These are more actors than you think that are universally recognised as all time greats. There have always been those sitting comfortably at the top, known by anybody with even a mildly passing interest in cinema, such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino or Tom Cruise, however for those more interested by film there are a shocking amount of instantly recognisable faces belonging to stars.
However, just because they’re well known and big deals in Hollywood doesn’t mean that they aren’t sometimes in projects that don’t receive the deserved attention, and it certainly doesn’t mean that their performances receive praise, so… let’s take a look at ten performances from some of the most recognisable and famous actors in cinema that deserve more credit than they’ve had up to this point, shall we?
1. Johnny Depp in Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009)
Now, as someone who can’t typically stand Johnny Depp in much other than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Gilliam), this one came as quite a surprise. As a mega-fan of Michael Mann’s films, especially his 21st century films, the temptation was enough to tolerate Depp, however it turned out that he gave a complete showstopper of a performance as John Dillinger.
Stripping back his usual over-the-top and comic antics as charismatic pranksters in most of his other films (an unfortunate case of typecasting!), Depp plays Dillinger completely straight and manages to slip perfectly into the role of the harsh gangster whom Mann paints as more delicate than one would think – certainly more human. Depp is so well suited to what Mann wanted for his portrayal of Dillinger that it’s honestly quite arresting, as Depp works with Mann to shatter the tired tropes of the crime biopic by humanising the criminal at the centre as opposed to sensationalising them. It’s an incredible film helped a great deal by Depp’s shocker of a performance.
2. Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, 2012)
Of course, Pattinson is generally very acclaimed now thanks to films like The Lost City of Z (Gray), Good Time (Josh and Benny Safdie), High Life (Denis) and a few others that he has carefully chosen in the later half of the 2010s, however, many will also remember the absolute critical blasting that should have shot down his career before he ever got to show his talent over his turn as Edward in the Twilight adaptations.
Cosmopolis came out before Robert Pattinson had become a newfound star, born again as a great character actor in indie films, and yet it must be the film that started this total 180 shift in his career. Based upon a book by the great Don DeLillo of the same name, Cronenberg and Pattinson focus intently on trying to capture the very unique, distanced style that DeLillo communicates so well on page with the camera. Pattinson is so brilliant at detaching himself and delivering the (intentionally) obtuse and clunky dialogue with his co-stars, marking the moment of re-birth for a young star who now has proven himself as an assuredly strong performer.
3. Isabelle Huppert in Amateur (Hal Hartley, 1994)
Similarly to the style of David Cronenberg and Don DeLillo as mentioned above, Hal Hartley’s character always deliver their dialogue in an intentionally clunky and awkward fashion. Hartley overwrites a little, blocks his sets a little awkwardly and lets the characters all bask in the slight discomfort that comes from his excellent scriptwriting, and in Amateur, it is Isabelle Huppert who makes a surprising turn in the spy thriller comedy that Hartley would go on to really perfect a decade later when he directed the astoundingly good Fay Grim in 2006.
However, Huppert’s performance in Amateur is a huge part of what makes the film so charming. Helped along by a host of Hartley regulars, Huppert acts as a fish out of water stuck in Hal’s brilliant world of cautiously timed cause and effect that always sees things play out exactly as a playwright would dream they could.
Perfect timing, hilarious coincidences and the hand of fate controlling a huge group of characters, pulling them all together and orchestrating a distinctly merciless brutality upon them when they do finally meet mean that Amateur becomes a wonderfully funny film of worst (and best) case scenarios, and Huppert acts as the slightly more solid centre to the chaos that ensues. She stands out in all the right ways and gives one of her most surprising performances to date in a film that generally deserves much more recognition.
4. Tim Roth in Meantime (Mike Leigh, 1983)
After getting his career started with the brilliant Alan Clarke film Made In Britain just a year before (with an absolute beast of a performance as a second wave skinhead in 80s Britain), Tim Roth starred in a film for the other truly great British filmmaker of the time, Mike Leigh, in what would be one of his greatest and most underrated projects – Meantime. It seems that the curtain is slowly being lifted on this one, seeing as it recently received a Criterion upgrade and has been discussed much more since, becoming known as one of the prime examples of a film documenting life in Thatcher’s Britain, however the credit is still most definitely due, and shining a little more light on a personal favourite is always fun.
Meantime focuses itself upon a family struggling with unemployment in London in the early 80s, a problem that effected a huge amount of people in the UK generally at the time. Taking a slow burn approach to try to detail the boredom of wiling away the days in any way possible – of wasting the time that otherwise could be used so crucially – Leigh does a fantastic job of authentically capturing the life of the lower class unemployed whilst also ensuring that the film stays plenty entertaining via his usual improvised character work and his subtle yet hilarious dialogue.
It’s certainly one of his best works, and by using Tim Roth as the centre-point of the drama (giving him an entirely different role to the one that kick-started his career a year earlier), the film becomes all the more touching and meaningful.
5. Robert De Niro in The Fan (Tony Scott, 1996)
Let’s face it – De Niro needs absolutely no introduction. He’s been in practically all of the greatest crime films of the last fifty years or so, from his work in the early 70s with Brian De Palma and Scorsese all the way to his more varied work today (seeing him try comedy has been wonderful, even if it hasn’t always gone so smoothly), and he shows no real signs of stopping after giving one of the best performances of his career in the recently released The Irishman (Scorsese). In Tony Scott’s The Fan, he tries something a little different but similar enough to some of his other works that he still feels plenty confident enough to pull it off, and it shows.
Channelling more of his energy from The King Of Comedy/Cape Fear (Both Scorsese works too!), in the film De Niro plays Gil Renard, an obsessive fan of his favourite baseball player Bobby Rayburn (played by Wesley Snipes, who also gives a really good performance here!) whose obsessive behaviour turns expectedly more sinister.
Whilst the film doesn’t exactly try anything new, Scott’s stylised direction (as usual!) and De Niro’s high energy performance bring out the best of this type of film and really improve what would otherwise be more mediocre than great. De Niro toes the line between a seemingly nice gentlemanly type and the much darker, much more unpredictable version of himself that comes out when he or his obsession are in any trouble. This is a great watch for any fans of Joker, for sure.