Total Recall: Morgan Freeman's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Now You See Me star.
If you were asked to name one actor capable of playing ex-cons, hitmen, and God, you'd be hard pressed to do any better than Morgan Freeman -- which is, probably not coincidentally, why he's played all those characters (among many others) over the course of his distinguished, nearly 50-year career. And even as he reaches the half-century mark as a professional actor, Freeman shows no signs of slowing down; in fact, this weekend's Now You See Me is just one of an incredible six films he's slated to appear in this year. All of which explains why we were shocked and appalled to realize we'd never given Mr. Freeman the Total Recall treatment, and knew we needed to seize upon this opportunity to repent. Hey you guys, it's time for Total Recall!
On the surface, it looks like just another buddy cop movie -- in fact, with its "retiring detective partnered with unorthodox rookie" setup, it could have been a Lethal Weapon ripoff. Of course, as we all now know, David Fincher's Se7en brought its own dark twist to the genre, plunging the viewer into a bottomless pit of sorrow, rage, and moral decay -- and ultimately refusing to help them climb out at the end. Wringing mesmerizing performances from Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Spacey, Fincher enveloped audiences with an overwhelming sense of mounting gloom and dread, finally driving home the brutal loss of innocence and compassion suffered by everyone in the film. Though some critics took issue with Se7en's constant gloom and grisly violence, most scribes echoed the sentiments of Netflix's James Rocchi, who called it "a harrowingly bleak vision that haunted me in the theatres and made my flesh slick with fear even on this recent re-viewing."
Handed the keys to the moribund Batman film franchise, director Christopher Nolan shucked off the cartoonish overtones of recent big-screen incarnations and boiled the character's mythos down to its essence, resulting in one of the most realistic superhero movies ever. Thankfully, Nolan didn't skimp on action-packed pyrotechnics, and as the suitably suave and tortured Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale added a greater emotional heft to the Caped Crusader (he was also ably abetted by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, and Gary Oldman). Batman Begins signaled a bold new beginning for the franchise, and was a huge hit with audiences and pundits alike. "It's a wake-up call to the people who keep giving us cute capers about men in tights," wrote Kyle Smith of the New York Post. "It wipes the smirk off the face of the superhero movie."
It goes without saying that pretty much nobody ever bought a ticket to one of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies because Morgan Freeman was part of the cast, but by the time the highly anticipated conclusion The Dark Knight Rises rolled around in 2012, it came as something of a comforting relief to see Freeman on the screen -- especially given the somewhat harrowing bleakness of Rises' storyline, which pitted Batman (Christian Bale) against a psychotic, freakishly strong supervillain named Bane (Tom Hardy). "Yes, The Dark Knight Rises," applauded Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News. "And rises. And rises some more."
It isn't especially well-remembered today -- and for Freeman fans, it offers our hero the mostly thankless role of a police lieutenant who's embroiled in a murder case that's also being investigated by a TV reporter (Sigourney Weaver) and a janitor (William Hurt) -- but with that killer cast and a bit of expert late-period direction from Bullitt director Peter Yates, 1981's Eyewitness is the sort of perfectly serviceable cat-and-mouse mystery thriller that'll help you pass a painless 103 minutes on your next lazy Saturday afternoon. "Every scene develops characters," mused Roger Ebert. "And they're developed in such offbeat fidelity to the way people do behave that we get all the more involved in the mystery, just because, for once, we halfway believe it could really be happening."
For Morgan Freeman fans, The Shawshank Redemption is the one movie that has it all: Plenty of kindly old wisdom for his character to impart, lots of meaningful drama prompting deep sighs and knowing smiles, and -- of course -- Freeman's expert narration tying the whole thing together. Oh, and also? This Frank Darabont adaptation of a Stephen King short story about a wrongfully imprisoned convict (Tim Robbins) whose years in lockup aren't enough to break his indomitable spirit is also really, really good. It wasn't a huge hit during its initial release, but from its painful opening act to its triumphant closing moments, Shawshank is an acknowledged classic -- and a longtime favorite for critics like Janet Maslin of the New York Times, who sighed, "Without a single riot scene or horrific effect, it tells a slow, gentle story of camaraderie and growth, with an ending that abruptly finds poetic justice in what has come before."