03 April 2014

Profiles: Colin Farrell, Courage, and America

This past weekend I somehow found myself in the middle of a grueling debate over the nature of actor, Colin Farrell. I, naturally, am generally pro-Farrell, but my opponent hated the Irishman with such fervent vitriol, that my only recourse was to turn to the Internet to provide a well-connected and reasonable forum where rational debate and intelligent thought and reflection may be facilitated. Of course the Internet's the place to do that.

So, why Colin Farrell? I suppose he's been leading debates for years now. It's tough to even remember when he first became a noteworthy actor. He was kind of just appointed one, without ever proving himself. That's why our debate centered on ridiculous films that came out over a decade ago like Minority Report (2002) and Daredevil (2003). Farrell is sort of like a Jude Law or a Sam Worthington - he doesn't really have that one distinctive role that thrust him into the spotlight. Instead we were suddenly supposed to care about this random dude with good-looking leading man chops. I believe that this general disdain or apathy has unfortunately informed the public perception of Mr. Farrell since his debut.

My opponent's basic argument was firstly, that Colin Farrell's appearance in any film was never distinctive enough - that he could be played by any actor. This opinion was primarily based off things like Daredevil, though, which again is a very narrow-minded way of arguing over an actor's oeuvre, and essentially the worst part of modern Internet fan-fueled criticism. There was no convincing my opponent because he had already written Farrell off. He could not distinguish the actor Farrell from his early accepted persona, nor take out Farrell from a total work (for instance, since Farrell has a small role in Horrible Bosses [2011], therefore all of Horrible Bosses is bad), nor understand the difference between acting well with a ridiculous part (Let's go with Daredevil again), ruining what could have been a great role (let's get Alexander [2004] out of the way), or just true, true complete shit (Miami Vice [2006]). All of this is anemic to true, unbiased critical appreciation of films, which in turn limits the scope of what movies you'd be inclined to watch and enjoy.

In my counter-argument I first attempted to dig into a few choice Farrell roles that have gone culturally underappreciated or maligned with the ravages of time. When The New World (2005) came out, it was largely dismissed as a failure. This was due likely to its accepted status among critics as trite Oscar Bait, cultural fatigue over another massive attempt to make Farrell a star, and a gap between the expectations of grandiose spectacle it created vs. the natural and intimate wandering epic that Terrence Malick actually delivered. Nine years later we're able to watch The New World without all of this context screwing with our judgment and really enjoy the nuanced revisionism that Malick and Farrell put on screen.

But you're not going to win an argument this way. After Miami Vice or so I think Farrell really started to get his act together. He stopped trying to be the next big blockbuster or franchise leading man and began taking these smaller roles in less high profile films. The results were a slew of both leading and bit parts for the next five years, but the shining jewel here is really In Bruges (2008). Whenever someone says they hate Colin Farrell, mentioning In Bruges should be enough to get them to at least say "Oh yeah, I forgot about that one." He justly earned a Golden Globe for the off-beat role in this little seen "criminals-laying-low-in-Bruges" flick, that also represents a turn where Farrell took on more challenges, recognized his daft public persona, and started having a lot more fun.
Scumbag or Sex Symbol? Scum symbol.

He's recently returned to bigger filmmaking with this weird kind of prestige. No one knows how he became a big name. Honestly. Is it Minority Report and Daredevil? Because Farrell wasn't the reason anyone saw those. S.W.A.T. (2003)? Do you honestly even remember what happened in S.W.A.T.? For whatever reason, though, the man is a household name, and when he started taking some ridiculous roles in major studio films that another established actor of his standing wouldn't have touched, it's significant. The combover king in Horrible Bosses. The fucking vampire in Fright Night (2011), equally throwing weight around as the heavy villain as well as the huge acting "get," intimidating everyone with aplomb. The guts to remake Total Recall (2012). And back to the intimacy of the endlessly enjoyable romp through the narrative twists of Seven Psychopaths (2012).

I think that intimacy is what sets Farrell apart and gives him his edge. In Total Recall he's the opposite of Schwarzenegger because you can believe that Arnold really was a secret agent all along - look at him! The ambiguity inherent to the mindfuck premise becomes tried. Farrell is like watching the film remade with Jason Bourne - he has all these abilities but also a ton of fear. You get this same vulnerability on display in In Bruges, The New World, and Seven Psychopaths. He's not an action star. He's more romantic (and yes, this article won't forget this year's Winter's Tale [2014], which is notable for making the least sense of any movie ever made), cautious, and charming. It's easy to see why anyone raised on Schwarzeneggers and Stallones would balk, but that doesn't make him a disastrous lead actor. Even if you ultimately look at his box office and attest that he still hasn't really connected with audiences.

We do really need to get back to Daredevil. I'm not sure why Daredevil kept coming up, maybe it's because it's when the guy who was really cool in Minority Report who was able to go toe to toe with Tom Cruise had a big chance to be a really cool supervillain and he totally hammed it up. He broke our hearts. Daredevil tends to have this really awful reputation, but I think that's also because of the presence of Ben Affleck (try as he might, Ben can never seem to get over his pretty boy douche image - how is the memory of Pearl Harbor [2001] more potent at this point than The Town [2010]?), which is also an unfair fanboy assessment based more on acceptable public perception that articulate critical lens.

I really liked Daredevil when it came out. I was also like 16 years old and still jazzed up about seeing Spider-Man and X-Men on screen for the first time. See, that's an important moment. Daredevil was really a gutsy call - way before Iron Man was adapted, or even Batman Begins (2005). It was the darkest superhero film to date before an age where everything had to be "dark" if it was going to be cool (I don't know if we're still in that age. I think bubble gum is cool now. Is The Avengers [2012] cooler than Man of Steel [2013]?) I know I'm arguing now for liking a movie within its contemporary context, but I think that initial enjoyment kept me afloat when all the hate started pouring on.

Daredevil has the unique distinction of being an origin movie and a pretty good mid-career movie all in one. A film like Batman Begins spends just about the entire time creating all these justifications for why someone in the real world would eventually conform to the iconic imagery forged 70 years ago. Despite its genuinely profound character construction, its entire conceit of taking a comic character with extreme seriousness, is in itself, a silly prospect. Daredevil wastes no time in its origin, and then jumps to find its protagonist pretty well in his years, cleaning up the scum of Hell's Kitchen, questing whether or not he's the bad guy, balancing a personal life (or not, as Matt Murdock's lawyer alter ego is very much derived from his late night antics, seeking both legal and vigilante methods of justice), as well as getting well and confused over the right paths to take when all these crazy assassins like Elektra, Bullseye, and Kingpin show up.
Yeah he is pretty douchey

Oh yeah, Bullseye. Colin Farrell. In the comics, Bullseye is all kinds of awesome. He's super insane, never misses, and loves killing everyone all the time. That's all pretty true for the film version as well. My opponent made a big contention that Colin Farrell was really stupid because Bullseye's superpower was that he could never miss, and in the film, he misses poor Affleck's Daredevil. Neverminding that it's less a superpower, and more of a superskill, I tried to reason that that's a huge, genuinely affecting reason for the criminally insane Bullseye, who has never before met Daredevil, to become obsessed with killing him, thereby hitting his mark and proving that his power does exist. It's integral to the development of their relationship. It's as if Professor X made Magneto's powers stop working. Wouldn't a huge part of Magneto's development then be getting his powers back (Jeez, that really happened towards the end of The Last Stand [2006]). It's not exactly the same, but it's worthy motivation.

He also argued that Bullseye doesn't do anything cool and when he does, it's only important for the plot. I argued that his motorcycle flip introduction was sort of cool, which he countered saying that that's something any of Charlie's Angels (I assume the McG versions) would be able to do, and considering none of them have superpowers, Bullseye should do something cooler. As a side note, my opponent apparently hadn't seen an action movie since 2003. Also, for the record, we were now arguing about whether or not flips of motorcycles were cool. I think they're pretty cool, I dunno. Bullseye also propels a lot of the plot by (SPOILER, if you somehow have made it 11 years without seeing it and/or still care about Daredevil being spoiled) killing Elektra, but that's also a big character moment for Murdock, considering he wasn't able to reconcile with her due to Bullseye also killing her father and framing him. Still with me? Bullseye fucks up everybody in this movie, this whirling destructive psychotic force that stands against all the law and justice Murdock is trying to achieve. Murdock is Dent and Batman rolled into one and Daredevil beat The Dark Knight (2008) by five years.

So, I'm not sure if I convinced you on Colin Farrell's greatness. To be honest, he's not all that great, but he's not the worst actor by far to come about, and he's been more the victim of biased groupthink perception than real criticism of his acting or role choices. I can't seem him being interchangeable, especially in flicks like In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. And I'm going to watch Daredevil again. Stop hating on Daredevil. If anything it is more a proto-Superhero film in wake of what's going on today, but it has influenced Nolan's Batman a whole lot more than any of its fans would care to admit.

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