When I think of Chiwetel Ejiofor (that’s CHEW-E-TELL EDGE-E-O-FOUR), I think of restraint. The soft looks and the delicate mannerisms and the subtle shifts.
When I think of Chiwetel Ejiofor, I think of anger. The vengeful villains and the spiteful crime lords.
When I think of Chiwetel Ejiofor, I think of uncharacteristic kindness. The surprising fragility and the tender romance.
You get the idea. Chiwetel Ejiofor is versatility personified.
Kinky Boots (2005)
I wasn’t expecting a whole hell of a lot from Kinky Boots, a British comedy about a shoemaker who befriends a drag queen as a means of hitting an untapped market. Because most shoemakers don’t create designer women’s shoes to be worn by grown men, Charlie (Joel Edgerton) enlists Lola to help him out. That’s about as yawn inducing a synopsis as you can get for me.
How wrong I was.
Kinky Boots isn’t a game changer or anything, but it’s a perfectly enjoyable romp featuring a go-for-broke Ejiofor, who brings about as much sass to Lola, as he does humility to his Simon alter ego. It takes a special kind of man to play drag, and play it convincingly. Special indeed.
Children of Men (2006)
I love when an actor plays good so well, only to later reveal that the character he’s conveying is actually a narcissistic asshole. At first, we assume Luke and his revolutionizing Fishes only want to protect the world’s first pregnant woman (that is, the first in 18 years). But it isn’t until true motivations reveal themselves that we realize Luke wants the mother, and her soon-to-be child, as collateral for political gain.
Luke is a small role, but Ejiofor commands the screen whenever he is on it. His final scene of this film is as pathetic as it is heartbreaking. Impossible to forget.
Tsunami: The Aftermath (2006)
Shortly into a Carter family vacation in Thailand, a devastating tsunami wrecks havoc, sending their lives into an irreversible tailspin. When the wave hits, Susie (Sophie Okonedo) is out to sea, completely unaware that anything has happened on shore. But, obviously, much has, including her husband, Ian, losing their daughter, Martha, in the midst of the chaos.
For the remainder of the film, Ejiofor spends his time doing a number of things on screen – searching, begging, arguing, pleading – all of which are executed with the utmost regret and dread. Ian and Susie go into survival mode (as in, doing whatever they can to find their daughter and survive together), but once reality hits, the guilt issued by Susie onto Ian is simply devastating to watch unfold.
Talk to Me (2007)
Petey Greene and Dewey Hughes forged a friendship and shook America up when it was in need of a good shaking. And I use the word forged literally, because, despite a barely there shared respect for one another, Hughes and Greene saw (the movie is based on a true story) eye to eye on nothing. They argued, fought, and eventually parted ways as a result of Greene’s ceaseless substance abuse.
Don Cheadle’s role as Greene is the obvious scene-stealer. Petey Greene was a flamboyant character, and Cheadle does remarkable work conveying the man’s tortured interior. But it’s Ejiofor’s refined take on Hughes that I’ve always found more appealing. Two moments in particular stand out: Hughes’ heartbroken reaction to Greene’s bombed performance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and the way Hughes comes into his own once he and Greene have an irrevocable falling out. The whole time, Hughes thought he needed Greene to succeed. When it might have been just the opposite.
“There is no situation you cannot escape from.” That’s the mantra martial arts instructor Mike Terry repeats to his students constantly, and spends the entirety of Redbelt practicing himself.
Slowly spun into a web of high class Hollywood corruption, Mike marks one of David Mamet’s most morally just characters – a guy who wants to make right, but is never given the chance. His frustration and longing to right wrongs culminates in as thrilling a martial arts sequence as I’ve ever seen.
There’s so much going on in that moment. There’s the physical aspect of it, in which Ejiofor himself performs like an expert fighter, effortlessly acrobatic and forceful. But then there’s the emotional aspect of what his character is going through. He’s been fucked over by damn near everyone he trusts, and now he has to physically fight to set it right.
That scene is a tour de force of acting. And it’s just one damn scene from the movie.
The Best of the Best
Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
Okwe is a kind, quiet man who wants nothing more than to make enough money in London so he can return to his native Nigeria. He drives a cab by day, greets guests at a hotel by night, and chews khat constantly to stay awake. But once his expertise as a doctor becomes clear to his hotel manager, Okwe, not unlike other characters Ejiofor has played to perfection, becomes a man stuck in a situation he cannot escape.
There isn’t a moment Ejiofor has on screen in this film that we don’t find ourselves caring about him. We want to whisper that everything will be okay (even though it won’t) and convince him that he’s doing the right thing (even when he’s not). It’s a performance of remarkable restraint and captivating desperation.
Okwe’s final moment on screen in this film is the finest acting Ejiofor has ever done. For people who haven’t seen Dirty Pretty Things, I hope that’s enough of a selling point for you to watch the film. It’s as flawless a performance you’re going to find from a guy who never puts out anything but.
Other Notable Roles
|In Four Brothers|
Love Actually (2003)
She Hate Me (2004)
Melinda and Melinda (2004)
Four Brothers (2005)
Inside Man (2006)
American Gangster (2008)
Philip Baker Hall
Philip Seymour Hoffman
William H. Macy
John C. Reilly