5. The Iceman (2012)
The Iceman, like a lot of crime thrillers, is unfortunately too generic to earn a glowing recommendation from most people. Similar to last year’s Black Mass, this is a movie that fails to take risks and instead relies mostly on the cast to push things in the right direction. Luckily, the solid cast does a great job of working with the admittedly average material. In particular, Michael Shannon as the lead does a stunning job of bringing real-life hitman Richard Kuklinski to life.
Michael Shannon is (excuse the pun) chilling as the title character. He brings his trademark intimidation to the table and effectively uses it to portray the horrifying murderer that the film seeks to bring to life. We as the audience understand the real Kuklinski was a force to be reckoned with as a result of Shannon’s haunting portrayal. Despite the faults of the film itself, it’s hard to criticize Shannon, who takes an otherwise mediocre film and turns it on its head.
4. Bug (2006)
When Bug was released back in 2006, it received a largely negative reaction among common moviegoers. While film critics were mostly positive, the general audience didn’t feel the same way. This could largely be due to its odd marketing campaign which pegged it as a straight-up horror movie when in reality it was much more of a psychological thriller. As a psychological thriller, Bug was highly effective in most ways. In particular, the chemistry between Judd and Shannon was awe-inspiring.
Roger Ebert’s review of the film summed it up best when he said “The film has caused a stir at Cannes, not least because its stars, Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, achieve a kind of manic intensity that’s frightening not just in itself but because you fear for the actors.” This is a movie where you watch the slow decline of the protagonists’ mental health.
Shannon and Judd obviously keep that in mind throughout the whole film, as the viewer is more than able to tell that the characters are psychological messes slowly unhinging as the clock ticks.
3. Revolutionary Road (2008)
When the Oscars nominations rolled around, most people were expecting DiCaprio or Winslet to earn a nomination for this melancholic drama from director Sam Mendes. In the end, it was actually Shannon’s supporting role that picked up the single acting nomination for the film. Whether his performance is truly the best in the film is up for debate, but there’s no denying that he’s capable of keeping up with these two A-Listers.
Shannon’s role was definitely a supporting role. In all honesty, he had a smaller role than a number of cast members besides Winslet and DiCaprio. Somehow though, his small amount of screen time managed to make a monumental impact on those who watched the film.
Playing a mathematician who was recently declared insane, Shannon perfectly embodies the dark, troubled character in a way that makes him easy to remember long after the film concludes.
In particular, the scene where Shannon and DiCaprio duke it out at the dinner table stands out as one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. In a lot of these films listed including this one, you’ll realize that Shannon plays a character that could best be described as “unhinged.” That’s because he does it so ridiculously well.
2. 99 Homes (2014)
99 Homes, also known as “the other housing crisis movie released in 2014” may not be as clever or witty as Adam McKay’s The Big Short, but it still manages to pack quite the punch. This is a different kind of movie than The Big Short. It’s more grounded and it’s more focused, which allows it to peacefully coexist with Adam McKay’s behemoth hit.
This approach allows the film to feel less like an ensemble hit and more like a narrower-focused film with two clear leads. Instead of focusing on the entire country, 99 Homes instead focuses on how one man’s life was affected by the mortgage crisis, and it works incredibly well.
Once again playing a ruthless character that the audience roots against, Michael Shannon earned both a Golden Globe nomination and a Screen Actors Guild nomination for taking on the role of real-estate shark Rick Carver, who ends up kicking Andrew Garfield’s character out of his home. Despite seeming like an obvious bad guy,
Shannon brings a kind of complexity to the character that makes him a psychological question mark. It’s easy to root against the character, but it’s also easy to become invested in Shannon’s portrayal and ultimately question if Carver’s motives are rooted in evil or something else. If this role were given to someone else, it might lack this kind of complexity. Luckily, Shannon’s take on the character gives us something to ponder over.
1. Take Shelter (2011)
There are a number of films on this list that feature Michael Shannon playing a character with a mental illness. You can say that he’s typecast all you want, but it’s hard to be upset over that when he consistently delivers top notch performances as a result. While Bug and Revolutionary Road feature stellar performances from Shannon, Take Shelter is the highlight of his career. The film is proof that Shannon is at his best when he’s absolutely out of his mind.
Out of all the Jeff Nichols films on this list, Take Shelter features the strongest performance from Shannon. Whether or not it is the best Jeff Nichols film is up for debate, but in terms of Michael Shannon’s performances, Take Shelter is the absolute knockout winner.
The strong, creative script helps Shannon bring out the best in himself, but it’s not the sole reason Shannon shines. He shows an obvious commitment that few other performers are willing to show to their audience. Shannon owns the character in a way that few actors could. In many ways, Shannon embodies the character of Curtis LaForche in a way that makes it hard to remember this is an actor playing a character. He’s just that alluring.
Author Bio: Justin is a paraprofessional teaching assistant and full-time film enthusiast with a degree in English. When he’s not writing about films, he’s probably watching them in his spare time.