Total Recall: Richard Jenkins' Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the White House Down star.
Audiences who turn out for White House Down this weekend will be paying for the privilege of watching director Roland Emmerich blow up an American landmark (and/or seeing Channing Tatum in a dirty tank top), but when they do, they'll be getting an added treat: An appearance by the one and only Richard Jenkins, who achieved ultimate "That Guy" status years before earning a richly deserved Best Actor Oscar nomination in 2008. Character actors don't come with much more character than Mr. Jenkins, so with all due respect to Emmerich's effects and Tatum's pecs, we knew this was the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to one of Hollywood's most distinguished supporting players. It's time for Total Recall!
Two years after popping up in The Man Who Wasn't There, Jenkins reunited with the Coen brothers for Intolerable Cruelty, a comedy that -- while taking as jaundiced a view of fate and human nature as anything else in their filmography -- offered a relatively frothy take on the old-fashioned Hollywood battle-of-the-sexes farce. Starring George Clooney as a well-known divorce lawyer and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the woman he lives to regret railroading out of a potentially huge settlement (during a segment in which he steamrolls her lawyer, played by Jenkins), Cruelty struck some critics as excessively mean-spirited in its enthusiastically nasty depiction of unscrupulous attorneys and money-grubbing divorcees -- but it struck just the right balance for Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune, who found it "Elegant, cheerfully cynical fun of the kind we used to get regularly from Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks and other masters of the classic Hollywood screwball comedy."
Jenkins' world-weary face and soft-spoken demeanor can be used to convey warmth and kindness or coldly pragmatic cruelty, depending on the occasion, and in writer/director Andrew Dominik's Killing Me Softly, they were called upon for a bit of both. Here, Jenkins plays a Mafia go-between for a hitman (Brad Pitt) who's been contracted to kill a shady game room proprietor (Ray Liotta) in order to restore dignity to the local gambling operation; it seems like a straightforward enough job, but things get complicated, owing to the involvement of a pair of incompetent crooks (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) as well as the unpredictable hitman Pitt's hired to rub them out (James Gandolfini). Although it wasn't one of Pitt's more commercially successful efforts, it earned praise from critics like Mick LaSalle, who wrote, "There is not one moment in the film that doesn't represent the director's carefully considered thought, whether we're talking about acting values, camera placement, sound or style of presentation."
8. Sea of Love
Jenkins' career has grown to the point where he's capable of landing central roles, but in his earlier years as a film actor, he developed a reputation as the kind of guy who could imbue even smaller parts with enough three-dimensional believability to make them seem larger than they really were. Case in point: 1989's Sea of Love, the slow-burning thriller about an alcoholic cop (Al Pacino) who becomes embroiled in a disturbing murder case while falling in love with the sultry femme fatale (Ellen Barkin) who may or may not be the serial killer he's looking for. As the fellow cop who ended up marrying Pacino's character's wife after she walked out on him, Jenkins is mostly relegated to the background, but he's one of several characters (as well as actors smartly chosen by director Harold Becker) who help ground the lurid and often ridiculous film with some semblance of normalcy. "Sea of Love has its Cinemax lapses in taste," admitted Bill Chambers of Film Freak Central, "but most films of the genre lack sophistication from which to lapse."
A Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominee, this little-seen indie starred Emile Hirsch as the painfully shy son of a widowed recluse (Richard Jenkins) who can't seem to figure out what to make of him -- which is understandable, seeing as how the kid sleeps with a chicken and likes to dress up in his late mother's clothes. Such personality quirks don't do Hirsch's character any favors in the small social circles he's forced to run at school, and from The Mudge Boy's earliest scenes, the viewer can sense that things aren't going to end well for him, but it's still hard to look away. Calling it "Unsettling and mildly shocking at times," Newsday's Jan Stuart wrote, "this is an adolescent tale of the sort one might expect from Flannery O'Connor or Paul Bowles if they were in the business of coming-of-age dramas."
Part of Jenkins' prolific breakthrough year in 2008 -- which also included The Visitor and Step Brothers -- the Coen brothers production Burn After Reading employed an eyebrow-raising cast of character actors (including John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and, of course, J.K. Simmons) to unravel a pitch-black comedy about a burnout CIA analyst (Malkovich) whose memoirs are stolen and end up in the hands of a pair of dunderheaded health club employees (McDormand and Brad Pitt) who misunderstand their meaning and try selling them to the Russians, all while a philandering U.S. Marshal (George Clooney) complicates matters by unwittingly carrying on affairs with all of the women involved. "None of it makes strict sense, which is why it's called screwball," admitted the Toronto Star's Peter Howell, "but in its own crazy way Burn After Reading nails the essential folly of humans pretending to be civilized."