The Movies/TV 8 Ball: Top 8 Ryan Reynolds Roles
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!
Ryan Reynolds returns to the big screen this weekend in Life, a science fiction thriller in which he shares the screen with an ensemble cast in trying to kill an alien parasite before it manages to get to Earth and decimate life. Reynolds has had a long, strange trip on his rise from comedy star back down to the B-list, then racing back to prominence over the last couple of years. I’ve always been a big fan of his work and felt that he was an underrated actor who had it in him to be as much a star as anyone. This week we’re going to put that theory to the test as we look at the best roles he’s had in his career.
Caveat: For the purposes of this list, I considered all of Ryan Reynolds’ fictional narrative performances. Any appearances in documentaries and the like were not considered, as they are not “roles” so to speak. Of course, his cameo and supporting performances got much less weight than leading roles, as he’s not carrying the film or usually getting the same level of development, but they were considered. I also don’t include television roles in these lists, so no Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. It’s important to note that while not all of Reynolds’ films have been great, I’m looking at his roles within the film as opposed to the quality of the overall film itself.
• Monty (Waiting…)
• Frank Allen (Chaos Theory)
• Andrew Paxton (The Proposal)
• Mike Connell (Adventureland)
• Van Wilder (National Lampoon’s Van Wilder)
First up is a performance from Reynolds that not many people may have seen. Mississippi Grind is certainly one of Reynolds’ best characters. This little-seen film from 2015 came from the writing/directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) and stars Reynolds alongside Ben Mendelsohn as a couple of gamblers who team up for a card-playing excursion down the Mississippi. Reynolds puts his considerable charm to good use as Curtis, the man who plays for the love of the game and who knows how to work people. Reynolds and Mendelsohn have a wonderful dynamic in this gritty drama, with the former bringing a lot of humanity to Curtis and making him quite relatable for a character who could have easily come off as contrived. It’s a fantastic example of the actor’s ability to make his trademarked wit work in roles beyond those of simply comedic and he helps lift the film into being much better than it otherwise would have.
Let me reiterate at this point that this is not about the quality of the film as a whole, but of Reynolds’ character. Because let’s face it: by most measures, Green Lantern is not a good film. Warner Bros.’ first stab at a film franchise involving the cosmic DC superhero is an exposition-ridden mess with a muddled villain and an extreme overreliance on CGI, even for a character who was already going to be visual effects-heavy. Blake Lively doesn’t make much of an impression as Carol Ferris and most of the Corps are interchangeable at best. But Reynolds did his damnedest to make this one work and he was actually well-cast as Hal Jordan. We all know what superhero that he was born to play, but he managed to capture the bravado of Hal as well as the sense of responsibility that he feels over his new duties as a Lantern. It was a role that put Reynolds’ comic, dramatic and action chops to the test and even if everything around him fell apart, he provided a great personification of the character. It’s probably best that he not get a second go-around as Hal, but he was one of the few positives about the first try.
Smokin’ Aces wasn’t Ryan Reynolds’ first action film, but it was the first one in which he really seemed to be a great fit for the genre. Reynolds did decent work as Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity but the character was an ill fit for a pretty overall terrible film and felt forced in. By 2006 Reynolds’ smarmy comedy act had gotten more than a little tired and this was the beginning of his branching out to other genres. It was an adept move, as he played an FBI agent trying to help protect Jeremy Piven’s wannabe gangster Buddy “Aces” Israel against an army of assassins who all want to collect on the $1 million bounty on his head for turning on his boss. Reynolds is able to cut loose in dramatic and action fashion here alongside his well-known charm in a ridiculous yet raucously fun action flick. It was a first sign for many that there was more to Reynolds than Van Wilder and one of his more memorable early roles.
Another dramatic role that was unfortunately overlooked, Reynolds nails his role as a young lawyer who helps an elderly Jewish woman fight to reclaim the possessions her family lost at the hands of Nazis in World War II. Woman in Gold was a sleeper hit for The Weinstein Company in April of 2015 and earned Helen Mirren a Golden Globe nomination for her role as Maria Altmann, but most people don’t seem to remember much about this fact-based film. While Mirren is the central character, Reynolds holds his own with Mirren as the inexperienced Randy Schoenberg, who refuses to give up and helps Maria carry her fight with the Austrian government across the finish line. It’s a very different kind of role than the actor is known for and helped him expand his reputation for versatility as an actor, as he left his usual shtick entirely behind and still delivered a hell of a performance.
If the underrated aspect of Woman in Gold is unfortunate, the same status for The Nines is absolutely criminal. It’s not particularly surprising that most people have never seen or even heard of this strange psychological thriller though, considering it never received a wide release and mostly built its reputation through home video. Reynolds plays three roles in this film: a troubled Hollywood actor whose career is on a downward slide, a struggling writer trying to get a TV pilot produced and a family man/video game designer. Each man finds odd occurrences happening to them as their lives overlap, with Reynolds giving very different performances that are fresh and interesting, not leaning on what he has traditionally been known for. It’s difficult for anyone to play multiple roles in one project, but he is very good at making each of them distinct and while The Nines may not be for everyone, Reynolds’ performances alone make the film well worth watching.
If any film has shown off Reynolds’ dramatic acting talent, this would be it. Buried is undeniably a gimmick film, a tense thriller centered around a single man trapped inside a coffin underground. That creates a minimalist situation in which Reynolds was required to carry the entirety of the film essentially by himself. He’s more than up to the challenge, making this this Rodrigo Cortés-directed film an enthralling experience all on his own. Reynolds’ American contractor runs through the gamut of emotions as he tries to survive long enough for someone to get to him with literally very little in the way of set or actors to work off of. He makes for a compelling, sympathetic character as he struggles to keep himself going. It isn’t often that actors really earn the phrase “tour de force” in terms of their performances but Reynolds achieved that honor and there was even talk of awards attention, but he was sadly overlooked by all the major ceremonies. Still, the intensity of his performance makes for a powerful film that stands as his best acting performance to date.
Perhaps Reynolds’ most underrated film, Definitely, Maybe was billed as a romantic comedy about a man and the three great loves of his life but is really about his single-greatest love. That love is his daughter, and Reynolds really shines in the central role. Reynolds plays Will Hayes, the father of a young girl who is trying to come to terms with her parents’ divorce. In order to help her, Will tells her about the three women he fell in love with and invites her to figure out which one is her mother. This Adam Brooks-directed film is a sweet, charming and bittersweet story that relies on Reynolds’ ability to establish incredible chemistry with all three of the women (well-played by Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks and Rachel Weisz) as well as Abigail Breslin as his daughter Maya. The film is heavy on sentiment but avoids most of the clichés of the rom-com genre, allowing the cast to really carry the film on their capable shoulders. Will Hayes is a flawed man, but ultimately a good one who you find yourself rooting for thanks to Brooks’ smart script and Reynolds’ ability to make him likeable. It’s a film built for the romantic in all of us and gave Reynolds a great role to break out of his reputation as a guy only good for playing smarmy characters.
I mean really, who else was it going to be? It’s been said that Ryan Reynolds was practically born to play the role of Wade Wilson, and despite a first bumpy outing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (not his fault) he proved that this was the case when Deadpool was released last year. Deadpool is the perfect storm of all the right pieces coming together: writers who understand the character in Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the studio giving them and Tim Miller full rein to create the film that they wanted to and, of course, Reynolds. The actor has long been a deep fan of the character and once he got on camera, it was clear that he had created an unforgettable, near-perfect icon of superhero films. Reynolds put all of his talents — comedy, action and drama — into the role and made one of the most unrepentantly fun and funny superhero movies to date. It was instantly his most iconic role and put him back on the A-list where he belongs. Among all of his roles, it is clearly his best to date and probably will remain so for quite some time.
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.