Sam Rockwell is in a class of actors all his own. He’s one of actor’s top ten favorite actors; not an actor that major audiences could pick out of crowd, but one everyone will remember after they’ve seen one of his movies.
Rarely being a leading man, but always stealing the show, he’s gone on to be one of the most respected American actors working today.
10. Box of Moonlight (1996)
Tom DiCillio’s “privileged white man gets his life in order” story comes off a little trite today, but worked much better when it came out in 97. What allows it to stand somewhat upright are the two leads, John Turturro as the still Al, and Sam Rockwell as the mystical care-free The Kid. The Kid is like if a child had been so obsessed with playing Davey Crockett, he decided to run away and live out the fantasy.
The script for Moonlight is average at best, but Turturro and Rockwell have great chemistry and Rockwell gives a character that could be annoying on paper and makes him incredibly likable. It’s interesting to see Rockwell as young as he was still retain every bit of his humor and intensity that would set him apart in more great roles in the future.
9. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
What most people remember about The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford are Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck’s mesmerizing performances in this slow burn of a western. Amongst the beautiful cinematography and haunting score, Sam Rockwell gives a very understated performance. While he may leave very little impression on the casual viewer, he completely holds his own against the two scene stealers.
Rockwell plays Charley Ford, Robert’s brother and accomplish of the infamous outlaw. As Robert Ford grows more envious and Jesse more suspicious of the world around him, Charley acts as an audience avatar. Rockwell is perfectly naturalistic in a role that would have required grand personality in any other movie about the most famous train robber in history.
He plays the role with quiet contemplation at the fear he feels playing a role in the murder of a dangerous outlaw. Then the regret he feels of taking the life of a man he knew very well.
8. Galaxy Quest (1999)
Galaxy Quest is in some ways a better Star Trek movie than most Star Trek movies. It was even voted in a pole as one of the best ahead of Into Darkness. More than that, it’s one of the best parody films ever made. Instead of going for cheap laughs, the script cuts to the core of the absurdity of the TV sci-fi tropes. The movie pokes fun at being a B celebrity as well as lovingly staying true to its characters.
The cast only helps to highlight the script, with Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Rickman all perfectly placed into their selected stereotype. In the background, stealing scenes is Rockwell playing Guy Fleegman, a background actor who fears that now he’s on a real space mission he will be just as disposable as he was on the show. This was an early film highlighting the extent of Rockwell’s comedic abilities, and it’s glorious as he goes from glorified extra to plucky comic relief.
7. Frost/Nixon (2008)
Rockwell had a difficult job to do in Frost/Nixon as James Reston Jr. he had to convey American’s contempt for Nixon and a desire to see him answer for the crimes he committed as president. He creates a moral backbone that David Frost uses as fuel to fight for the truth. Rockwell once again brings his A game to what could have been a thankless role and ends up delivering an honest and memorable performance.
In the first five minutes he’s on screen, he gives one of his best speeches of his career and you’re immediately made aware that the events that are about to unfold hold much more weight than either of our main characters are yet aware. Rockwell is the best at bringing genuine comedy and humanity to parts that the scripts heavily rely on.
6. The Green Mile (1999)
Frank Darabont just seems to have a knack for directing Stephen King adaptations about prison life. The Green Mile may not have the grandiose story telling that Shawshank Redemption has, but it makes up for it in strong characters.
Most people got their first glimpse of Rockwell here as Wild Bill, a redneck daffy duck of a criminal who serves as comic relief through most of the picture, but still manages to retain the darkness underneath, that gives the character more weight in the final act. Rockwell can be likable and spastic very well, but here he turns up the gross factor to make a character you enjoy watching but wouldn’t want to get too close to.