Colin Farrell: a life in film

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Colin Farrell is a charming, engaging and powerful actor. Shame he is rarely cast in any decent films, argues Adam Lee Davies

Leaping off the small screen like a blarneyed-up love-missile, Irish actor Colin Farrell made his mark in late '90s Sunday evening TV laxative, ‘Ballykissangel’ as lunatic priest, Father Declan O’Blimey.

The programme, naturally, was awful, but by utilising his soon-to-be patented mix of an ‘I’m gunna kill yeez!’ stare and that ‘Christ, I wuz only jokin’ wid yiz!’ smile, Farrell proved he had the kind of chops that would play big in Tinseltown.

Trading dog collar for dog tags, he was enlisted by Hollywood to appear in Joel Schumacher’s approximation of a heterosexual training camp for hardbodied marine drama, Tigerland. It set the tone for his whole career: being very, very good in very bad films.

As early as this, more astute viewers had already noted that the man who would succeed Tom Cruise (in the same way that Cruise had taken the up mantle from '70s silver screen alchemist Burt Reynolds) was the kind of Teflon-coated 'actician' who could go on to turn the base metal of Bruce Willis’s Holocaust procedural ‘Hart’s War’ into the kind of hideously attractive gold with which the young Warren Beatty used to imbue such clunkers as ‘Romance in a Fountain’ and ‘The Glum Girl’. In short, the man was untouchable.

Now, hands up who’s seen Phone Booth? This is, of course, a rhetorical question, because if you had, you would be unable to read these words, having pulled out your eyeballs and severed the ocular cords with your Oyster card.

Yet, somehow, despite sporting chin-whiskers that make him look like a Chechen spiv, Farrell manages to come out of even that fiasco with all the dignity of a Japanese warlord.

Next up for the Dublin dish was the multiplex double whammy of ‘Obvious Baddie #1’ in Steven Spielberg’s dilution of Philip K. Dick head-trip, Minority Report and a sterling performance in Roger Donaldson's thuddingly predictable CIA drama 'The Recruit'. That the parboiled Irish Adonis managed to make it through this pair of unutterably bad bits-of-business unscathed and continue his enchanting dance through the celluloid raindrops was nothing short of a miracle.

Brushing aside the superhero genre (Daredevil) and the balls-out action flick (S.W.A.T.), he came up smelling of roses to face his biggest challenge of all. Man’s man’s man’s man Oliver Stone had long harboured a desire to lens the life story of bisexual despot Alexander the Great, but had yet to find an actor with the swagger, insouciance, physical presence and unmodified Irish accent to fill the sandals of history’s greatest military tactician for his Alexander.

In Farrell he not only found a figure that could convey all the leadership qualities inherent in a general who would inspire his soldiers to unite Greece, defeat the mighty Persian army and conquer every corner of the known world, but one who had the capacity to dust himself off and emerge from the whole wrong-headed enterprise with acting credibility and box-office clout somehow intact.

After killing time with a bit-part in smug, affected hospital sitcom ‘Scrubs’, Farrell made the only blot in his otherwise pristine copybook by lending his considerable talents to an actual, bona-fide cracker of a film in Terence Malick’s 2005 retelling of the Pocahontas story, The New World.

Perhaps it was starring opposite Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale – actors who, while not in Farrell’s class, are no strangers to lending their undoubted skills to inferior movies – that led Farrell to lose his bearings to such a degree that he ended up contributing to what was arguably the year’s best film. Luckily, nobody saw it, and he was free to go on his merry way.

A fine turn as Sonny Crockett in Michael Mann’s otherwise disposable film version of Miami Vice put him squarely back where he belonged. He followed it up with a controlled performance of genuine subtlety in Robert Townes’ Depression-era muckfest Ask the Dust, a film so bad that not even our Col and Salma Hayek going at it like drunken rabbits could redeem it.

Now Farrell’s career stands at a crossroads; In Bruges is actually quite a good little film, but upcoming roles in Terry Gilliam’s Heath Ledger send-off, ‘The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus’, and Woody Allen’s ‘Cassandra’s Dream’ make it clear that he hasn’t lost his ability to pick films in which he can continue to shine like a diamond in the rough.


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