He's thickened around the waist and his hair has grayed, yet the boyish charm remains. As 58-year-old Jake in Nancy Meyers' It's Complicated, which opens on Friday, Alec Baldwin (for the record: 51 years of age) epitomizes the ladies' man gone only slightly to seed. He exudes a husky masculinity, his face cracking wide open with joy when he unexpectedly beds his ex-wife Jane (Meryl Streep). It's not so much a devilish triumph as it is a recognition that his wildest dreams have come true: he can't believe how lucky he is.
Streep is the star but Baldwin is the motor that drives the story -- even if he is more of a burr under the saddle. It's a sterling performance, fully deserving of awards consideration, and a potent reminder that, given the right role and the right framework, Alec Baldwin's complicated charm easily commands the spotlight. His comedic chops have been amply demonstrated in recent years as studio exec Jack Donaghy on TV's 30 Rock, and television is where I first spotted him in the engrossing military mystery Dress Gray in 1986. Ramrod straight, growly voice, and oozing lethal charm, he was clearly going places.
1. Malice (1993)
Seven years later, he gave his signature performance as Dr. Jed Hill, a surgeon who enters the lives of happily married young couple Nicole Kidman and Bill Pullman, and rends their world apart. Is Dr. Hill arrogant, supremely confident, or something more malevolent? "You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God." For just a moment, you believe.
2. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
It's a show-off role, a tone-setter, a device by writer David Mamet to terrorize the audience right at the start, and it puts the fear of God, in the form of Alec Baldwin, into the hearts of all the sad sack salesmen. And despite the exquisite work done by the all-star cast (Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin Spacey), it's Baldwin's fiery, over-the-top, magnetic, first-class ass chewing that makes the picture possible, by crystallizing everyone's motivation. "Put. That. Coffee. Down. Coffee's for closers."
Warning: This video contains foul language
3. Miami Blues (1990)
George Armitage's film is balanced nicely between Baldwin, as a brutal ex-con, Jennifer Jason Leigh as a sweet call girl, and Fred Ward as a broken-down cop, possibly on his last legs. Baldwin is breezy and casually violent, wanton in his desires to an unabashed degree, and wonderfully seedy. He has a way of barreling through people and objects that commands attention, in a way that makes you want to look away yet keep casting glances backward to see what he's doing.
4. The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Baldwin's other major picture from the same year shows the action star he might have become. As desk-bound analyst Jack Ryan, he's a bit too outspoken and persuasive during a meeting, and finds himself bound for the Atlantic Ocean to duel wits with Soviet submarine captain Marko Raimus (Sean Connery). Baldwin is fully capable of carrying his scenes, yet equally at ease in supporting Connery respectfully when the two share the screen. It's a modest, restrained, altogether likable performance.
5. The Departed (2006)
The "Bastan" accent is so thick it sounds like a caricature, and so Baldwin's blustery, bossy Captain Ellerby blends perfectly into the crazy quilt that Martin Scorsese knitted out of a Hong Kong modern crime classic. Baldwin again goes over the top of good taste, smashing subtlety, and contributing to the atmosphere of extreme machismo hiding the ever-present fear of getting thrown off the side of a building in the line of duty.
Warning: This video contains foul language
6. The Edge (1997)
Returning to the manly world of David Mamet, Baldwin takes a back seat to billionaire Anthony Hopkins after they crash land in a frozen wilderness. Hopkins is the one to chew the scenery this time, as the Man Who Knows Everything -- especially that Baldwin has been stealing kisses and more from Hopkins' beautiful young wife (Elle Macpherson). Baldwin walks out to the edge of supreme self-confidence, but keeps retreating. He knows, now, the ice is too thin.
7. Married to the Mob (1988)
Establishing a template for a character from which he would freely deviate over the years, Baldwin plays the high-living Frank de Marco, AKA Cucumber (as in "Cool as a ..." and other meanings). Married to a delicious dish (Michelle Pfeiffer), Frank can't help himself from partaking of other delights, which is not good for his long-term health. Baldwin has a brief role in the movie, which definitely belongs to Pfeiffer, but his early scenes give Jonathan Demme's comedy tremendous lift, an immediate shot of gusto, and an early demonstration of Baldwin's divine, complicated charm.