Total Recall: Paul Bettany's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Priest star.
Over the course of his relatively brief film career, Paul Bettany has played a wide variety of roles -- tennis pro, legendary poet, albino monk, and the voice of a supercomputer, to name a few -- but he's never carried a movie about a vampire-slaying priest with a cross on his face. Until now, that is, and the release of this weekend's Priest, which adapts the Korean comic about a centuries-long war between humanity and legions of undead bloodsuckers. To celebrate this career milestone, we decided now would be the perfect time to take a look back at the highlights of his filmography. It's time for Total Recall!
Just in time for Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, director Jon Amiel gave filmgoers Creation, a dramatized account of the events leading up to Darwin's long-delayed publication of On the Origin of the Species. An adaptation of Annie's Box, a biography based on family letters (and written by Darwin's great-grandson), it gave Bettany a chance to work opposite his real-life wife, Jennifer Connelly, who co-starred as Mrs. Darwin. Unfortunately, the pair's offscreen chemistry wasn't enough to keep critics from dismissing Creation as dull and maudlin (News of the World's Robbie Collin called it "108 minutes of drizzle, scarlet fever and weeping in bonnets"), although for some scribes, the importance of the film's subject was enough to make the melodrama worthwhile. Kerry Lengel of the Arizona Republic was among Creation's supporters, calling it "An intriguing portrait of a man and a time that changed everything."
Stiff upper lips! Meaningful glances! Choked-back sobs of repressed longing and regret! Yes, it's a British period picture! An adaptation of Rosamund Lehmann's The Echoing Grove, The Heart of Me follows the doomed secret love that blooms between a married man (Bettany) and his sister-in-law (Helena Bonham Carter) during the World War II era. Featuring bombings, a pair of nervous breakdowns, and plenty of tragic death, Heart is the kind of movie that, if not handled delicately, can easily tilt into "soapy melodrama" territory -- and unfortunately, that's exactly where most critics said it ended up, although most of them were quick to point out that its shortcomings didn't have much to do with the acting. As Peter Keough wrote for the Boston Phoenix, "By the time Bettany walks through the blitzed streets of London, defeated and transcendent, he's put in one of the more affecting performances of the year."
Bettany is a pro at doing the "rakishly charming" thing, but he can also be supremely creepy when it's called for. Case in point: his performance as T-Ray, the widowed single father whose ever-boiling rage drives his 14-year-old daughter Lily (Dakota Fanning) to run away in search of the truth about her mother. An adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's bestselling novel, The Secret Life of Bees wasn't able to manage much (cough) buzz at the box office, and it was a little too sentimental for most critics -- but some were powerless to resist its soft-hued depiction of the struggle for love and equality in the 1960s South. As Dana Stevens wrote for Slate, "It's hard to roll your eyes when they're full of tears."
Offering an imagined peek into the writing of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales -- with a classic rock soundtrack, plenty of jousting action, and a heaping stack of anachronisms in the bargain -- A Knight's Tale brought Bettany to Hollywood after he rose through the ranks of British television and cinema. Starring Heath Ledger as a knight's squire who refuses to let his lack of noble blood keep him from jousting -- and Bettany as the hard-living Chaucer, who helps him pull off a false identity -- Tale was a splashy $117 million hit despite largely lukewarm reviews from critics who didn't appreciate the modern lingo and pop culture references. For some scribes, though, all that medieval action made this a Tale worth telling: "The movie promises to rock you," wrote the Washington Post's Rita Kempley, "and much of the time it does."
After a number of supporting and co-starring roles in high-profile films, Bettany earned his first shot at leading man status with 2004's Wimbledon, which uses the world of professional tennis as the backdrop for a love story between a cynical pro (Bettany) and the fresh-eyed ingenue he takes under his embittered wing (Kirsten Dunst). Adding tennis to the mix was something of a twist for the rom-com genre; sadly, it was a twist most filmgoers weren't terribly interested in seeing, and Wimbledon limped to a $41 million finish at the box office. On the bright side, most critics liked it well enough -- including Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer, who mused that it was "A pleasant enough entertainment at a time when movies either pleasant or entertaining are in short supply."