Credit: Austrian National Library via Unsplash

The 50:50 auteur/amateur canon

By Megan Fitzpatrick

Megan considers actors who have done equal amounts tremendous and terrible work across their careers and the nuance they bring to ostensibly trashy projects.

What makes a good film? It’s a question that’s difficult to answer even when viewing a finished product, so it must be infinitely harder for actors deciding to work on a project based on a script alone. There are some actors, though, who seem to gravitate toward less than stellar works more frequently than others; those who, despite being talented actors and producing some excellent work, become more known for their poor choices.

In my opinion, there are two broad categories of this type of actor. The first is those who know exactly what type of film they’re making, but don’t really care that some of them just aren’t very good. These are your Adam Sandlers, your Owen Wilsons. The Adam Sandler of Grown-Ups is very different to the Adam Sandler of Punch-Drunk-Love; Owen Wilson’s collaborations with Vince Vaughn are distinctly different from those with Wes Anderson. There seems to be a distinction in their works between what is entertainment and “art”. I’m not one to judge this approach to an acting career; who wouldn’t want to be paid millions of dollars to mess around with their friends, then every so often do something remarkable to remind everyone of how talented they are? I have no problem with Pixels or Wedding Crashers, but I have no interest in them either. If they’re the price we have to pay for an Uncut Gems or The Darjeeling Limited every few years, so be it.

“There seems to be a distinction in their works between what is entertainment and ‘art’. I’m not one to judge this approach to an acting career…” 

What interests me more is the rarer, second type of good-bad actor: the ones who have seemingly no awareness or regard for the quality of the film they are in, who treat every work as though it were their magnum opus. The Nicolas Cages of the world. Of course, none of them come close to the man himself. An Academy Award winning, Coppola family member who never saw scenery he didn’t want to devour, never mind chew. Though he is possibly the most unstable constant in cinema and the quality of his films oscillate wildly, one thing remains the same: Nic Cage is going to turn up and give it his all. It is precisely this that sets his “bad” films apart from the first group’s work. The unhinged commitment to giving the biggest performance possible with absolutely no hint of self-awareness means that even his most forgettable roles become fascinating.

Therein lies the power of the good-bad actor. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Face/Off, Cage’s collaboration with fellow crazed genius John Travolta. To any rational actor, in a film in which a child is murdered, Nicolas Cage dressing up as a priest to plant a bomb, and Travolta chasing a plane in a helicopter all within the first 15 minutes, may seem too immediately convoluted to ever work. And that’s before we even get to the face swapping. However, Cage, Travolta and director John Woo, who believes the face swapping technology in the film to be plausible, treat this tale with the utmost respect. There is no winking at the camera or self-aware jokes here; when Cage screams that he wants to take Travolta’s “Face… Off!” he truly means it. The result is an over-the-top masterpiece of an action film; a testament to the sincere commitment to whatever a film demands, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. 

Let’s raise a toast to these serial good cop/bad cops of their craft.


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments