The 15 Most Underrated Movie Performances of 2017 (So Far)

8. Ashton Sanders – Moonlight


The supporting roles in Moonlight were highly celebrated in the previous awards season, with both Mahershala Ali and Naomi Harris receiving awards for their roles in Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece.

The awards garnered by Ali and Harris slightly overshadows the work done by the three men playing the central character, Chiron. While all three performances are exceptional, the toughest part of the story is that of Chiron’s high school years, where he is played by Ashton Sanders, who is heart-breaking as the young man bullied at school and home, seeking refuge in the awkward company of fellow classmate Kevin.

The delicate vulnerability of Chiron eventually explodes in a rush of confused anger aimed at his aggressors; the second act of Moonlight, with its portrayal of teenage frustration from the viewpoint of a black, gay character, is a landmark of modern cinema, an objective view of an aspect of society that is rarely seen on screen.


7. Charlize Theron – Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron - Atomic Blonde

The most surprising thing about Atomic Blonde is just how startlingly unoriginal it is. The whole narrative feels like the screenwriter simply plucked plot strands from a handful of other thrillers and googled “best 80’s songs”. However, the main aim of the film is to create popcorn entertainment centred around Lorraine Broughton and her mission in Cold War Berlin. Kudos therefore to Charlize Theron, who takes the role of a character told to “not trust anyone” and to bring something new to the screen, grabbing the role by the scruff of its neck and throwing herself (stunts included) into perilous danger.

Theron’s Broughton is an often-quiet protagonist, yet admirably layered in a film whose substance is paper thin. Her methods are instinctive and she trusts in herself to get the job done; her onscreen relationship with Sofia Boutella’s Delphine is never leered at or objectified, but is in fact as refreshingly tender and heartfelt as any in cinema this year.

What Atomic Blonde confirms is that Charlize Theron’s action heroines are up there with Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton in James Cameron’s Aliens and Terminator 2. With this film and her extraordinary performance in Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron is leading a new generation of female action stars to the screen, and it is about time too.


6. Keanu Reeves – John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick Chapter 2

The career of Keanu Reeves has been a great mess of peaks and troughs, from the glory days of The Matrix to the rigid stiffness of The Day The Earth Stood Still. John Wick and its sequel firmly re-establish Reeves to action hero status, a position he fully deserves, and in Chapter 2 he delivers a powerful physical performance that oozes brooding confidence.

It could be argued that the attention on Reeves’ performance was partly due to the viral footage of his intense training regime, and the way that it is deployed in the film demonstrates an actor who is so dedicated to his craft, with the determination to own the role of John Wick.

Delivering highly dramatic lines of dialogue may never be something that Keanu Reeves can do convincingly, but in John Wick: Chapter 2 it is the balletic movement throughout trickily choreographed fight sequences that allows Reeves to be the selling point of the film.


5. Julian Barratt – Mindhorn

Julian Barrett - Mindhorn

“You’re like a fine wine.”

“A man could get drunk off that wine.”

Presented above is a simple yet definitive depiction of the character of Richard Thorncroft, the failing actor best known for the painful yet popular Mindhorn- an Isle of Man detective series with its protagonist famous for having an eye that can “see truth”.

Called back to the Isle of Man in the present day, Thorncroft is a shadow of his former self, withering on the outside, yet his boyish self-confidence and a desire for publicity drives him to take the case of a serial killer who will only speak to Detective Mindhorn.

Julian Barratt is a British comedian best known for his trippy comedy The Mighty Boosh. His script for Mindhorn is jam-packed with intentionally awkward lines of dialogue, which succeeds in making the audience feel suitably uncomfortable.


4. Andy Serkis – War For The Planet Of The Apes

Andy Serkis - War For The Planet Of The Apes

It’s all about the eyes. Andy Serkis’ three great performance capture characters (Gollum, Kong, Caesar) can be defined by gazing into the eyes of those he plays. With Gollum it was the loneliness, Kong carried the melancholy, and the journey of Caesar- concluding with War For The Planet Of The Apes- has seen the innocence of the young chimp through to the grieving, battle-hardened Caesar of the finale.

Of course, Caesar is CGI-rendered and the digital imagery has never been better in the latest instalment, but behind it all is Serkis. Every movement, every sound uttered is Andy Serkis, in a comical green suit delivering yet another astonishing performance. He made Gollum the most intriguing character in The Lord of the Rings and Caesar is a hero who surpasses the majority of blockbuster protagonists.


3. Fionn Whitehead – Dunkirk

Fionn Whitehead - Dunkirk

Take a glance over the big-name cast list of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and any one of the names gives reason to go and see it. Yet it is the lesser-known actors who leave the longest lasting memory when vacating the cinema.

Fionn Whitehead plays a British soldier stranded on the beach, using any means possible to get the next boat out of Dunkirk. The name of his character (Tommy) is proof enough that he is meant to be a nameless face, representative of one of the many troops so desperate to get home.

Whitehead is the emotional flagbearer of the film: Dunkirk is not a film that gives depth to its characters, but conveys the terror and the suffocating atmosphere experienced by those on the beach. Without Tommy, there would be a great emptiness about Dunkirk and it is vital that Whitehead’s work gets the recognition it deserves.


2. Ewan Bremner – T2: Trainspotting

Ewan Bremner - T2 Trainspotting

While the narrative perspective of Trainspotting was focused on Ewan McGregor’s Renton, the long-awaited follow up gently shifts the viewpoint towards Ewan Bremner’s Spud, who has barely changed in the two decades in between the stories.

Twenty years further into his relationship with heroin, Spud is a sickly twig of a man, residing alone on the thirteenth floor of a run-down block of flats, teetering on the brink of a quiet, undignified end. He eventually finds solace in his writing, and it is through this that the story progresses forwards, while also leaving a nostalgic doorway ajar, leading into the past.

Ewan Bremner’s performance is so vital to the film due to the fact that Spud carries the majority of the emotional weight. His interrogation by Begbie, sifting through Spud’s writing is agonising to watch, as Bremner imbues Spud with a combination of childish excitement and utter dread.


1. Kyle MacLachlan – Twin Peaks: The Return

Kyle MacLachlan - Twin Peaks The Return

It is probably wise at this point to deal with the elephant in the room: yes, Twin Peaks: The Return is a film. David Lynch has, on a number of occasions, stated that this is an 18-hour film and the running time dictates that television is the obvious place to broadcast it. Watching it makes you wonder just how good it would look and sound in a cinema (Lynch’s sound design is an unparalleled wonder).

The cast of 236 are uniformly exceptional, however all performance accolades for the year should be showered upon Kyle MacLachlan for his triple-performance as Dale Cooper, Mr Cooper and Dougie Jones.

While the narrative threads slowly converge together, at the centre of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s epic mystery are Dale Cooper and his doppelgänger, referred to as Mr Cooper- the performances required for both men could not be any different. Mr Cooper is a rogue criminal entity inhabited by the demonic creature BOB, while Dale Cooper has been released back into the world with his mind seemingly locked away, having to learn everything about life from scratch.

The fact that Kyle MacLachlan manages to convince as both protagonist and antagonist is astonishing in itself, and Lynch does not make this easy for his leading actor; scenes in Twin Peaks are often double the length they need to be, and dialogue is scarce- Dale merely repeats words that are said to him, occasionally pointing at mild triggers, such as files, badges and coffee. Mr Cooper, on the other hand, has an uncanny resemblance to Tommy Wiseau, and yet the darkness in his eyes is enough to bring discomfort.

Twin Peaks: The Return is an exhibition of David Lynch at the height of his creative powers, yet were it not for the dedication put in by Kyle MacLachlan, it would be missing something truly special.

Author Bio: Jethro Colmer is a third year Film Studies student in Cheltenham, England, gradually preparing to facing the post-uni world with quiet trepidation. He can usually be found in the cinema or with friends, talking about films over a damn fine cup of coffee.