Some actors are chameleons, changing their appearance with every passing role, physically separating their real self from their characters. Others appear the same in each role, relying more on internal changes to create a unique character. John Carroll Lynch is the latter, a man we all recognize but whose characters are never the same. From everyman to loving husband to psychopathic killer, most all of Lynch’s characters look the part. What makes them fun is examining what’s inside.
It’s those little details that help make Coen brothers’ characters so damn unique. Their writing is an essential part, no question, but it takes the right actor to sell it so convincingly.
The Good Girl (2002)
The Good Girl is full of subtle bits of Americana humor, none better than Jack Field sitting behind a window, telling his staff that a recently deceased employee should be remembered for having “a good attitude…she had ideas.” Seldom can an actor convey the mundane so amusingly.
Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)
Howard is the kind of guy who needs a buddy. Stuck in a suburban, soul-crushing marriage, Howard takes every opportunity he can to confide in whoever will listen, including a helpless drug addict named Jerry (Benicio Del Toro). “I hate my wife,” Howard shares with Jerry. “I hate everything about her,” he says with a smile so pathetic it can’t even begin to be dangerous.
“How such a husband negotiates a life of uneventful loathing would make a great, adult movie,” Schwarzbaum initially wrote. And the more I think about it… damn if she isn’t right.
Gran Torino (2008)
The Best of the Best
Arthur Leigh Allen
The Zodiac serial killer terrorized northern California in the late ‘60s early ‘70s, and many closely involved with the case, including cartoonist-turned-novelist Robert Graysmith, considered Arthur Leigh Allen to be the primary suspect. Graysmith’s first book, on which Fincher’s film is based, never tells us who killed those people in the Bay area. Mostly because the world never knew either.
And it’s that constant hint of danger that Lynch brings to the screen so chillingly. When we first meet Allen, the audience has as much fun sizing him up as the police in the scene do. We watch his bulky frame and his awkward mannerisms; we study his voice and wonder why he nervously divulges more information than he has to. We quickly learn to fear Arthur Leigh Allen, but we also wonder if we should just feel bad for him.
Because Allen died in 1992, we’ll likely never know who the Zodiac was (though Graysmith did label Allen as the killer with 100 percent certainty in his follow-up novel, “Zodiac Unmasked”). Fincher knows this, which is what makes Lynch’s final scene of Zodiac one of the single best moments of Lynch’s career. Staring at Jake Gyllenhaal intently, first with the politeness of a clerk helping a customer, next with curiosity, finally with scorn. “You think you know who I am?” Lynch’s look says. Nope, and we probably never will.
Other Notable Roles
Beautiful Girls (1996)
The Drew Carey Show (1997-2004)
From the Earth to the Moon (1998)
Tuesdays with Morrie (1999)
The Brotherhood of Portland, New Hampshire (2003)
Close to Home (2005-2007)
Shutter Island (2010)
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
Body Proof (2011-2012)
Do No Harm (2013)