Total Recall: David Morse's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Drive Angry star.
He may not be a household name, but David Morse is one of America's most recognizable actors, thanks to a 30-year career that has taken him from the stage (including an Obie-winning performance in How I Learned to Drive) to the TV screen (where his résumé includes a six-year run on St. Elsewhere) and more than 40 films. This weekend, Morse will appear as Nicolas Cage's shotgun-toting buddy in Drive Angry, which naturally got us thinking about the many highlights in one of Hollywood's preeminent "that guy" filmographies. From supporting roles to starring turns, here's the best of David Morse!
Offering a modern spin on Rear Window, D.J. Caruso's Disturbia traces the fallout after a high school student with a chip on his shoulder (Shia LaBeouf) attacks one of his teachers, is sentenced to house arrest -- and develops a suspicion that his creepy neighbor is secretly a serial killer. More than capable of playing sympathetic characters, but just as comfortable exuding an air of effortless menace, Morse was the perfect guy to play the darkly ambiguous Robert Turner -- and Disturbia made for a perfectly entertaining spring thriller according to critics like Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle, who wrote, "Caruso, a very visual director, serves up some surprises and scares, and he's paced his movie briskly. You're out of this disturbing suburbia before you know it, shaken and even stirred."
Renny Harlin movies aren't exactly known for their character development, and 1996's Shane Black-scripted The Long Kiss Goodnight is no different -- in a movie this obsessed with rapid-fire quips, explosions, and piled-up corpses, you root for the good guys and cheer for the disposal of cartoon villains. Case in point: David Morse's Luke, a.k.a. Daedalus, an arms-dealing heavy who makes things difficult for the amnesiac CIA assassin played by Geena Davis -- first he's nasty, then he's dead. But if Goodnight isn't exactly thoughtful, or even particularly memorable, plenty of critics thought it was good, dumb fun -- like Michael Dequina of The Movie Report, who asked, "Who can resist the sight of Davis tossing her daughter from a hole in her house into the nearby treehouse or chasing after a car... while ice skating?"
Sean Penn marked his directorial debut with this 1991 drama, which he was inspired to write by Bruce Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman." Like the song -- and the album it's from, 1982's Nebraska -- it tells a tale of hard times and hard choices, strained family obligations and fraternal betrayal, and the seemingly arbitrary way life can erode even the noblest hearts and best intentions. At its center is the conflict between an upstanding deputy sheriff (David Morse) and his ne'er-do-well brother (Viggo Mortensen), recently returned to town to wreak havoc on the lives of his loved ones. It's familiar stuff, to be sure, and some critics felt Penn's undisciplined approach prevented The Indian Runner from achieving its full potential -- but Roger Ebert was among the majority when he wrote, "It's impressive, how thoughtfully Penn handles this material. The good brother isn't a straight arrow, and the bad brother isn't romanticized as a rebel without a cause, and there are no easy solutions or neat little happy endings for this story. It's as intractable as life itself."
Whenever you see David Morse on the screen, you know you're in good hands, but he'd probably be among the first to admit that a lot of his film roles haven't given him a chance to display much of his range. It was all the more gratifying, then, to see Morse in The Slaughter Rule, a Sundance-approved drama about a troubled high school football player (Ryan Gosling) whose friendship with a semi-pro coach (Morse) forces both men to deal with suppressed emotions -- not to mention the whispers of small-town life. "The film's powerful meditation on masculinity gets much of its credibility and punch from the two leads," wrote the AV Club's Scott Tobias, adding "especially Morse, a reliable character actor who sinks his teeth into a role with heavy physical and psychological demands."
Written and directed by Sean Penn, The Crossing Guard gave Morse one of his meatier film roles: John Booth, a drunk driver who comes home from prison to find that even though he's done his time, he still has to face the grief-consumed Freddy Gale (Jack Nicholson), whose daughter he killed behind the wheel. Unsurprisingly, Freddy wants to murder John; what lends Crossing unexpected poignancy is the fact that John wants him to. It's obviously a very dark, sad film, and a number of critics felt that Penn didn't bring enough sensitivity to the material -- but most critics' thoughts echoed those of Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, who admitted it was a "self-conscious anthem to macho despair" while praising Penn's handling of the cast: "He coaxes a soul-torn grief out of Nicholson that's shocking to behold, and Morse, who suggests a burlier version of Jon Voight, has a gentle-giant melancholy that borders on grace."