Have you ever liked an actor that no one else seems to like? You almost want to keep your adoration to yourself, for fear that you'll be laughed out of a party or a gathering when you say how much you like Josh Hartnett. I actually do like Josh Hartnett, quite a lot. For a pretty boy, he has a very warm screen personality, and though he can appear perfectly comfortable playing a boxer or a cop, he also has a wonderful sense of humor. In short, he's not a brooder or a poser like most of his other pretty boy contemporaries. And yes, he was in Pearl Harbor, but he made up for that with excellent performances in The Virgin Suicides, O, 40 Days and 40 Nights, Hollywood Homicide and The Black Dahlia. Incidentally, these are all under-appreciated or misunderstood movies, just like Josh himself.
There. I've gone on record. Looking down the list of movies currently playing on 400 screens or less, I came up with several other actors I like that have not really received the love they deserve. First up, we have Amy Adams, who I just caught in the new Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. As far as I'm concerned, Amy walks on water. She's like a Carole Lombard for the 21st century. That means that she's not particularly suited for low-key "realistic" roles, such as the one she plays in Charlie Wilson's War (97 screens); in that, she basically trails Tom Hanks and occasionally reads some complicated dialogue to him. (I thought Mike Nichols was supposed to be good with actors.) But in Enchanted (329 screens), Amy is perfectly cast as a slightly cartoonish, screwball kook. She can move her eyes and her entire body in very precise ways for outlandish results, but she still retains a strain of humanity; she never spirals off into anything untouchable or unknowable. I thought she deserved an Oscar nomination for this one, but I'm afraid she'll need to put on a lot of "ugly" makeup before she wins anything.
I also quite like Colin Farrell, who, like Hartnett, is a pretty boy that doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. In the right role, he's quick with a smile or a snappy patter. And he, too, refuses to get stuck brooding. When he suffers, he suffers deeply and grandly, as in Woody Allen's recent Cassandra's Dream (already gone after a too-brief run). Sadly, he can be crushed under bad movies (S.W.A.T., Miami Vice, etc.), but when he gets a good one -- or at least a good director -- he can shine. Check him out in The War Zone, Tigerland, Phone Booth, Intermission or The New World. (Even in the awful Daredevil, he brings an animated spirit sorely lacking elsewhere.) He can play a period piece, he can be menacing and terrifying, or he can be funny. I bet he could even pull off Shakespeare. His newest film, In Bruges (232 screens), shows him as a tormented, yet charming hitman stuck in a small, touristy town awaiting who knows what.
Charles S. Dutton, currently in John Sayles' Honeydripper (11 screens), never gets enough credit either. Though he's mostly on TV, in movies he can serve as a kind of anchor, or a base that you can return to for reassurance. In 1999, I selected him as Best Actor of the year for Robert Altman's Cookie's Fortune, for that matter-of-fact posture and style; he appears to be just a hand's grasp away from total understanding and happiness. Shannyn Sossamon, currently in the universally hated horror film One Missed Call (123 screens), shares this same kind of simple style, driven by pure, down-to-earth personality. When she first appeared on the scene, I thought she looked like a second-rate Angelina Jolie, but Sossamon has surpassed the chilly, distant, professional Jolie with her much more approachable, natural beauty and style. She hasn't yet appeared in a great movie, but then neither has Jolie.
All of these actors have something in common: they come across as if they have no training; the strings are invisible. In all my years of movie viewing, I have come to appreciate this more effortless Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart-style approach, and often prefer it to the more accepted, showier styles (the "Method" and otherwise). I've run out of room this week, so I think I'll continue next week with some more unsung favorites. Meanwhile, I'll leave off with the final performance of a true professional, the late, great Roy Scheider, who voices the self-righteous, single-minded Judge Hoffman in Chicago 10 (14 screens). I had the good fortune of interviewing Mr. Scheider once, and he was just as personable in life as he was in his films.