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Against-Type Villains

I was tinkering with the idea of best villains, when I came upon the category of Against Type. What I mean by that is a villain played by someone who normally plays a good guy. For example, if there was some movie with Jimmy Stewart as an axe murderer; that would be against type. At Denny’s I came up with 38 names (later augmented with IMDB research to 47). I was surprised to learn that many people I thought played bad guys against type actually played quite a few bad guys, so I had to leave them off the list. (For example, I would love to put Tom Wilkinson’s Carmine Falcone from BATMAN BEGINS or Ralph Fiennes’s Amon Goeth from SCHINDLER’S LIST, but both have several other bad guys.) I also cut Dustin Hoffman (Captain Hook), under the premise that it was camp and not really evil. If you disagree with my list, feel free to say so, but at least look into it and make sure your choice wasn’t one of those I had to cut because of other work. (IMDB should help.)


#10 Denzel Washington (Alonzo Boyd) TRAINING DAY –Denzel has always been an actor who plays a version of himself. That’s not a criticism, as many fine actors do. However, in Training Day, Denzel got to show what he was capable of. The cool thing is that Alonzo Boyd isn’t all that different from other Denzel characters, but just pushed too far over the line. Great stuff.

#9 Keanu Reeves (Donnie Barksdale) THE GIFT – I know some of you would question Keanu getting on any lists for acting chops, but he has had some good performances, most notably in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and here. If nothing else, the brooding alcoholic wife-beater Reeves plays in THE GIFT is so different from his normal work, it proves he can act. At least occasionally.

#8 Matt Damon (Tom Ripley) THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY – I firmly believe Damon is the most talented of the young crop and can do anything, proven partly by his terrific turn as an obsessed man in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. Director Anthony Minghella said Damon “conjured” the performance out of thin air, and I have to agree.

#7 Jennifer Jason Leigh (Hedy): SINGLE WHITE FEMALE – Watch FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and compare Leigh from that role to this. She’s awesome here, and makes me wish she played more variance, instead of the stupid hookers she mostly plays now.

#6 Tom Hanks (Michael Sullivan) ROAD TO PERDITION - I know Hanks has won two Oscars, but for my money he won them for the wrong two films. (My nods to him would go for SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and CASTAWAY.) Here Hanks reinvents himself again as Michael Sullivan, a quiet man who knows he’s evil, but has to get the job done anyway. This is first rate work, and should only get better and more appreciated with time.

#5 Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator) TERMINATOR – Okay, admittedly this performance isn’t all that much different from the good guys Arnold played back then. But The Terminator had a force, a focus, a menace that was scary and impressive. It’s easy to credit James Cameron, but no one else could have played the role and gotten the same results.

#4 Tom Cruise (Lestat) INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE – I also got to give a shout out to Antonio Banderas and even Kirsten Dunst, who played against type as villains, but it’s Tom Cruise who steals the show. Tom gets cast so often as a version of himself that people realize he has as much range as any leading man in history. Lestat is delightful, wicked, and ten times better than how Stuart Townsend played him in QUEEN OF THE DAMNED.

#3 Kevin Spacey (Verbal Kint) THE USUAL SUSPECTS – “How do you shoot the Devil in the back? What if you miss?”

#2 John Wayne (Ethan Edwards) THE SEARCHERS – This is a very subtle performance; perhaps much more subtle than the audience was capable of seeing back then. Ostensibly Wayne plays Ethan Edwards as all his other roles; the taciturn hero doing his job, but there’s a difference here. Edwards is about the only guy tough enough to get the job done, but his attitudes and thoughts toward Indians ensures that he won’t be able to live in the future he’s providing for others. Do yourself a favor and check out this masterpiece.

and the number one villain played against type is…..

#1 Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter) THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – Since Hopkins can do anything it’s tempting to say this isn’t against type, but I think you’ll admit he’s usually cast in more genteel quiet roles. Actually, Lecter is quite genteel and sophisticated himself, which makes his menace all the more scary. I love how he was able to frighten Clarice from behind the glass, how he talked Miggs into committing suicide, and I even loved the birdcage scene with the guards. REMAINS OF THE DAY may have been Hopkins’s best performance, but it was here he flexed his range muscles.

Up Next: In honor of Halloween I’ll be doing Top Ten lists throughout the weekend leading up to the big day.