To watch Aaron Eckhart is to watch charm. The man is a beacon of American charisma. But what makes him such a great actor is that he knows when to play into his charm and when to use it as a mask. His best work is a refreshing mix of natural magnetism and lethal back stabber. And no matter what facet of his persona he’s tapping into, I’m always compelled to follow him. Reel ‘em in and cut ‘em down, that’s the Aaron Eckhart way.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Movies have taught us that middle age redneck bikers are bad news. They’re dumb, mean, and/or evil, equipped with no positive motivations. And it is partly because of this cinematic stereotype that Eckhart’s role reversal as George is so effective. When Erin first meets him, she thinks what we all think: that George is a two-time loser with nothing good to offer. Instead, we learn that he’s kind, patient and understanding. It’s a grand performance that has never been given enough credit. George is also one of the few times Eckhart has drastically changed his appearance for a role. And I love that behind the scraggily hair, large shades and torn up clothes, the charm of Aaron Eckhart still manages to shine through.
Conversations with Other Women (2005)
I recently discussed the wonders of Conversations with Other Women when I hailed it as a film that so perfectly uses the split-screen narrative device. The entire movie is split in two, with Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter each taking up a frame throughout. As former lovers who reconnect at a wedding, the two engage in a night of witty, flirtatious banter, and end their evening with a moral dilemma of Should we or shouldn’t we? The fun of the film is choosing which screen to watch at any given time. It’s Carter’s perfectly indifferent attitude coupled with Eckhart’s aggressive romanticism. It’s impossible to fully watch both at the same time, but I guarantee you won’t want to take your eyes off either of them.
Thank You for Smoking (2006)
There is no way in hell Thank You for Smoking would work without a charismatic lead. The entire film depends on the appeal of Nick Naylor. It’s a film in which a big tobacco lobbyist is the hero, and an anti-smoking senator from Vermont is the villain. It’s satire, sure, but satire only works if we believe the people selling it. Thankfully, we believe every single thing Eckhart slings in this film. His mantra of “If you argue correctly, you’re never wrong,” is something Eckhart hilariously owns as Nick. Eckhart had delivered a handful of damn strong performances before Thank You for Smoking, but this is the film that justly made him a star. I’m amazed at how effortlessly he was able to pull off this character. Playing Nick Naylor couldn’t have been easy, but damn if Eckhart’s relaxed grin doesn’t suggest otherwise.
The Dark Knight (2008)
It’s a tough role. As a hero, you’re outshined by Christian Bale’s bravado, and as a villain, you’re a far second to Heath Ledger’s lunacy. So, as Harvey Dent, it was very important for Aaron Eckhart to find that balance of being content with playing second, while still completely going for it. I pretty much love everything Eckhart does in The Dark Knight; from punching out a thug in the middle of court, to preaching the need for a real life hero at a restaurant table. And when Dent breaks bad, Eckhart delivers some of his most fiercely commanding work yet. In the film, Dent’s change from good to evil is a rather quick one, but Eckhart kills it with his intensity. Hell, he didn’t even need half of his face to burn off to convince the audience that he had fire.
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Rabbit Hole is one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen. When I saw it in the theater, I almost had to leave because I was so uncomfortable. This isn’t a bash, but rather a sincere issuance of my highest praise. Rabbit Hole is unsettling because it is so goddamn real. We meet Becca and Howie Corbett months after their young son was fatally hit by a car. They’re both making slow strides to move on together, but separately, they’re unable to even attempt to carry on with their lives. This emotional turmoil eventually leads to horrendous arguments between them. And it is in these moments that Eckhart and Nicole Kidman deliver some of the finest work of their respective careers. For an actor, there’s getting there and then there’s Getting there. Eckhart and Kidman got there, all right, the result of which will never fail to shake me.
The Best of the Best
In the Company of Men (1997)
I’m fascinated by the concept of whether or not people are aware of their own behavior. Does an asshole know he’s an asshole? If so, does he even care? Perhaps this is why I’m so intrigued by Chad from In the Company of Men. Chad is a repugnant human being. He talks endless amounts of shit behind people’s backs, despises women simply because they are women, hates everyone in his life (including the few friends he’s somehow managed to find), and berates young coworkers just for the hell of it. If you’ve seen the film, you know I’ve only scratched the surface of Chad’s complexities. Hyperbole aside, the man is a genuine sociopath, and Eckhart plays him to manic perfection.
In the Company of Men is one damn bold movie. Its success was dependent entirely upon the confidence of its two leads (Matt Malloy is equally good in the film, though for entirely different reasons). And the fact that this was Eckhart’s first film performance is utterly astounding. The material is so dangerous that, if delivered improperly, it could’ve ruined his career before it even began. Chad is a mesmerizing, infuriating man. And whenever I revisit the film, I’m left wondering if Chad is pleased by his behavior. Why does he do what he does? We have no idea, and he probably doesn’t either. Exactly.
Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Nurse Betty (2000)
The Pledge (2001)
The Missing (2003)
Suspect Zero (2004)
No Reservations (2007)
Meet Bill (2007)
Battle Los Angeles (2011)
The Rum Diary (2011)
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)