Thursday, May 15, 2008

Top 5- Before He Was Iron Man....

Instead of writing the 11,298th online review of "Iron Man", I thought I'd do something revolutionary and look back at some films of Robert Downey Jr. before he became the nation's reigning superhero. If you loved him in this movie, then you owe yourself the enjoyment of watching him act in these five great films. I guess I can now officially subtitle this blog as the unofficial Robert Downey Jr. site? Second best actor in the last 25 years!

5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

As a comedy, Shane Black's film works very well. As an LA neo-noir, it hits all the right notes, but it's really more funny than anything else. Downey Jr. and co-star Val Kilmer spit out dialogue like lightning in a bottle. The plot veers into some wild asides, but Downey Jr. is clearly having fun and relishing his role. An underrated modern classic.

4. The Gingerbread Man

In Robert Altman's lazy noir, Downey Jr. plays a washed up private detective. Imagine his performance late in "Zodiac" stretched to feature length proportions, and you get the idea. In an otherwise forgettable film, Downey Jr. created some sparks. When one looks back on this time in his career (struggling at the height of his addictions), it's the secondary supporting roles that really shine. This role and his turn as a wise-cracking sidekick in "U.S. Marshalls" reveals the depth of his comfort level in sinking to the background. Note: this spot could easily interchange with his role in "Wonder Boys" on any given day.

3. A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints

I seem to be one of the few torch-bearers for last year's "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints". From the film's first few seconds, I was hooked and emotionally involved in the journey home for a struggling writer played by Downey. Even though he narrates and has only a small handful of scenes, they are extremely heartbreaking and poignant moments of a man trying to understand his parents. Seek this one out on DVD. The label of 'Scorsese-lite' is an insult. It's more than that.

2. The Pick Up Artist

I remember seeing Downey Jr. in a number of 80's flicks ("Weird Science", "Back To School" and "Tuff Turf") but "The Pick-Up Artist" was when, I feel, he came into his own. This is a completely engrossing performance. While the idea of a man who spends his entire day trying to pick up women on the streets of New York could be knocked out of the park by virtually anyone since the role is flash and double talk, Downey Jr. tinges it with a hint of humor, sensitivity and honesty. Simply mesmerizing to watch him do his thing.

1. Two Girls and a Guy

My favorite performance. Basically a three-act play in which Downey Jr. squirms his way around the fact that the two women he's dating at the same time have met each other and know his secret. This is his definitive acting role. Like the best actors, he lays everything bare on the screen, using his entire body to swagger back and forth between the long takes of director James Toback, improvised dialogue by co-stars Natasha Gregson-Wagner and Heather Graham, and the highs and lows of the film's misogynistic character. Dam YouTube... no clips available.


Joseph said...

re: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Gotta love the Russian Roulette scene. HILARIOUS! :-)

Piper said...

Great post.

But no Zodiac?

No Wonder Boys?

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has become one of my most recent favorite movies. And one of the reasons I like it so much is that Downey plays a little bit of a lovable loser. Not a cocky, flamboyant guy at all - so while he is incredibly good at that it was nice to see a bit of a departure there. Oh yeah, and then there's Val Kilmer playing a gay detective.

Joseph B. said...

Joseph, yep, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" has so many moments that go against the grain. I think that's what makes it so damn entertaining and distinct.

Piper... his performance in "Wonder Boys" is veeery close. Maybe number 6? And Zodiac, yes, a great performance but I think it's still washing over me. Time will tell on that one.

Chris Allen Gaubatz said...

Way to stay above the fray on the the whole, "Iron Man" review scene. Liked the movie, but there was a lot that didn't work for me (none of which had anything to do with RBJ's performance, he was great as usual). One of my favorite RBJ characters was, "A Scanner Darkly". Without his quirky/schizoid role, this one may not have worked. He's probably saved a lot of films from mediocrity. dude here.

Joseph B. said...


You know I'd almost forgotten about his role in "A Scanner Darkly", but yea, he does that stoner/stream of conscience type really well, huh!