Bill Paxton's Best Movies
In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the 2 Guns star.
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg are the big stars of this weekend's 2 Guns, but they're not alone; the movie also boasts a solid supporting cast that includes a number of wily character actor vets -- including the one and only Bill Paxton, whose eclectic film and television pursuits have been keeping us solidly entertained for three decades and counting. To celebrate his latest role, we decided to spend this week looking back at Mr. Paxton's best-reviewed roles, and although we had to leave out at least one important cameo (hello, The Terminator) and watch one cult classic dip below the cutoff line (farewell, Weird Science), we still ended up with a mighty fine list of films. Game over, man -- it's time for Total Recall!
An ensemble Western depicting the adventures of the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp and his confederates, Tombstone transcended a number of behind-the-scenes difficulties (including an early tiff with would-be co-star Kevin Costner, who then attempted to kill its chances at distribution, as well as the firing of screenwriter and original director Kevin Jarre) to emerge as one of 1993's better-reviewed dramas -- thanks in large part to the stellar supporting cast assembled behind Kurt Russell. Paxton, who played Wyatt's brother Morgan, joined an eclectic crew that included Val Kilmer, Charlton Heston, Sam Elliott, and Powers Boothe. "It has an energetic flow, and a genuinely rugged, exciting feel," wrote an appreciative Jeffrey M. Anderson for Combustible Celluloid, "unlike many of the more bloated, picturesque examples of the Western genre."
Paxton flashed a bit of his directorial ambition early in his career, helming the cult classic music video "Fish Heads," but it wasn't until 2002 that he made his feature-length debut behind the camera with Frailty, a dread-soaked suspense film about two young brothers (Matthew O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter) held in thrall by their psychotic, religiously fervent father (Paxton) -- and driven to rid the earth of "demons" by any means necessary. While a number of critics were disquieted (or just plain turned off) by the deep darkness of the story, Paxton earned widespread praise for his work on either side of the lens. "Frailty may be only a genre film," admitted the New York Times' Stephen Holden, "but it forcefully reminds us of the degree to which all of us are our parents' ideological captives when we're children."
Truly entertaining stories about con men are difficult to come by -- and even the best of the bunch tend to focus on the thrill of the grift, leaving the characters themselves in the background. 1997's Traveller reversed the formula, examining the knotty feuds and traditions of a tight-knit clan of small-time North Carolina con artists, in particular Bokky (Bill Paxton), a Traveller whose life is thrown out of balance when he crosses paths with the son of an exiled member (Mark Wahlberg) and develops an honest emotional attachment to one of his victims (Julianna Margulies). It isn't one of Paxton's better-known movies, but it was a hit with critics like ReelViews' James Berardinelli, who wrote, "The script is smart and sneaky -- by never telling the audience more than is necessary, it develops a keen sense of suspense that persists until the gritty final reel."
A sleek, pleasantly pulpy woman-on-the-run action thriller with an uncommonly sharp cast, Steven Soderbergh's Haywire essentially doubled as two films -- one that acted as a showcase for the bone-crunching skills of star (and real-life MMA fighter) Gina Carano, and another that served to highlight the ever-dependable work of her supporting players, a group that included Paxton, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, and Antonio Banderas. "Carano is nothing special as an actress," admitted Eric D. Snider for Film.com, "but darned if it matters when she's supported by a killer screenplay, a sharp cast, and Steven Soderbergh's unmistakably sly, mordant direction."
After appearing in The Terminator, Aliens, and True Lies, Paxton seemed safely ensconced in James Cameron's stable of favorite actors -- so it came as no surprise when Cameron enlisted Paxton for Titanic, casting him as the modern-day treasure hunter whose quest for booty on the titular wrecked luxury liner helps move along the movie's framing device, which stars Gloria Stuart as the aged modern-day version of the youthful beauty (Kate Winslet) whose doomed love affair with a poor passenger (Leonardo DiCaprio) helped launch a million Celine Dion-anchored mixtapes. "We know the story ends badly," admitted Time Out's Cath Clarke, "but Cameron still sweeps us up in the romance between Kate Winslet's rebellious posh girl and DiCaprio's steerage kid."