Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Character: Aaron Eckhart

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.

Five Essential Roles
Erin Brockovich (2000)
George
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)
Man
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)
Nick Naylor
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)
Harvey Dent
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)
Howie
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)
Chad
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.

Other Notable Roles
with Benico Del Toro in The Pledge
Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Nurse Betty (2000)
The Pledge (2001)
Possession (2002)
The Missing (2003)
Paycheck (2003)
Suspect Zero (2004)
No Reservations (2007)
Towelhead (2007)
Meet Bill (2007)
Battle Los Angeles (2011)
The Rum Diary (2011)
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

28 comments:

  1. I love Aaron Eckhart. Thank You For Smoking is one of my all time favorite movies largely thanks to him. It's a shame he has been picking so many awful movies to star in lately like I Frankenstein and Battle Los Angeles. A man with his talents deserve better than movies usually reserved for the latest CW or Disney Channel heartthrob. Hopefully he will be back in something great again soon.

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    1. Nice man, love hearing that you're a fan. His latest string of movies really are a shame. I liked him in The Rum Diary, but he hasn't been in a solid film since Rabbit Hole. I'd love to know the reason. It can't just be four years of big paychecks, right?

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    2. Oh yeah, The Rum Diary. I remember liking that movie when it came out, but i honestly can't remember a thing from it now. Maybe i need to watch it again.

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    3. Eh, probably not. Ha. It's...okay.

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  2. Aaron Eckhart is a great dude. My favorite performance from is In the Company of Men as his character is such a fucking prick. You hate the guy for the way he treats women and there was that one scene in the film in the way he demeaned a male employee. It was disgusting to watch. I haven't seen that film in a long, long time.

    I'm currently doing an essay on the entire Dark Knight trilogy as I'm not sure if it will come out as I plan to divulge more into Eckhart's performance as Harvey Dent and why it worked as I thought he was the balance the film needed as he should've gotten some special mention.

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    1. I hadn't seen In the Company of Men in a long time either, but I was so glad I rewatched it for this post. Chad is easily one of the biggest movie assholes of all time. I mean, holy shit, whatta fuckin' nutjob.

      I can't wait to read your essay on the Dark Knight films.

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  3. I think Aaron Eckhart is a really good actor and wildly underrated. Unfortunately, I haven't seen "In the company of men" and now I'm dying to watch it, but I think that his work in films like "Erin Brockovich", "Thank you for smoking", "The Dark Knight" and "Rabbit Hole" is worthy of high praise. He brings an extremely natural feel to nearly every character he portrays and I truly dug that. What bothers me though is that he has starred in so many dreadful films over the last few years that I've almost come to expect by now every film he's in to be nothing short of horrible. I'm sick of watching a gifted actor like him waste his talent like that, it's just so sad, man. I mean, it's really tough having to endure films like "Battle Los Angeles" and "Erased", even if you like Eckhart's work. Seriously, something like "I, Frankenstein" is not just bad, it's almost offensive to the art of cinema. He can't elevate material like that, however hard he may try - even great actors wouldn't have much of a chance. I've really missed on watching him in something worthy of his acting skills.

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    1. I've missed watching his talent as well. I've skipped all of his latest movies, because, well...

      I'd be very curious to know if the last few years of his career are due to money and/or lack of interest from indie filmmakers. Dude has such strong chops, I'd love to see him dive into a REAL character again soon.

      Until then, yes, definitely watch In the Company of Men. Trust me. Wow.

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  4. It's so ironic (to me, at least) that you picked Eckhart. I caught Erin Brockovich for the first time over the weekend as it just happened to be on when turned on the TV in the hotel room I was staying in. I caught it in the middle and it took me a few minutes to realize that was him beneath the beard.

    My favorite performance of his is in Thank You for Smoking with his turn in The Dark Knight a close second. That said, I've missed too much of his work, too. I still haven't seen "Rabbit Hole" or "In the Company of Men." I need to get on the ball. Great post.

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    1. Thanks man! That is funny that you just saw him in something for the first time. He's really quite good in Erin Brockovich. He deserved far more praise than he actually received there. Definitely check out Rabbit Hole and In the Company of Men when you can. They're both great, for very different reasons.

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  5. Aaron Eckhart is wonderful. I think Thank You for Smoking is my favorite of his, but he's good in so many things. (and such a creep in Towelhead!) I love what you said about The Dark Knight and being content with playing second.

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    1. Thanks! He's SUCH a creep in Towelhead. I didn't really care for that film as a whole, but I do like him in it. Movie is... weird.

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  6. Okay, legit question: when's he gonna be in a good movie again? (Also, he's such a charming fucker in Thank You for Smoking, isn't he?)

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    1. Dude has mad charisma.

      And that is a fair question. I wish I knew, but when he is in one, I know he'll be great.

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  7. Eckhart is a great actor. It's a shame that he's recently thrown himself into some lame, big-budget blockbusters, but something tells me that's to just pay the bills for now. Hopefully, sooner than later, he'll go back to being apart of interesting material. Or, better yet, another movie with LaBute, since it seems like they both understand how each other's styles work. That would be a nifty reunion of sorts, especially considering LaBute seems to be back to his old ways of showing the ugliness that lies in each and everyone of us.

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    1. I think a LaBute/Eckhart repairing would be excellent. They work so well together and yeah, given they've both had a few misses lately, a new film from them could really bounce their careers back.

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  8. Great post Alex! Everything you've pointed out about Aaron is right on point; he is a great blend of American charisma and untrustworthy smoothtalker, and knows exactly when to hold back or go full throttle on both.
    One of my favorite appearances by Eckhart is on Frasier. He plays Laura Linney's boyfriend Frank who is totally oblivious to being a third wheel to Laura and Frasier's brewing romance. It's definitely a different side of him, and anyone can tell he has the charisma to be a charming leading man.

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    1. Thanks Katy! You know, I've actually never seen an episode of Frasier. I've never really been into sitcoms, so I guess it just passed me by. But I love hearing that Eckhart had such a solid arc on the show. Makes me want to track his episode down. Plus, you can't go wrong with Laura Linney.

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  9. What ever happened to Eckhart? All the movies you have here are great (my personal favorite will always be TYFS! - I remember seeing that movie in a Blockbuster and just being amazed that a movie was called that). I thought he delivered the best performance in Rabbit Hole and is great pretty much all the movies he did with Neil LaBute (with the exception of Possession - which I hated). Now he's doing all these stupid action movies... come back Eckhart! We miss you!

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    1. We miss him, indeed! I remember thinking Possession was okay when I first saw it, but it doesn't really hold up now. Still, I always give credit to LaBute for trying something new. Even though we all know he's tried something new a few too many times.

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  10. Great post here Alex, happy to see you shine a light on Aaron Eckhart, one of my favorite actors. I'm always taken by his work, big or small, he's got as you say, a magnetic charm to him. I liken his presence to a lot of the Sixties guard, Newman, Redford, Beatty, he seems like the kind of leading man that we lost back again to reclaim Hollywood.

    I love him in Thank You For Smoking and Meet Bill, thought he was a bit hammy in TDK personally but admittedly, I don't care for that movie.

    I've been recommended Conversations with Other Women time and time again, more for Bonham Carter's performance but it's good to see that Eckhart is in top form there as well,I have to give that bad boy a watch. In The Company of Men sounds like my kind of film, a Ellis-esque sense of justified conceitedness. I'm writing a new screenplay about some sons of bitches, I could use some inspiration haha.

    I'm always eager to read your next In Character post. I've never been a real 'actor's director' type so it's nice to read about all of these talented men and women and have my eyes pried open a wee bit. Keep up the good work friend!

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    1. Thanks man, I really appreciate that! If Eckhart is one of your favorites, you MUST watch In the Company of Men ASAP. I guarantee nothing can prepare you for the shit he slings in that film. It's ridiculous. Conversations... is damn fine as well, but definitely a taxing watch. Thanks again for the comment!

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  11. Big fan of Eckhart. He always delivers, even if the film does not. Completely agree with you on Thank You For Smoking -- that film just wouldn't work without someone like him.

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    1. He's the man, isn't he? TYFS is totally his show, and he completely nails it. Love him in that.

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  12. I really need to see In the Company of Men - it's one of those movies I'm convinced I'll like but for some reason I can never get to watching that.

    I really like Conversations...-so few saw this one and it's such a lovely, clever film.

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    1. I think you'll like In the Company of Men because you'll be able to see it for what it is, which is a great and fearless satire on sexism. Those who label it as misogynistic and sexist are the same people who say Shame is homophobic. It's like... you're missing the point, people.

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  13. Chad! What other performance could top this list? Can't argue with any of these man, though I still need to see Conversations and Thank You for Smoking.

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    1. Chaaad. A force of nature, that guy. I think you'd like Conversations and Smoking - be interested in your thoughts on both.

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