Inexplicable Career Arcs


Per James’ request, we’re starting a new post on the mysterious devolving of some actors’ careers. I start with Eric Bana. Here is the comment I posted:


I was reading Esquire and they had their “Alternative Oscars” and one of them was “The Clive Owen Award for Career Regression,” or something like that, and it went to Eric Bana. Indeed, he once, like Owen, seemed on the precipice of major stardom but instead has been a supporting player mostly, lately in Star Trek and Funny People or Lone Survivor, or starring in junk like Closed Circuit. What happened?

Feel free to comment on Bana, Owen, or any other actor (or director).


About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

62 responses »

  1. Bana’s problem is that he’s just lacking the charisma to be a theatrical lead. He chose some poor projects when he was an up-and-comer, they tanked, and now he’s only gets scripts after everyone else on the planet has passed. I’m honestly a little surprised he’s even getting starring roles (rather than supporting) at this point.

  2. Jumping slightly off-topic to directors: Juan and I were discussing John Stockwell earlier.

    The guy went from respectable, well-polished studio fare like Crazy/Beautiful, Blue Crush and Into The Blue to borderline-incompetent DTV action/suspense pictures in less than a decade.

    I happened to watch a little of some Halle Berry movie he made a few years back and it wasn’t even professionally made, let alone something I would expect from a guy that previously helmed theatrical releases. I have no idea what happened there.

  3. I’m confused about the Eric Bana thing. He’s been in some very strong movies, had a good career (great by most standards), and so-I’m kinda lost. Chopper, Munich, Hanna, Troy, I wouldn’t say I like a lot of these movies, or even him as an actor, but he’s not an unmitigated flop as a human being in regards to his career. I had no idea his name is actually Banadinovic, though.

    I would be more inclined to start with Giovanni Ribisi, due to squandered talent (“Mrs. Kaveet!””, but his hasn’t been an unmitigated disaster, either. Just to get to the point of many of these guys is a great thing.

    I would choose Sandra Bullock for an inverse career trajectory where it’s only gotten stronger than it started.

  4. I think, for his limited range, Bana has had a decent career. Most of the movies you mentioned are a decade+ old, which was certainly his high point.

    I would choose Sandra Bullock for an inverse career trajectory where it’s only gotten stronger than it started.

    Fellow Austin-ite Matthew McConaughey is an even more impressive case. What a turnaround he’s made.

  5. When we start talking about directors, I always go back to the story of the director of Hangin’ with the Homeboys.

  6. John Cusack is pretty much the poster child for this category. From High Fidelity to co-starring with Thomas Jane in ten years.

  7. Chris O’Donnell?

    Directors: Martin Brest?
    The grandaddy of them all (for directors): Michael Mann? (Not counting John McTiernan with obvious issues.

  8. And what’s going on with Danny Boyle? Trance was so poor and so ploddingly paced and so poorly written, where did it even come from in his canon?

  9. Linney just had a baby, and was starring in a TV series (The C Word), and she was never exactly a household name (she’s also 49, long past the age of stardom for a woman unless you’re Meryl Streep).

    Sidibe? Are you kidding? Given her physical appearance she should be happy with any career. I believe she’s done a lot of TV lately.

    DeNiro is an example of a guy just sitting back and taking it easy, but I wonder if he knows that he’s fucking with his legacy.

  10. For a short period following Scent of a Woman he had some heat. That was gone with 3-4 years after people had an opportunity to enjoy his exceptional, soap hunk level acting.

  11. Pacino and De Niro are horses of a different color–they achieved the pinnacle, and our now just goofing off. Bana, Owen, etc. never did hit the heights that some thought possible, and that now seem impossible (Owen only has one Oscar nod, for example, Bana zero).

  12. Owen is toast in terms of film, but he’s toplining a Cinemax series that is going to be directed by Soderbergh. That’s automatically the best thing on his resume since Duplicity and probably far better than he should expect at this stage of the game.

  13. Owen Wilson would belong on this list if he didn’t a) get the occasional supporting gig in a Wes Anderson film b) get the occasional starring or supporting gig in a terrible studio comedy. Midnight in Paris was clearly a fluke and he’s done everything he can to destroy that good will with his recent choices.

  14. One can’t think of Owen Wilson without thinking of Vince Vaughn, who is also done as a bankable star. But based on his work in films like Into the Wild, he could be a decent character actor as he gets older.der.

  15. I never thought of Carrie-Anne Moss as a potential star, but I did think, once upon a time, that Ashley Judd had a future as a serious actress and would one day win an Oscar. But after Heat, she started doing those terrible, disposable thrillers, and now I think is done with her career as an actress. For a while she was talked about as running for senator in Kentucky.

  16. Judd is long done. There’s no coming back from how far she’s fallen.

    Moss is basically just a chick that got lucky with two big films (Memento and The Matrix) right off the bat.

  17. I’ve got a good one: Christina Ricci. She started off with a lot of attention for her work in The Addams Family films, did a few forgettable kid’s flicks, and then blasted into adulthood with The Ice Storm, The Opposite of Sex, Buffalo ’66, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas back-to-back.

    She then followed that with 15 years of some of the worst career choices imaginable. The few highlights in her resume (Sleepy Hollow, Monster, Speed Racer, Black Snake Moan) are surrounded by forgettable performances in terrible films.

  18. Great call on Ricci – during her early years she seemed to have the talent and unique look to make her a star. But scanning through her films over the past decade or so it has been pretty dismal – that you had to cite Speed Racer as a highlight when it was a major flop (and a nice but forgettable film) sums things up.

  19. Linney just had a baby, and was starring in a TV series (The C Word), and she was never exactly a household name (she’s also 49, long past the age of stardom for a woman unless you’re Meryl Streep).

    One of my very first posts on here back in 2006 was how I felt that Linney’s fine career to that point had shown signs of stagnating. And as its turned out her movie career has pretty much stalled since then, Disappointing considering how good she was (and the standard of the films she was in) in the 1995-2005 period.

  20. Re: Eric Bana, his background in Australia wasn’t in acting, but in stand-up/sketch comedy. Considering that, it’s not surprising his limitations have shown up; indeed he’s done well to have the career and range of roles that he’s had.

    Clive Owen’s stagnation over the past 5 years has been somewhat surprising as I thought he had the makings of being a top-line star.

    Owen Wilson’s decline is probably because he’s always fallen on the same type of persona in all of his films – he does it very well but there’s only so many times you can go to the well. Probably the reason why he had the success with MIP was because his persona felt so refreshing within the framework of the standard Woody Allen film.

  21. An obvious one for mine (as director) is Rob Reiner – had a largely excellent career up until the disaster of North and his career just never recovered.

    DeNiro & Pacino are mentioned here, but you could also say the same of Anthony Hopkins – standard of work has really declined since around 2000 or so.

    Alec Baldwin’s career trajectory has always been intriguing. It’s like when it looks like he’s going to make full use of his talents, his career tends to implode with misguided films and erratic behaviour in his social life. And when his career seems done, he bounces right back as he did with his role in TV in ’30 Rock’. But in the last 12 months or so he’s been in some controversial incidents again and he could be throwing it away once again.

    Also, I didn’t realise it until this thread but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film Ashley Judd has been in.

  22. I’ve never seen Bug but it was supposed to be good. Heat and Smoke were great, it’s a shame she never made Ribs to complete her BBQ trilogy.

    Also interesting: she was also in Frida, which means her only critically acclaimed films are single word titles. I wonder if Divergent will continue the trend?

  23. Great call on Ricci – during her early years she seemed to have the talent and unique look to make her a star.

    She’s definitely someone who seems better suited for television. She signed on to a terrible-sounding pilot at NBC last year but exited (she would have played Miranda Cosgrove’s mother. Cosgrove is 13 years her junior).

    I’m sure she’ll be signing on to something for this pilot season as well.

  24. Wasn’t Ricci in the short-lived Pan Am?

    In a similar vein, there’s Thora Birch. She seemed poised for big things after American Beauty and Ghost World, but since then has had a depressing string of straight to DVD horror films. Contrast the career trajectory with her Ghost World co-star, Scarlett Johansson, and it’s even more pronounced.

  25. Agreed, Birch’s career is pretty tragic. Hell, outside of Silver City – I haven’t even heard of any of the things on her IMDB profile since 2001.

  26. Contrast the career trajectory with her Ghost World co-star, Scarlett Johansson, and it’s even more pronounced.

    My initial, knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘breasts’, but that doesn’t jibe because she got mad respect for Lost in Translation (funny that Ribisi was in that, too, since I mentioned him) but beauty certainly plays a part in the sustained career trajectory (and Johansson has recently cited how boring all of the breast questions are) but when you look at her ‘acting roles’, as in Scoop, perhaps, and the roles where she’s simply ‘acting off someone else’, like Translation and Vicki Christina, she does so much better, and honestly, this is not meant as a slight, but speaking to her strengths, she is very, very good at commanding the screen. Birch may have been the stronger actress, but such is the fickle eye of Hollywood. (Though I have no idea what may have happened personally with her).

  27. If you’ve seen American Beauty you know that Birch is no slouch in the breast department, either. She was fired from a play in New York not so long ago because her father kept interfering (and she’s got to be close to 30 by now). So she may just be toxic.

  28. It’s funny, I was going to mention her scene in American Beauty above but couldn’t figure out how to do so without being crude. Then I get to thinking and wondered if that nude scene made have actually had a detrimental impact on her career.

  29. No not in the Guardian piece, just in a general Google search. Lord knows what is true and what isn’t but it’s safe to say that there’s a perception that the relationship between the actress and her family is, at best, unusual.

  30. BTW, I don’t necessarily believe half the shit out there. People tend to analyze celebrity relationships/behaviors based on casual observations. It’s very easy for people to assume there’s something sketchy and/or dysfunctional with the Birches when they just might be an extraordinarily close family.

  31. If they had a Kardashian-style reality show, what do you think it would be called? The Birch Society? Hammer of Thora? Where the Birches at?

  32. How could we have this conversation without mentioning Nick Stahl? I really thought he was going places back in the day.

  33. Stahl is the kid from The Man without a Face, The Thin Red Line, In the Bedroom, Bully, Sin City, etc. He had a lot of heat around 01/02 but he made some really bad choices both professionally (Terminator 3, a bunch of lousy indies) and personally. You’re more likely to read about him on TMZ than the trades these days.

  34. I think she’s done about as well as can be expected, although she could have chosen better projects. I can’t even remember the last time I saw one of her movies.

  35. Agree with James on DB – she’s done well to have as lengthy an adult film career considering her limited range and her teenage troubles.

    I think Reese Witherspoon’s career has tailed off disappointingly in recent years. At the turn of the century with performances in films like Pleasantville & Election she looked set to be a top-line actress but – notwithstanding the Oscar for Walk The Line – she’s too often settled for bland romantic comedies and her talent seems to have been wasted.

  36. Witherspoon is a great example. Legally Blonde (while enjoyable) was the crossroads in her career and she’s never course corrected.

    While I’m soured on his work over the years, she’d be wise to re-team with Alexander Payne.

  37. That girl that was in Dollhouse?
    Her name eludes me for the moment. She did Bring it On with Kirsten Dunst and then faded into the ether of television and unknown movies. She had more charisma than Dunst, by a mile.

  38. Can we do ‘future inexplicable career arcs’? Because I see, and this is no slight, because I see Allison Williams taking her ‘Girls’ cache, and getting a lead/supporting role in a major Hollywood rom-com and then does so well in that, it leads to a co-starring role in a PG-13 ‘female actioner’ that people appreciate but has such a troubled production no one takes it seriously and she’s in DTV actioners with Jeremy Piven as her ‘handler’, who’s just doing a version of his Ari Gold character.

  39. Eliza Dushku! That’s her name…from Bring It On.

    And how about Terence Howard?
    And Adrian Brody?

  40. I liked Dushku on Buffy/Angel and in Bring it On, but she’s pretty one note. No way was she ever destined for greater things.

    Adrian Brody might be the best example yet. From The Pianist to InAPPropriate Comedy in ten years. Thank god for Wes Anderson throwing him a bone on occasion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.