, Butler does have a legitimate audience, a small but fervent band of female followers who’ll turn up to films like “The Ugly Truth” and “P.S. I Love You” and keep them profitable. But they don’t crossover to the fare that’s not directly targeted to them, hence the underperformance of films like “Gamer” and especially “Machine Gun Preacher,” which tried to cement him as a serious actor, but which ended up taking a truly terrible $1.1 million worldwide. That most of his films vary between mediocre and terrible is perhaps a more serious concern. Short of the essentially-being-buried “Chasing Mavericks” or the equally undersold “Playing For Keeps” turning out to be hidden gems, the best thing he’s done in recent memory is a vocal turn in “How To Train Your Dragon.” A sequel to that’s on the way, along with a starring role in “Olympus Has Fallen,” but the latter risks looking like the cheaper version of the bigger-budget “White House Down.” Butler has talent, but if he doesn’t want those roles to dry up, he needs to start taking more parts like his small but impressive performance in “Coriolanus.”
Yeah, it almost goes without saying. And there’s a reasonably good reason for the downfall of Mr. Cage — huge tax debts have left him taking virtually any offer that lands on his desk, or at least that’s how it seems. But it’s unbelievably dispiriting to see the man who starred in “Raising Arizona,’ “Wild At Heart,” “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Adaptation” reduced to this point. Cage has always been inconsistent, but in his late ’90s prime, it seemed that for every Bruckheimer blockbuster he took, there was another small movie and brilliant performance (plus he’s great value in things like “The Rock” and “Face/Off“). And even a few years ago, things like the “National Treasure” franchise made him a legitimate A-lister, even if the dodgy likes of “Ghost Rider” and “The Wicker Man” had already started cropping up. But since “Bad Lieutenant” in 2009 (itself a Millennium exploitation movie given greater weight by the direction of Werner Herzog), he’s seemingly made a cheap action movie every few months. Some have been ok (he’s very fun in “Kick Ass,” maybe “Drive Angry” if we were feeling generous), most have been dreadful, and Cage seems to be valuable more as a pre-sale face than as an actual actor. But 2013 looks a little better. He’ll feature in an actual proper, studio release, albeit in voice only, with “The Croods,” and is about to work with David Gordon Green on “Joe,” but the bulk of the stuff he has in the works is the same kind of bordering-on-self-parody sub-Liam Neeson thriller he’s been churning out for some time. Can’t Quentin Tarantino or someone give him a reinvention at this point? How much tax can one man have to pay back anyway?
As someone for whom “Grosse Point Blank” and “High Fidelity” were seminal moments of my adolescence, it breaks our heart to have Cusack on a list like this. But the actor who was once practically an A-lister, and the star of clssics like “Eight Men Out,” “The Grifters,” “ Say Anything” and “Being John Malkovich” has, over the last few years, become the guy who seems to pick up the parts that Nicolas Cage turns down. It hasn’t even been that long since Cuscak starred in a commercial hit. He toplined both “1408” and “2012” in the late ’00s, and while neither are exactly high-art, they seemed to validate him as a leading man. But just about everything since has been a disaster. Those that made it to theaters, like “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “The Paperboy” and “The Raven” were pretty dreadful, and made no money. But there were others that didn’t even get that far: “War Inc” barely got a release, and “Shanghai” and “The Factory” are still essentially missing in action, though have snuck onto DVD in some parts of the world. And we’re not that confident in some of the stuff he’s got coming up, which includes co-starring with Nic Cage in dreadful-looking serial killer flick “The Frozen Ground,” and the ludicrous-sounding thriller “Grand Piano.” And really, Cusack has no one to blame but himself — the films he’s picked have just been plain bad. Time to reconnect with the top-flight filmmakers that he worked with in the 1990s — surely an old pal like Cameron Crowe or Stephen Frears could find him a part in something.
Thoughts? At least all these actors still have hope (ok Cage is a question mark), unlike say Cuba Gooding Jr. or Heather Graham who’s career-choices seem to have gone severely off the deep end in the last decade, minus a few decent turns that have gone mostly unnoticed. Let us know below.