Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In Character: Jason Patric

Coming up with potential subjects for this column can be as fun as writing the posts themselves. I mull over the names on the list I created a year ago. I think of the many fantastic recommendations you kind readers have thrown my way, but occasionally, something else kicks in. An actor I love pops into my head and I sit, dumbfounded as to why I haven’t covered them yet.

In short, Jason Patric is one of my all time favorite actors. He doesn’t work too often (24 film roles, whether starring or day player, in 27 years), and he doesn’t always pick the best material to work with (Speed 2, The Alamo, My Sister’s Keeper) but he always delivers exceptional work. He is, quite simply, one of the best there is, if only his resume was a little thicker. If only…

Five Essential Roles
After Dark, My Sweet (1990)
Kevin ‘Kid’ Collins
When most people think of Jason Patric (or at least a young Jason Patric), they think of The Lost Boys. That camp vampire classic was the first film listed here, until I watched After Dark, My Sweet for the first time last week. As a former boxer who has recently escaped from a mental institution, Patric brings his trademark balance of nervousness and angst to Kid Collins. Consistently rambling while teetering on the edge of sanity, we’re never, for a second, aware of what Kid is thinking, or willing to do next. After Dark, My Sweet is a criminally ignored neo noir with one hell of a thrilling Patric performance guiding it through.

Rush (1991)
Jim Raynor
Lili Fini Zanuck’s Rush is a dirty, raw movie about undercover narcotics officers who are damn good at their jobs, despite their drug addictions. For the film to work as well as it did, it needed an equally raw lead actor. Enter Jason Patric, who plays the gruff Jim Raynor with as much fire as any character Patric has played. Shortly into Rush, Raynor is tasked with finding a new partner, so he recruits undercover rookie Kristen Cates (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is, for the record, equally as good as Patric here). The two start a dedicated partnership both on and off duty, all while combating their increasingly dependent heroin addictions. Much has been made over Rush’s historical accuracy to the police officers it is based on. Ah, who gives a shit? When the acting is this solid, “Based on a True Story” (or not) can be damned.

Sleepers (1996)
Lorenzo ‘Shakes’ Carcaterra
Barry Levinson’s Sleepers may be my most cherished underrated film of all time. It’s a movie that made decent money, garnered favorable critical reactions, produced zero awards attention and is all but forgotten among contemporary audiences. Me? Well, I consider it one of the finest films ever made, for a multitude of reasons, chief among them is Jason Patric. As a quiet, reserved newspaperman determined to expose the brutality he and his friends were subjected to as children, Patric brings a sensibility to Shakes that is unlike anything he’s done before or since. Don’t get me wrong, Jason Patric can play delicate, but it’s so often mixed with sudden intensity. Not Shakes. Shakes stands in the back, silently observing, taking mental notes on how to follow his plan through with unwavering precision.

There a scene toward the end of this film in which Shakes sits on a bench, talking about life with his old pal Michael (played flawlessly by Brad Pitt). Michael says he needs some time away. Shakes muses aloud that he may need a friend, someday. Michael assures him that he’ll find Shakes when he does. “You can count on it,” Michael says as he walks away.

“Always have,” Shakes manages to whisper out.

If that’s not a perfect depiction of friendship, then hell if I know what is.

Narc (2002)
Nick Tellis
If things would’ve gone a little differently for Jim Raynor, I could very well see him turning into Nick Tellis. An undercover narc with a big heart but a nasty drug addiction (that he’s currently managed to kick), Nick is promised by a superior officer that if he closes one last field case (that of a murdered cop) then Nick can hump a desk for the rest of his time on the force. So, against the well wishes of his dedicated wife, Nick partners with psychopathic cop Henry Oak (Ray Liotta, perfect) and away they go.

Now, although Rush is indeed dirty and raw, Narc makes it look like a classic Disney movie in comparison. Joe Carnahan’s film is fast, furious and completely fucking unhinged, and Patric is its moral anchor. To describe in print all that Patric does here is something that simply will not work. I recommend Narc (and Patric’s work in it) unabashedly, but just… be warned. This is heavy.

Downloading Nancy (2008)
A trend has developed here. In my opinion, the best of Jason Patric’s work has been hidden in tiny thrillers begging to be seen. The most risqué of the bunch must be Johan Renck’s relentless Downloading Nancy. The film tells the sort-of true story of Nancy Stockwell (Maria Bello, just… amazing) a woman so sunk in depression, that she seeks a male counterpart online to help end her life in the most sexually tortuous way possible. Patric’s Louis happens to be such a man, so, yeah, we’re back in the Heavy As All Hell category of film.

Downloading Nancy isn’t a perfect movie. Nor is it an easy one. It’s about as grim (and, to some, perverse) as it sounds, but no matter your stance on the events it depicts, there’s no denying the subtle power so deeply rooted within its two leads. This is fearless acting at its most visceral.

The Best of the Best
Your Friends and Neighbors (1998)
If this post can persuade just one person to watch Neil LaBute’s Your Friends and Neighbors (and watch it soon), then I will be happy beyond words. It isn’t a particularly, uhh, romantic film, and it asks you to sympathize with some truly deplorable people, but it really is a lot of fun. Well, “fun” may be a stretch. Much like LaBute’s fantastic film debut, In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors is perversely amusing in the grandest way possible.

The film tells the story of six friends and their varied sexual escapades. One half of a married couple is happy, the other is cheating. A girlfriend pretends to put up with her boyfriend, all while she secretly pursues women. And then there’s Cary. Cary is a sexual deviant who preys on anyone. Although we never actually see Cary having sex, we hear about it ceaselessly and witness the repercussions of what happens to women when they fuck him over. He yells, he intimidates, he mocks, he sweats – all in the name of restoring common decency, as he puts it.

In the film’s most jaw dropping moment, Cary is asked by his two friends to describe the single best sex he’s ever had. Cary’s answer is executed out in one long unbroken shot, and will undoubtedly floor you as much as it did me. To put this another way: if I was asked to rank the Top 10 male performances of the ‘90s, you can be damn sure Jason Patric’s Cary would be among them.

It’s funny, I’ve spent this entire description calling Patric by a character name that you never hear in the film. LaBute only added in the characters’ names in the closing credits, as a sort of self-reflexive gag. Cary doesn’t need a name, and he certainly doesn’t need to be explained. He just needs to be.

Other Essential Roles
In The Lost Boys
The Lost Boys (1987)
Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)
Incognito (1998)
Expired (2007)
In the Valley of Elah (2007)
Entourage (2008)
The Losers (2010)

Previous installments of In Character include:
Steve Buscemi
John Cazale
Don Cheadle
Patricia Clarkson
Cliff Curtis
Jeff Daniels
Viola Davis
the Cast of Django Unchained
Michael Clarke Duncan
Chiwetel Ejiofor
William Fichtner
Brendan Gleeson
Bruce Greenwood
Philip Baker Hall
Woody Harrelson
John Hawkes
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Richard Jenkins
Erland Josephson
Elias Koteas
Heath Ledger
the Cast of Lincoln
William H. Macy
Christopher McDonald
Alfred Molina
David Morse
Emily Mortimer
Gary Oldman
Guy Pearce
Kevin Pollak
Joe Pantoliano
John C. Reilly
Sam Rockwell
Campbell Scott
Michael Shannon
David Strathairn
Tilda Swinton
Danny Trejo
Stanley Tucci
Emily Watson
Shea Whigham
Ray Winstone
Jeffrey Wright
Steve Zahn


  1. Jason Patric is extremely underrated. Yeah, Speed 2 was absolute crap and he is too good to be Keanu Reeves' replacement.

    Yet, the man is just awesome. One performance from him I loved was in an episode of Entourage where he played himself where the Vince character thinks that Patric is trying make him look bad. Yet, Patric just plays it straight allowing Stellan Skarsgard to do his best megalomaniacal auteur role.

    Your Friends and Neighbors... man that was an uneasy film to watch. His character is such a fucking dick. Yet, it's such a fantastic performance. Whatever happened to Neil LaBute?

    I'm fucking with you on Sleepers. An extremely underrated film. From start to finish. Patric definitely carried that film. I would love to see him make a comeback role.

    1. Damn man, I am genuinely ecstatic that you're such a Patric fan.

      I was this close to calling his stint on Entourage one of the five best of his career. It is just fucking perfect. Arguably my favorite Entourage cameo ever. The way he stoically tells Vince to his face that he was stealing his lines because the director told him to - shit cut right to the heart.

      (sigh) What happened to LaBute indeed. What a sad career progression. Damn shame.

      Sleepers, yes! He did such a miraculous job with that role. I cannot speak highly enough about it. So good.

  2. When I saw this was about Jason Patric, the first two movies that I thought about were Narc and Your Friends and Neighbors. It's surprising to me that he hasn't made more films, but I think that's a choice by him. I haven't seen Sleepers in a while, but you're right that it doesn't get enough credit. He even makes so-so fare like The Journey of August King worth watching. Nice pick!

    1. Thanks Dan! So glad you've even SEEN Narc and Your Friends and Neighbors. I love both of those to death. Sleepers, I just wish I could get more people to watch that. "You still sleep with the light on?"

      Just nails me.

    2. It's surprising that Sleepers isn't bigger given all the actors involved in it. I think the subject matter is tough to take for some, but it's far from a dreary movie. The book is also really interesting too.

    3. Oh I love the book. One of the few novels I've gone back and reread. Really solid.

      Do you think it actually happened? So much was built up around that, who knows.

  3. Thank you for introducing another actor I've never heard of before to me. I've seen him in Lost Boys but nothing else. I'll probably start with After Dark, My Sweet since it's in Roger Ebert's great movies collection. Also Gene Siskel actually named it the second best movie of 1990 (behind Goodfellas of course)

    1. My pleasure man! I honestly cannot believe I hadn't seen After Dark, My Sweet before. Aside from having a really good Patric performance, it's a damn solid flick.

      Have fun exploring Patric's work; he's very very good.

  4. Woah. I haven't seen any of these films, but I like Patric in some of his other roles, like In the Valley of Elah and The Alamo. I'll have to check these out. Downloading Nancy is one I've had my eye on since it was first released, so I might start with it.

    1. Nice. Yeah, it's really no coincidence that Sleepers, Narc, and Your Friends and Neighbors are three of my favorite films. Patric is a force of nature in every one of them, for completely different reasons.

      Same can be said for Downloading Nancy. That is grim cinema at its best. Enjoy. (Ha!)

  5. So glad you not only did this list for this actor, but also that you have Your Friends & Neighbors at numero uno. He's so damn good in it and that scene really takes you back, in the most unexpected way possible. I just re-watched it recently and found it better from the first time, and the same is said about him as well. As for Rush, ehhh! Solid list brotha!

    1. My friend, I am so glad you dig Patric and his work, in particular his Your Friends and Neighbors performance. Glad you like the list man!

  6. I'm afraid I'm not very familiar w/ his work, I'm one those people who thought 'The Lost Boys' when his name's mentioned ;) Sadly I thought he was laughably bad in The Losers, but I should give some of these a shot. I love your In Character series, Alex, well done!

    1. Thanks Ruth! Oh, sadly I agree that he's pretty damn bad in The Losers. But, in a way, I think he knows he was bad in it. I think he chose to ham it up like an old school Bond villain. My appreciation of his work could be clouding my judgement, but either way, there's definitely a lot of other great roles here to make up for that one!

      Thanks so much for reading, Ruth. Really glad you like the column!

  7. I haven't seen most of these films - but I loved him in Sleepers. And hey, what's wrong with Speed 2?! Jk jk.

    Regardless, you have such an amazing way with words, Alex. "Cary doesn’t need a name, and he certainly doesn’t need to be explained. He just needs to be." Love this!

    1. Speed 2 rocks! The way he's introduced, flying in on that motorcycle!!! Ha, but seriously, glad you're a Patric fan.

      Thanks for your kind words, Fly :)

  8. Sleepers is indeed one of the best films ever made, as well as one of my all time favourites (book is excellent too. Vivid in its torture and really fucking hard to bear- but excellent none-the-less) Great too see you consider it such a fine film :)

    1. Sleepers is a movie I revisit a few times a year, because it's just that good. I do love Lorenzo Carcaterra's book as well - what a haunting read. But really, everything about the film is top notch. Such a shame it never received the attention it deserved.