Total Recall: Tommy Lee Jones' Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Hope Springs star.
Since making his big-screen debut in Love Story more than 40 years ago, Tommy Lee Jones has carved out one of the most eclectic, idiosyncratic career paths in Hollywood, going from soap opera star to cinematic leading man -- and appearing in an impressive array of critical and commercial successes along the way. He helped kick off the summer of 2012 with Men in Black 3, and now, with this week's decidedly more mature Hope Springs, he's helping usher it out; in appreciation of his efforts, we decided to dedicate this week's list to some of the many critical highlights from Jones' distinguished filmography. Get ready to squint into the distance and give us your best world-weary sigh, because it's time to Total Recall, Tommy Lee Jones style!
Making one of Marvel's oldest (and squarest) heroes relevant for post-Dark Knight audiences seemed just about impossible on paper, but with 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, director Joe Johnston pulled it off by doing two things: One, embracing the character's World War II roots with an origin pic joyously reminiscent of old-fashioned matinee adventures; and two, casting the heck out of the movie with an eyebrow-raising lineup of talent that included Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving as Cap's arch-nemesis the Red Skull, and Tommy Lee Jones as Cap's hard-as-nails commanding officer, Colonel Chester Phillips. Sighed Mark Pfeiffer of Reel Times, "In the era of the tortured superhero in movies, it's refreshing to come across one with enthusiasm and a pure spirit."
9. The Client
John Grisham's bestselling books have had their ups and downs on the big screen -- and in the years following his epic mishandling of the Batman franchise, it may seem hard to believe that Joel Schumacher directed one of the best Grisham adaptations we've seen thus far. Believe it: Not only did 1994's The Client rack up a robust $117 million at the box office, it earned the admiration of the vast majority of critics -- and Susan Sarandon, who starred opposite Jones as a pair of lawyers duking it out over the case of a boy (Brad Renfro) whose life is in danger after he witnesses a mob-related suicide. "This isn't a masterpiece of suspense," cautioned James Berardinelli of ReelViews, "but it has its moments and is capable of providing some light summer entertainment."
How do you turn one of America's most famous (and long-running) radio shows into a movie? Well, in the case of A Prairie Home Companion, the answer turned out to be hiring Robert Altman to direct a suitably character-stuffed script by the show's creator and host, Garrison Keillor. A long list of stars showed up for what turned out to be Altman's final film, including Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly, and -- as the heartless heavy who shows up to cancel the show-within-a-film -- Tommy Lee Jones. "It sparkles with a magic all its own as an engagingly performed piece of Midwestern whimsy and stoicism," applauded the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris. "Mr. Altman's flair for ensemble spectacle and seamless improvisation in the midst of utter chaos is as apparent as ever."
Before Sylvester Stallone wrapped a bandana around Vietnam vets' anguish in First Blood, there was Rolling Thunder, the Peckinpah-worthy revenge saga of a freed POW (William Devane) who receives a hero's welcome after returning to his Texas hometown -- but only truly comes alive after a band of sadistic thugs comes looking for the stash of silver dollars he was awarded for his service. With his war buddy (played by a young, convincingly haunted-looking Jones) by his side and a sharpened hook for a right hand, he brings Thunder to a suitably bloody conclusion -- and while its grindhouse overtones rubbed a number of critics the wrong way, for most scribes, it offered an intoxicating blend of palpable thrills and rock-solid acting. "Devane and Jones are outstanding," marveled Film4. "Their characters are as numb as scar tissue, emasculated by peace and alienated by an ashamed and horrified society. The folly of the Vietnam War permeates every frame."
Oliver Stone outdid himself when it came time to cast JFK, populating his conspiracy-fueled retelling of the chaos surrounding the aftermath of John F. Kennedy's assassination with a bevy of famous faces (including Kevin Bacon, John Candy, Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Donald Sutherland, Ed Asner, and of course Kevin Costner). And for the villain of the story, mysterious New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw, Stone settled on an actor's actor, picking Jones (who earned an Academy Award for his work) to lend his epic an air of shadowy menace. Though some criticized JFK for playing fast and loose with historical data, most critics felt the ends justified the means; as John Hartl wrote for Film.com, "For all its outlandish and preachy moments, Stone's movie is anything but boring."