Want to know the dark secret about Colin Farrell?
He's a really good actor. Like, really, really good. Like "capable of reaching great emotional truths before your very eyes" good. Under the right circumstances, Farrell is a comedic and dramatic force to behold. But only under the right circumstances. You see, there's a reason why many people associate Farrell with bland, soulless acting in bland, soulless films: because that seems to be what he's doing with his career most of the time.
This is the point where I admit that yes, Colin Farrell is a good-looking man headlining major action movies and that I of all people shouldn't be giving him career advice. I get that. But this is a case where I criticize out of love. I criticize because he's too good to be a guy that audiences shrug their shoulders at. He's an actor that should have people excited to see him. His presence in a movie should demand your butt in the theater seat.
But look at the box office of Total Recall. He's not a star. He's not a draw. People don't want to see Colin Farrell movies.
Dead Man Down opens this Friday and if the trailer is any indication, it's another brutal misuse of Farrell's abilities. Like so many other films, he's playing a glowering tough guy, your everyday action hero who will end up doing everyday action-hero things. This is baffling casting because directors have been trying and failing to make Farrell an action hero for years now. Does anyone remember S.W.A.T.? Does anyone remember The Recruit? Was Pride and Glory even a thing?
Even working with interesting directors on interesting films hasn't remedied the problem. You probably remember Michael Mann's Miami Vice, but you probably don't remember his completely shrug-worthy take on Sonny Crockett. His Alexander the Great was a blank slate, even with Oliver Stone on hand. He played second fiddle to gorgeous scenery in Terrence Malick's The New World.
Some actors have that inherent movie star quality -- they can take a dull character in a dull project and breathe life into it through sheer force of will. Farrell can't do that. He's only as good as his material. He has shown time and time again that he can't elevate poor material or create an interesting character out of a blank slate.
So if Farrell isn't a movie star, what is he? Simple: like Brad Pitt before him, he's a character actor blessed/cursed with movie star good looks. He should be playing weirdos and oddballs, not gun-toting badasses or heroic types. He should be wounded and weak, not tough and powerful. That doesn't mean he can't play leads, but it does mean that he should be more picky about which leads he takes on.
His best role is probably that of Ray in In Bruges (which is itself a masterpiece). The character appears at first glance to be a typical Hollywood character: a likable hit man with a heart of gold and a sarcastic streak. But there's nothing typical about the character and as we learn what makes Ray tick, we see him as the broken loser that he really is: an immature, violent and morally troubled screwup. It's an ugly character who has almost no romance to him… and Farrell, not having to posture like a leading man, delivers the goods.
His best work follows suit. In the otherwise forgettable Horrible Bosses, he crawls into a fat suit and puts on a bald cap to play a disgusting comedic villain. In the Fright Night remake, he abandons the tethers holding him to this planet and chews the scenery with the best of them. Heck, just look to his breakthrough role in 2000's Tigerland, which may be one of the least romantic war movies ever made: it's an ugly role in an ugly movie and Farrell excels.
As long as Colin Farrell has his looks, people are going to cast him in mainstream action movies and put his pretty Irish mug on posters. And I get that. However, I can't wait for the day when Farrell has gone gray and maybe gained a little weight, the day where he can forget about this movie-star BS and just start appearing in a dozen movies a year, becoming a trivia-laden "that guy" for a new generation of movie fans. That truly feels like his destiny.