Have you ever sat in a cinema, watch an actor on screen and thought to yourself; “damn, why haven’t this guy got an Oscar?” I do it all the time. I’ll be watching a truly terrific performance in which the actor excavates his emotions; dealing with difficulties of his characters and the struggles he has to face, all while being tender or charismatic. Then another film sees him flip, providing one of the most terrifying performances of all time, able to subvert into an utterly compulsive villain. And then I realise I am watching the same actor, nail it every time.
That actor is Sam Rockwell.
Sam Rockwell is a name not a lot will know. Ok, I’ll level with you, he isn’t the most elusive thespian on the list but still his talent is ridiculously unspoken off and his films pass the mainstream by as though he is a bit name in bit films. But that is utterly erroneous, he is an incredible talent. The actor born and bred in California started off his career in small roles on television (because there isn’t anyone who hasn’t appeared on Law & Order.) Gradually building up momentum, Sam Rockwell jumped into film properly with The Green Mile.
We know that Sam Rockwell can play psychopathic killers and darker roles, messing around with the murky side of characterisation in a few movies. None of those previous roles would ever contend with the portrayal “Wild Bill” in The Green Mile. While his on screen air time is pretty small compared to the near three hour length of Stephan King’s thriller, he still manages to command your fear. He is the definition of insanity, being the true perpetrator of a heinous crime and manages to coax piss from one of the guards (which would then lead to one of the most disturbing scenes of the entire film.) Still, the role certainly put Rockwell on the map.
I mentioned before how he can flip and play some pretty funny characters. Launching from The Green Mile, he went on the play comedic sidekicks or other roles in fun cult classics such as Galaxy Quest (which is one of the funniest movies of all time and one you all need to watch,) and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Some of his strongest roles came from a combination of the both sides including Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Matchstick Men and each of them ooze magnetism that only Rockwell can muster.
There are essential movies that you need to watch with Rockwell in them. Recent Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths ranks high on that list with Rockwell not only playing a psychopathic killer but making it bloody hilarious too. As Billy Bickle he was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for his role as a man trying, albeit in a weird way, to help his friend (Colin Farrell) write a screenplay. Not only is he crazy in all the right entertaining ways but there is a tender quality to his psychopathic performance.
Then there is Moon. If you are reading this, you can be forgiven for stopping now and going to right it. Duncan James’ brilliant and disturbing indie flick has not only one Rockwell, but boasts several. What starts out to be an isolated role, a man named Sam Bell suck on moon for a few years, turns into something much more sinister. Able to convey the death, decay and confusion in a matter of moments, Rockwell really adds weight to this terrific film (that has the best score ever.) Moon is the film that Rockwell needed to propel him into a calibre of actors that only few dream about. It should’ve been awarded more and I urge you now to watch it: it’s one of the best science fiction movies of all time.
If this were a perfect world, Rockwell should have been nominated in The Way Way Back as water park owner Owen. Not only did he incur nearly all of the laughs in the movie (with Allison Janney in second place. The possibility that they could both win Oscars this year makes me ecstatic.) Rockwell provided a truly unique spirit with Owen that cared a lot for our struggling teen Duncan. Able to replace Duncan’s absent father and the downright awful Trent as his mother’s new boyfriend, Owen becomes not only a figure for Duncan but exuberates this care free personality that supports the teens flocking to his water park. What’s more though, Rockwell plays Owen affectionately and plays with an unforgettable flare. Not to mention the best scene in the entire film has Sam Rockwell silent, intimidating and stepping one foot between Trent and Duncan in order to protect the boy from the emotional abuse of his would be stepfather. It is the most breath-taking moment of the film.
Sure, Rockwell has been in Iron Man 2, the Poltergeist remake, and sadly, G-Force but what actor hasn’t had a few bad slips ? Rockwell’s confinement to an independent movie actor has seen his work frittered away even in half decent movies such as Say When or Mr. Right. He needed meat to bite into.
Nearly five years ago I wrote that he needed more attention and accolades and awards and acclaim. So all the buzz around Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has gotten my motor running. As Officer Jason Dixon, Rockwell plays a buffoon: A racist cop hell bent on causing mayhem because of his eschewed viewpoint. Now many people haven’t warmed to Dixon’s arc. Without going into too many spoilers, there is a sort of flippancy with his “redemption.” That being said, Rockwell ferociously tackles the role and layers him, switching between likeable and detestable, smart and stupid, villain and friend that it is a defiant and accomplished performance.
Rockwell’s Oscar talk is exciting because he has been steering towards this for so long. Hopefully, this’ll be the year that more people see the greatness of Sam Rockwell!
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is out now
Read our review