Over a short period of time, Jessica Chastain went from a relative nobody to one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood, and it’s easy to see why. Few actresses have the natural talent of Chastain. Not everybody can step into a role and completely transform. Not everyone can do what she does so effortlessly.
This year, she’ll be appearing in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut. Assuming Sorkin can direct as well as he writes, we may have an Oscar contender on our hands. If the film itself falls short, it’s still hard to imagine Jessica Chastain phoning in her performance. Even in the worst movies, she has a tendency to keep things watchable. Listen, we’re not saying that Texas Killing Fields is a grand slam. We are implying that it would have been worse off without this particular actress’s extraordinary talent.
Below are ten of her greatest performances. This doesn’t mean her greatest overall films will be featured. We’re looking only at individual performances. Some of the movies listed below aren’t even that great, but they still feature top notch performances from this two-time Oscar nominee. Jessica Chastain doesn’t have any “bad performances” but she has a few worth some extra attention.
10. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2013)
We’ll go ahead and count all three versions of the film as one in order to avoid any complication. The various incarnations of the movie are all flawed in their own special way, but the performances ultimately save them from mediocrity.
If there’s one reason to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, it’s the brilliant combination of Chastain and McAvoy. The collection of films about a messy marriage is often held back by cliches, but it’s hard to complain when Jessica Chastain and her costar command the screen.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her might be the best pick of the lot if you’re trying to get the most out of Chastain’s performance. After all, this version of the film completely revolves around her character. It’s 105 straight minutes of marvellous acting.
Honestly though, any of the available versions can give the audience a peek into Chastain’s talent. The flashback scenes show us the positive chemistry between her and McAvoy. Meanwhile, the present day scenes give viewers the chance to see a more sensitive performance. She best shows her vulnerability when McAvoy is nowhere to be seen, but her chemistry with him is a different kind of excellent.
Chastain is a versatile actress, and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is verifiable evidence. It may not be her best role to date, but it’s still concrete proof that she can play just about any role handed to her. Sure, it’s not as complex as some of the other titles on this list, but it still requires an insane amount of range. Jessica Chastain, like always, makes it look easy.
9. Crimson Peak (2015)
Crimson Peak is another movie that often relies on visuals to impress viewers. Admittedly, the movie is beautiful. The production design is awe-inspiring, the computer generated effects are haunting, and the period-appropriate costumes are ravishing. In other words, the film is a visual feast. Beyond the artistic appeal lies a movie with a suspenseful narrative and solid cast. Crimson Peak isn’t essential Del Toro by any means, but it’s still worthy of admiration for several reasons.
Since this is an article about Jessica Chastain, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that she’s one of the highlights. For one, her chemistry with Tom Hiddleston is undeniable. The two make one hell of a duo up until the brutal climax. To add to that, her ability to go from zero to one hundred in a moments notice is peerless. Her performance ranges from subtly haunting to downright menacing. It’s a sight to behold.
Crimson Peak has an all-around top notch cast. All of the cast members feed off of each other to deliver great performances. Chastain is magnificent, but she’s even better thanks to how she acts alongside Hiddleston, Wasikowska, and Hunnam. She weaves together relationships with each cast member in order to make the ensemble more genuine. She breathes life into her character and puts herself into Del Toro’s twisted world. In other words, she does exactly what we’ve come to expect from her.
8. Interstellar (2014)
Nolan’s recent films have been more about the big picture than anything else. Actors and actresses often have to take a backseat to visual spectacle and exposition. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does result in films with occasionally stale performances.
Like the recently released Dunkirk, Interstellar is not a movie built around great performances. McConaughey and Hathaway do a fine job with what they’re given, but the real draw happens to be the stellar technical achievements and thought-provoking questions. Somehow, one of the cast members still manages to stand out despite the fact that she’s hardly the center of attention. Assuming you can put together context clues, you can probably guess who that person is.
Don’t let the previous paragraph convince you that Interstellar is completely devoid of character. There’s certainly humanity to be found within the movie. Most of the more human aspects come as a direct result of Jessica Chastain’s character. When the film isn’t dazzling viewers with top-notch sound design and visual effects, it’s returning to this father-daughter conflict between Cooper (McConaughey) and Murph (Chastain).
Chastain consistently makes it her mission to bring out every layer of Nolan’s script. In many ways, she’s the film’s most important character. This is a result of both how her character is written and how Chastain chooses to portray Murph. She wears her heart on her sleeve whenever possible, and it strengthens the movie as a result.
7. Jolene (2008)
First, let’s get the bad news out of the way – Jolene isn’t a great movie. It’s unnecessarily long, the tone is inconsistent, and the dialog feels awkward and unnatural. It’s never the profound coming-of-age drama it wants to be. More often than not, it’s a clunky mishmash of poor ideas held together by one strong performance. Chastain is the glue that holds this movie together.
Actually, Chastain often has a tendency to save mediocre movies. For example, The Zookeeper’s Wife was so much more enjoyable as a result of Jessica Chastain’s commitment to the role. Overall, Jolene might be the best example of “mediocre movie turned watchable thanks to Chastain.” There are so many small elements that just don’t gel.
Despite all of the complaints (and there are plenty), Chastain’s quirky leading lady still saves the day. Since this is one of her earliest roles, we get to see a side of Chastain we aren’t used to seeing. Chastain isn’t playing a strong independent woman this time around. She’s playing a fragile young girl trying to navigate through major hurdles. It’s refreshing, even if it’s hindered by a lousy script.
Prior to her big break in 2011, this was the most definitive proof that Jessica Chastain is an incredibly talented individual. The very limited release ensured that the subject of this article would remain fairly unknown for a few more years, but those who got a chance to see the film were rewarded.
Like several other films on the list, Jolene is also worth a watch just to see how Chastain has grown as an actress. After all, this was her film debut. The movie itself may have fell short, but Chastain showed promise from the very beginning.
6. A Most Violent Year (2014)
Jessica Chastain’s role in 2014’s A Most Violent Year was relatively brief, but she still managed to secure several award nominations following release. Though Chastain continues to prove that she’s a capable lead actress to this day, her supporting roles have also proven to be exceptional.
Actually, she has had a solid mix of both lead and supporting roles since her breakthrough in 2011. While it’s great to see her commanding the screen, it’s equally rewarding to watch the acclaimed actress take a back seat. It gives the viewer more time to ruminate on the more subtle skills she possesses as an actress.
It might be unfair to claim that Chastain “takes a back seat” in A Most Violent Year. Her acting is just as strong here as it often is, but there’s simply less of it. Still, she proves that acting is about quality and not quantity.
While she certainly doesn’t have the same amount of screentime as Oscar Isaac, she nevertheless makes it a point to show a range of emotion comparable to her more prominent costars. In particular, her performance within the final third of the movie is hard to forget.
J.C. Chandor knows how to direct actors. Robert Redford was magnificent in All is Lost, and Margin Call’s ensemble cast was equally worthy of praise. The strong screenplay helps Chastain really show her stuff, but it would be unfair to give too much credit to the people behind the scenes.
Like usual, Jessica Chastain proves she’s one of the most talented women in Hollywood. Her performance represents the perfect mix of subtlety and raw emotion. She carries her weight and then some.