Total Recall: Ewan McGregor's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Jack the Giant Slayer star.
From independent dramas to a certain trilogy of big-budget sci-fi prequels, Ewan McGregor has led an admirably varied life on the big screen -- as well as off, where he's an accomplished stage actor as well as a bestselling author. This weekend, McGregor takes another step in a new direction with his appearance in Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer, a tongue-in-cheek, action-packed retelling of everyone's favorite magic bean-fueled fairytale, and we decided to take the opportunity to pay tribute with a look back at some of his finest films. Yes, that's right...it's time for Total McRecall!
10. Big Fish
Casting younger versions of older actors to play their characters in the past is always a tricky proposition for any director, but Tim Burton pretty much knocked it out of the park in Big Fish; not only did he have Albert Finney anchoring his movie's present-day storyline-slash-framing device, he scored a casting coup by landing McGregor as Finney's more youthful incarnation, giving him a chance to deliver one of his more rakishly charming performances in a production that boasted all of Burton's trademark visual whimsy in addition to a tender screenplay (adapted from the Daniel Wallace book) about the often-complicated relationships between fathers and sons. "Big Fish is so strange and so literary that audiences seeking conventional fare may get impatient with it," admitted the Chicago Tribune's Michael Wilmington. "But it always takes effort to catch the big ones. This one is worth it."
9. Brassed Off
Movies about people in economically depressed small towns triumphing over adversity in some unusual, typically arts-driven way are nothing new (see: The Full Monty, Calendar Girls), and for good reason -- with the right narrative hook, it's a story worth telling repeatedly. Case in point: Writer/director Mark Herman's Brassed Off, starring the incomparable Pete Postlethwaite as the director of an award-winning civic brass band in a British town where most people (including himself) have worked in the local mine -- which is facing foreclosure thanks to a government study led by a woman (Tara Fitzgerald) who grew up nearby, and had a childhood romance with one of the members of the band (Ewan McGregor). Formula stuff, to be sure -- but according to most critics, it was crafted adeptly enough to forgive its familiarity. As an appreciative Bridget Byrne put it for Boxoffice Magazine, "Like the music it celebrates, Brassed Off is in-your-face yet sentimental, rousing yet sad, defiant but full of heart."
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 McGregor, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, 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."
The Star Wars prequels have been the focus of a lot of critical scorn, and plenty of it is deserved, but they did have their moments -- many of which arrived during 2005's Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. While far from perfect (and doomed to forever be known as the film that brought fans Darth Vader's most laughable scene), Sith allowed fans to finally witness the events leading up to the galaxy-altering battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and his wayward pupil, Anakin Skywaler (Hayden Christensen). "Same logo. Same starry-night spacescape. Same music. Same crawl. Same everything," wrote Eleanor Ringel Gillespie of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Only different. And so much better."
6. Little Voice
Two years after appearing in Mark Herman's Brassed Off, McGregor reunited with the writer/director for Little Voice, an adaptation of the Jim Cartright play (titled The Rise and Fall of Little Voice in its stage incarnation) about a debilitatingly shy woman (Jane Horrocks) with a phenomenal singing voice and a mother (Brenda Blethyn) who happens to bring home a talent agent (Michael Caine) after a night of bar-hopping -- therefore setting the stage for a life-altering chain of events. McGregor's Little Voice role (a socially awkward pigeon trainer who forms a bond with Horrocks) isn't one of his biggest, but it helped lay the groundwork for a film career that has grown to encompass a wide variety of genres -- and it helped earn the approval of critics like Variety's Derek Elley, who called the movie "A small picture with a big heart."