Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dear John: Keep up the good work

From a porn star to a cop to Dewey Cox, John. C. Reilly has played some wildly different and interesting roles. He has emerged as a fine character actor and ensemble player with the ability to diversify when it comes to the roles he’s landed and the films he’s starred in. His filmography is full of unlikely turns and surprises. With his homely looks, lanky gait and curly hair, he might first appear fittest for quirky roles and silly comedies, but he’s proven with some unlikely roles that he’s capable of so much more.

Early on I often associated him with Will Ferrell. It doesn’t seem like such a ridiculous association, right? Just look at the poster for the film Step Brothers – the resemblance is uncanny. The two have also starred in a few movies together, done some writing collaborations, and have both become part of the Judd Apatow repertory. Where I think Reilly sets himself apart, though, is in his range as an actor and with his powerful onscreen presence.

Consider his performances in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Chicago, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He played very different characters and performed his own vocals. I think his roles in those two films are a testament to Reilly’s acting chops, and divergent performances like those have helped him avoid type-casting. He’s not just a comedic actor who’s tapped to play one outrageously funny character after another; he mixes it up and he doesn’t ever appear out of place in films that aren’t comedies. Reilly masterfully handles both emotional realism and absurd hilarity in serious dramas and in gross-out comedies.

One common denominator in Reilly’s repertoire of films is Paul Thomas Anderson. Reilly has starred in three of the director’s films, and two are among my favourite John C. Reilly performances. Boogie Nights was a vehicle that made every actor look good. It allowed Mark Wahlberg to shed the Marky Mark persona; it earned Burt Reynolds an Academy Award nomination; and it helped make Don Cheadle and William H. Macy household names. For Reilly, it helped him emerge as a formidable stand-out in an ensemble cast and sprung him from the supporting role cavern he had been in up to that point with roles in such films as Days of Thunder, The River Wild and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Reilly made another indelible impression in P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, in which he portrayed Officer Jim Kurring, a character born out of improv sessions Reilly did with Anderson. Reilly has said that he’s most proud of his collaborations with Anderson. I had seen Reilly in small parts in other films before Boogie Nights, but it wasn’t until, as Reed Rothchild, he proclaimed with conviction “People tell me I kinda look like Han Solo,” that I thought, he does look a little like Han Solo, and this guy is going places.

Reilly followed the ensemble gem, Magnolia, with another ensemble film, but of a very different sort. Reilly appeared in The Perfect Storm, a film based on a true story about a group of swordfisherman who vanish after their boat is caught in a violent storm. He also stole scenes in Gangs of New York and The Hours; once again playing two very different roles in films very dissimilar from each other. Reilly assumed darker personas as a corrupt city constable and an abusive husband, respectively, proving with those performances that he could shine in any role, and also that he was being tapped to play many different characters. His ability to diversify beyond comedy had been established.

He’s currently appearing alongside three Oscar winners – Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz – in Roman Polanski’s Carnage. The controversial director specifically requested Reilly for the role. Next, he’ll switch it up again by co-starring opposite Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator, a comedy that is sure to be as outrageous and over-the-top as Borat. Reilly’s willingness to switch it up and his ability to do it successfully will undoubtedly help to fortify his longevity as an actor because he’s figured out what it takes to get noticed, to get parts and to stick around.

What are your favourite John C. Reilly films? Let us know in the comments section.


  1. I think I like him best in Magnolia, though he was also excellent more recently in We Need to Talk about Kevin.

    Comedy-wise, I love his turn in Talladega Nights.

  2. I think he's hilarious in Step Brothers. The zaniness of that story and the joy with which Reilly goes about playing that dumbass it.

    Lest we forget, he had a small role in ,The Thind Red Line', but of course everybody had a small role in that movie.

  3. John C. Reilly is one of those actors whose career breaks my heart.

    This is partly because he plays such touching characters (I agree Magnolia is the highlight, but his Mr. Cellophane routine in Chicago is wonderfully pathetic) and partly because the company he keeps seems to keep him away from full-on "This guy is great!" recognition. Which is also lame because, like you mentioned, he's amazing in films like Walk Hard and Cyrus (which is the near-perfect blend of his comedy and sad dog nature).

    Hell, one of my favorite movies of last year was Terri and he had a hard as hell role in balancing the need to connect with the kids as a Principal and still maintain authority.

    So long as he keeps getting steady work and churning out great performances, I'm happy. Just a statue every now and again might not be so bad.

  4. I think his best performance is in Magnolia. My favorite, though, is probably Walk Hard. That is definitely one of the most under-rated comedies I've seen. I will always be one of its biggest defenders. Not only does John turn in a hilarious performance, the man's definitely got some singing chops.

  5. Wow... that's tough. I can't think of any John C. Reilly performance I dislike.

    He pretty much gives it his all in every movie he does. Even the dramatic stuff. I would probably say Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. He was able to carry the movie and be so hilarious while showing that he not only can sing. The man has so much more to him. My favorite vocal performance of him in that film is A Life Without You (is No Life at All).

  6. Reilly is a wonderful actor. Apart from being able to balance laugh-out-loud comedy roles with material of a bit more weight, he also has a great face for the camera. You can read so much in him whenever he appears in a close-up.

    Apart from great turns that have already been mentioned (the PTA films, Chicago, Walk Hard etc.), one performance I'm really fond of is the one in Cyrus. This film takes great advantage of the close-up think I mentioned, but it's also a teriffic turn overall. It's a an indie comedy that finds the humor hidden in real situations, and Reilly is the perfect actor to bring that kind of thing to the foreground. He feels real, and due to that, so does the film - at least for the most part.

  7. For me his best scene is singing Mr. Cellophane in Chicago. He also got to sing in A Prairie Home Companion, where he got to be funny.

  8. Wow, great question. Gotta go with Boogie and/or Magnolia as his best.

    Really, how can one not love Reed Rothchild?

  9. @Multiplex Slut – Agreed – Magnolia is a stand-out performance and such a great film. I haven’t had a chance to see We Need to Talk about Kevin, but I’ve heard and read some great things, so I’m looking forward to that one.

    He was good – and very funny – in Talladega Nights.

    @edgarchaput – Of the Farrell/Reilly comedies, I’d have to give a slight edge to Talladega Nights, but Step Brothers did make me laugh and, as always, Reilly really hit it home doing comedy.

    Ah yes, The Thin Red Line is another of his ensemble stints. Everyone really was in that movie.

    @Cantstopdrew – I can understand the heartbreak in that Reilly’s kind of remained on the periphery as an ensemble player and supporting go-to guy and not a headlining, leading man. But it hasn’t hurt him, which is great. He keeps getting great roles and has avoided type-casting and I think his best is yet to come. I wouldn’t be surprised if he nabs a statue in the future. I just hope he continues to mix it up.

    I haven’t seen Terri either – I’ve now got a shortlist of John C. Reilly films to make time for thanks to this post. From your endorsement, I’m really looking forward to it.

    @Dave Enkosky – Magnolia and Walk Hard are definitely among Reilly’s best performances. I agree that Walk Hard is underrated. It was a very clever and hilarious spoof on Walk the Line and Reilly gave his all to the character.

  10. @thevoid99 – I’m hard pressed to think of a Reilly performance I dislike too. He’s been great in every one of his films, even if the film itself wasn’t necessarily the best. His vocals in Walk Hard were surprisingly great.

    @aswedetalksmovies – I agree. He’s got unbelievable screen presence and such versatility as an actor. Cyrus is a film that I haven’t seen, but I’ve heard and read great things about Reilly’s performance. I'll check it out.

    @Chip Lary – For me, Reilly singing Mr. Cellophane in Chicago is one of the most memorable scenes in the film. I’ve never seen A Prairie Home Companion. It looks like it’s got another great ensemble cast with the likes of Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Woody Harrelson. I’ll have to see that one. Thanks for the mention.

    @Alex Withrow – two great films and two great John C. Reilly performances. Reed Rothchild is a great character.


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