The film industry is one of the hardest arenas to break into, let alone be respected in. These actors have gained notoriety for being some of Hollywood’s least praised. Are they bad actors? Or have they just made poor career moves (agents, collaborators, multi film deals etc.), received lacklustre direction, or settled into lazy type-casting roles that serve to secure them financially.
Even the actors revered for being the cream of the crop have had their off pictures. Di Caprio has The Beach, Clooney has Batman and Robin, and Kevin Spacey now has Nine Lives (he voices a cat, it’s just awful). Not every actor is a chameleon like Gary Oldman; some performers are excellent when they just play to their strengths.
Robert De Niro is a well respected actor (despite his recent comedic ventures) however if he was cast as the romantic lead in The Notebook, would he be a bad actor? Or do we just fire the casting agent? Choosing to work with the right directors, producers, and writers sets the groundwork for a great performance.
This is a luxury that most of these massive stars find available to them. An actor’s work ethic is the engine that drives their performance, but often it’s the direction they receive that allows their portrayal to complete the journey.
It is also important to remember that the title of “Bad Actor” is a temporary one. Had this list been compiled a decade earlier then Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck would find themselves under creative appraisal.
Were these performances flukes? Or were they perhaps just a sample of what these actors are truly capable of.
1. Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love (2002)
This story was delightfully original and with Paul Thomas Anderson writing and directing, the complete vision was heart warming and fully realised. Never have audiences rooted for Sandler like they have in this witty and bleakly gentle love story.
Contrary to the Sandler we’re used to seeing (wise cracking alpha male who holds all the social cards alongside a hot wife), this Sandler was vulnerable and lacking in confidence.
Critics adored the understated performance and praised his bravery in portraying an emotional loser. He clearly was tested as an actor and it was likely Paul Thomas Anderson who brought out the best in him.
Sandler’s problem is his laziness. Strange to imagine a successful film star holding such a description, but when you note his apparent refusal to work outside of director Dennis Dugan (Jack & Jill, Big Daddy, and Grown Ups), and the reoccurring cast of his best buddies (David Spade, Kevin James and Chris Rock) the picture of the slacker comedian becomes crystal clear.
You can imagine him showing up to each familiar set, high fiving the same ten people and then shouting “action!” Whether he fell out of love with comedy, or he just doesn’t get along with other cast and crews, the recent audience withdrawal from Sandler suggests they are catching on to his half-hearted antics.
Punch Drunk Love was a wonderful example of Adam Sandler’s grounded humour. However, given the recent Netflix efforts (The Do-Over and The Ridiculous 6), Sandler’s return to humility doesn’t seem visible on the horizon.
2. Paul Walker in Hours (2013)
Cynics will claim that Paul Walker made it on to this list due to his tragic death in 2013. Those cynics won’t have seen Hours. This cunningly simple thriller demonstrated in Paul Walker’s last year that he was capable of not only delivering a convincing performance, but also carrying a film. His portrayal of a desperate father was honest and compelling.
In real life Walker was considered a true family man (counter cultural for Hollywood). While Walker might not have deserved accolades for this performance, it was a brilliant example of him playing to his strengths. A similar picture that demonstrated this was 2001’s Joy Ride (or Road Kill depending on where you’re from).
There are many actors like Paul Walker. They aren’t your Christian Bale’s or Sam Rockwell’s. He was a function actor, meaning, he might not have been versatile, but he was fantastic in straight, story driven roles and excelled in thrillers. The Fast and Furious franchise might be what he is known for, but Hours should be remembered as one of his finest performances.
3. Kristen Stewart in Into the Wild (2007)
This beautiful tale of adolescence and survival featured several great performances. One of which, came from the famous moody girl. This film arriving a year before her life was ruined by fang wearing teenage nightmares, Into the Wild showed the softer side of Stewart. She displays a subtle innocence as she tries to entice Emile Hirsch’s character.
Her short role in this felt like a teaser for a stunning career packed with stellar performances. Stewart is no fool on camera; she graced the screen alongside Jodie Foster in David Fincher’s 2002 masterpiece Panic Room at the tender age of 12.
So why is she bad? Kristen Stewart is a classic example of a talented child star whose chops secured her a massive role (the vampire one), then discovered when she reached the top that fame is actually pretty awful. Stewart clearly possesses a love for the craft of acting, but fame might have left her too jaded.
Her performances now feel stiff and uncomfortable (Snow White and The Huntsman). Hopefully, if Stewart can disappear for a few years, she can return as a mature tour de force, with her talent and life experience fully realised.
4. Keanu Reeves in John Wick (2014)
Keanu Reeves has regularly been described as “The Best Worst Actor”. Reeves is similar to Paul Walker in that he serves one particular function excellently. Keanu Reeves’ function is action. This neo-noir action thriller demonstrated Reeves at his best, playing a former assassin and doing all of his own stunts.
The hyper stylised cinematography is reminiscent of The Matrix without ripping it off as so many films do, criminally. The plot is simple and Keanu Reeves’ portrayal is sublime. Thankfully, this is an original action flick that is scheduled a sequel, making that all important first step towards creating original content for this generation.
Keanu Reeves is to be respected as he refuses to sit back and type-cast himself. The adaptation of the 2006 A Scanner Darkly was slightly jumbled, but showed off some great performances and stylish visuals.
He made a decent romantic effort reuniting with Speed cast member Sandra Bullock in The Lake House and remember when he was Diane Keaton’s love interest in Something’s Gotta Give? Reeves has enough respect for the craft to push himself. However, given how awesome John Wick is, audiences will be grateful that he has made a triumphant return to action.
5. Jason Statham in Snatch (2000)
Although this gangster outing feels like a rearrangement of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, it is brilliant fun. The intertwining storylines are paced brilliantly, showcasing Jason Statham at the helm of the unlicensed boxing plotline.
Statham at this point, was a few years off settling for any old wooden tough guy role. He portrays a slightly more human character in this underworld of mobsters and gypsy crooks. This allows Statham to play a mildly comedic role, which he nails. He is effortlessly authentic and delivers his finest performance to date.
Jason Statham is missing out on the comedy market. He was actually the best bit about that Melissa McCarthy Spy movie. While his dedication to stunt work is admirable, his acting is taking a hit, churning out films like Parker and Homefront (please don’t make him do an American accent). Statham is a dark horse and perhaps when his body finally gives way, he will settle in to some true character driven roles.