Friday, October 17, 2008

Give This Man A Job - Michael Wincott

What Just Happened is opening today in limited release. The grim reviews mean that I won't be racing out to see it (why Magnolia didn't give it their customary advance-night sneak preview on HDNet Movies I cannot say). But no matter how toothless it is and how sitcom-ish it allegedly becomes, I did notice right away that the disgruntled director who sets the plot in motion is played by none other than Michael Wincott. You remember him right? He's never really been a star, but he's almost always a highlight of every project he appears in. He worked quite a bit in the 1990s, often as the lead villain or evil sidekick before more or less disappearing during this decade. He has his fanbase, but the work has not been there. Aside from a prominent supporting role in the Peirce Brosnan/Liam Neeson western Seraphim Falls in late 2006, his resume since 2001's Along Came A Spider is made up of glorified cameos and video game voice overs. I'd like to think this is his choice, that he's found happiness outside of Hollywood and only acts when it suits him. But, gosh-darn it, I miss him. I miss that voice that says 'I'm really evil because I have congestion and haven't cleared my throat since high school' or 'I'm so evil that I barely have to talk above a throaty whisper to scare you'.

Although he spent some time in TV-guest starring appearances (like every actor on earth, he cameoed on Crime Story back in 1986), he got his proverbial break with supporting roles in Oliver Stone's Born On The Fourth Of July and The Doors. Most of us first saw him as Guy Of Gisborne in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. Granted Alan Rickman and Morgan Freeman dominated the movie, but Wincott had fun as the enforcer of order, a brutal thug who wasn't nearly as bright or as loved by his cousin as he presumed. He basically replayed this role in 1993, with more panache and wit, as the second in command to Cardinal Richelieu in Walt Disney's The Three Musketeers. He cut a lean, nasty figure as a murderous former musketeer, the Darth Vader to Tim Curry's Palpatine. The movie is dumb and hilariously unfaithful to the original book, but it's loads of fun and has aged well.  A year later he got a promotion, playing the lead villain in The Crow. His swaggering, long-haired gangster Top Dollar brought much humor and bawdiness to a very self-serious movie. Despite most of the press (understandably) concentrating on the late Brandon Lee, Wincott's comic-book drug kingpin nearly stole the movie. He also delivered one of my favorite lines ever: "Our friend T-bird won't be joining us this evening on account of a slight case of death."  A year later he had a notable role in Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days.

Among small roles and extended cameos, he played two more major heavies in 1997 and 2001. As the ice-cold jewel thief in Metro, Wincott gave us the rare villain who was imposing because his heart-rate rarely rose above 60. He started the new decade as Gary Soneji in Along Came A Spider, the second and last Morgan Freeman-starring Alex Cross movie in 2001. In the James Patterson novels, Soneji was a long-running nemesis, the Moriarty or Joker to Alex Cross. Wincott brought his usual level-headed, premeditated intensity to the part, and the implausible but extremely entertaining movie was better for it. Why Paramount didn't make countless Cross movies based on the countless novels, I don't know. They were both very profitable, and the star-driven mid-budget thriller used to be Paramount's bread and butter (change in management I presume).

After a small role in The Count Of Monte Cristo in 2002, Wincott pretty much vanished for the remainder of the decade. There are several actors that I desperately wish to see more of, but Michael Wincott is one of the few who makes a movie more exciting just by his presence. He may never win an Oscar and he may never guest on Inside The Actor's Studio. But Michael Wincott never fails to entertain me. Let's hope this re-emergence is a sign of things to come.  His next project is actually an untitled film that represents his writing debut.  Let's hope it turns out well for the guy.

Scott Mendelson


Sezin said...

You forgot to mention his brilliant turn in Kathryn Bigelow's "StrangeDays." He was amazing in that one.

Sezin said...

You forgot to mention his brilliant turn in Kathryn Bigelow's "StrangeDays." He was amazing in that one.


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