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Dissecting Actor Ethan Hawke!

01.20.2015by: Jake Dee
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ACTOR ETHAN HAWKE!

Ethan Hawke is a damn good actor. And you know what? After growing up and honing his craft in mostly heartfelt indies and coming of age rom-coms and the like, take a close look, the Hawke has, in the last decade or so, descended upon the darkest corners that cinema has to offer. Flicks like GATTACA, TRAINING DAY, TAKING LIVES, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, DAYBREAKERS, SINISTER, TOTAL RECALL, THE PURGE, GETAWAY, PREDESTINATION, and even carrying through to the yet to be released GOOD KILL, ANARCHY, REGRESSION and a few others...Ethan has become no stranger to playing deeply complex characters ensconced in the horror/sci-fi realm. And check it, grateful as we are for such a wicked trend, shite's fin to get messy up in here. Ladies, gents, proceed with caution as we Dissect the ever-impressive genre career of Mr. Ethan Hawke!

BEST WORK

Get GATTACA Here

I'll do my best not to stray far from the AITH curriculum, but damn I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much I admire Ethan's career-long collaborations with Richard Linklater, culminating in this year's truly unique and one of kind achievement in BOYHOOD. Hell of a film...and a hell of a 20 years making movies together! Yes, I even love the BEFORE trilogy...sue me!

Thanks for indulging me, I feel better now. On with the show...

Speaking in genre terms, it really wasn't until about a dozen or so years into his acting career before Ethan even flirted with the sort. Prior to landing GATTACA in 1997, Hawke mostly essayed edgy indies, rom-coms and sweet coming of age tales. But all that changed for good once Andrew Niccol dropped a first-rate script in his lap and offered Hawke the chance to play the lead in what's become, fifteen years on, a grippingly perceptive science fiction classic, one that becomes more and more relevant with each passing year.

If you've not seen it (shame shame), GATTACA is set in a near future, where a person's worth is measured in genetic superiority. Hawke plays Vincent Freeman (Free Man), an inferior human who longs for intergalactic space travel. As such, illegally Vincent assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow, who, despite losing the ability to walk in a car accident, still has impeccable DNA. Problem is, once Freeman coyly executes the ploy and is ready to launch into the cosmos under his new identity, his boss is suddenly killed and the authorities come to investigate, thereby threatening Freeman's entire ruse. It's a complex, mood-swinging turn for Hawke, who gets to play both a deeply flawed, vulnerable human as well as a genetically superior superhuman. Obviously, acting alongside his once real-life wife in Uma Thurman helped foster a natural chemistry, a comfort and ease that really translates onscreen and makes Hawke's character - in whatever mode or manner (weak or strong) - believable. 15 years later and GATTACA still carries its weight as a self-contained sci-fi masterstroke!

Get SINISTER Here

More recently, since he basically dominated every single frame of the film - thereby elevating material that could otherwise be quite rote and rather silly - I'd say SINISTER is right up there with some of Hawke's best work. Certainly in terms of genre performance, specifically a low-budget R-rated horror joint. Solid indeed!

You know what's up. Hawke plays a non-fiction crime novelist living in a small-town that doesn't think too much of him. Why's that? Because he's recently moved into the house where a grisly crime shocked the community. There for answers if not inspiration, Hawke discovers a box of old 8mm film reels in the attic, and upon viewing, unlocks an even more mortifying truth. As mentioned, Hawke pretty much dominates the screen, guiding and anchoring a story which, in less gifted hands, would probably hit some pretty rocky terrain. As it is, Hawke gives the character credence, and thus we can believe the story as a result.

WORST WORK

Get GETAWAY Here

Well this is an easy one to castigate. Good lord. Smack dab in the middle of torrid genre run - not to mention made during his groundbreaking singular achievement in BOYHOOD - somehow our man Hawke deemed it wise to share top billing with Selena f*cking Gomez in the utterly gormless laugh-fest of a PG-13 "thriller" GETAWAY. Wow. Selena Gomez? Hell, the '94 remake of THE GETAWAY with Alec Baldwin is snubbing its nose. Hell, the '91 Corey Haim film FAST GETAWAY looks like CITIZEN f*cking KANE by comparison. Think I'm being overly harsh? Oh hell no. Consider the critical mass. Currently speaking, GETAWAY has a whopping 2% on the TomatoMeter, a 22/100 Metacritic score, and a sky-high IMDB rating of 4.4. Anyway you dice it, Hawke can't GETAWAY from the lifelong mar of this smoldering flame-out of a car-crash!

And to me it isn't so much the choice, but the timing. Ethan, my man, you know better...and more to the point, you have earned enough acting cred to, in 2013, command far better projects than this. A quick paycheck, sure, I get it, but sandwiched between SINISTER, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, THE PURGE, and BOYHOOD, GOOD KILL, and ANARCHY- come on, this laughable pabulum is far beneath your dignity sir. The sorest of head-scratching thumbs GETAWAY sticks out as, particularly as it lay dead-center amid a sweet, sweet genre run.

TRADEMARKS

Get DAYBREAKERS Here

Meant as a compliment, I cannot quite pin down a renowned Ethan Hawke trademark. Can you? I think that's a testament to dude's diversity and unwillingness to let himself be pigeonholed. A skill unto itself. One could definitely bring up the seven or so movies he's done with writer/director Rick Linklater, but not so suitable for this discussion. Either is the fact that Hawke is just as prolific a stage actor - Tony nominated - as he is a screen actor - Golden Globe and Oscar nominated. Beyond that, dude's versatility as a performer - from tough guy cop (PRECINCT 13, BROOKLYN'S FINEST) to lovey-dovey novelist (BEFORE trilogy), from superhuman clone (GATTACA) to menacing vampire (DAYBREAKERS). That has to be it. Hawke's range and diversity as a performer is what sticks out as a cornerstone of his work.

HIDDEN GEMS

Get TAKING LIVES Here

Before we again veer off the rails of horror/thriller cinema, let me quickly order your asses to go peep a pair of really wonderfully, if wildly disparate, borderline AITH flicks that Hawke soared in. The first is the 2001 Rick Linklater flick TAPE, which is a real-time motel thriller, and the other is the late great Sidney Lumet's final film BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, a heist-flick co-starring the equally late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Excellent flicks, both, with Hawke being a primary reason why!

Now on to a pair of more apposite Ethan Hawke genre pieces, both from a decade ago. The first is the horror-mystery TAKING LIVES, starring Angelina Jolie and Kiefer Sutherland, and the other is the surprisingly good rehash of John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.

Dopily implausible plot-line aside, TAKING LIVES is a pretty fun little cryptic thriller. First off, Angie Jolie has only been sexier in one other movie (no, not TOMB RAIDER!), that being the 1998 HBO movie GIA. Holy hell! But I digress, and steer back to TAKING LIVES, which also stars Kiefer Sutherland, Gena Rowlands, Paul Dano and Olivier Martinez. As Jolie investigates a serial killer in Canada, Hawke plays James Costa, a man claiming to have witnessed the suspect's last murder. It's a slick, duplicitous turn for Hawke who gets to have a little fun rolling around in the sack with Angie. Not a great film, but an unheralded one of sorts, with a snap twist ending as foreseen as the flick is to date. Not very!

Get ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 Here

Color me crazy, but I was damned surprised how much I enjoyed the seemingly blasphemous redo of Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. But with Hawke's laconic, low-key turn as a Sgt. Jake Roenick surrounded by the A-list supporting likes of Larry Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne, Maria Bello, Brian Dennehy, John Leguizamo and Kim Coates...again, I had a f*cking blast! Ok, so Ja Rule did make an appearance, but the less said about that one the better. Worth focusing on is Hawke's central performance in the flick, in which, RIO BRAVO style, he stitches together a ragtag band of cops and prisoners to fight off a vicious siege of high-powered artillery. Didn't expect much going in, but had a much jubilant charge coming out. And Ethan was main reason why!

NEXT PROJECTS

In spite of wisely opting out of a number of genre sequels he could have easily, cynically capitalized upon (SINISTER, THE PURGE) - The Hawke is still fully embracing the darkness. My man has a handful of projects in the various stages of production, and a good portion happen to have an intriguing genre tinge to them. Though a bit out of the AITH realm, the one I'm perhaps most excited to see is his reunion with GATTACA writer/director Andrew Niccol in the controversial drone-pilot picture GOOD KILL, which has yet to lock a domestic release. We'll deviate from that one for now, and instead steer you toward a couple of other, slightly more appropriate genre joints Ethan has looming in 2015 and beyond!

Dated for an August 28, 2015 release is a thrilling parental abuse mystery called REGRESSION, from Chilean writer/director Alejandro Amenabar (THE SEA INSIDE), in which Hawke plays the lead character of Bruce Kenner (a play on Bruce Jenner perhaps?) Also starring Emma Watson as Hawke's daughter and the great David Thewlis as a college professor, here's a deliciously juicy plot-crunch for REGRESSION you ought to chew on for a few months:

Set in 1980 in a small Minnesota town where a man is arrested for sexually abusing his daughter. He admits his guilt despite having no memory of it. With the help of a psychologist, he relives the memories and implicates a police officer as his partner in crime. The man’s estranged son and other townspeople are also suddenly able to relive suppressed memories of horrific abuse. At the same time, the local news reports blame a Satanic cult that has been performing rituals of orgies, assault, killing animals and even babies, for years. The officers are alarmed when similar reports come in from all around the country—they believe they’ve uncovered a national and possibly supernatural conspiracy. Is the abuse real, or something else?

Jeez, I'm f*cking frightened just reading that. Good on Hawke for playing such potentially loathsome character, as he's never afraid to do. Once again, dude's fearless in his performative choices.

What, not sold? Need further proof? How about Ti West's upcoming December 4, 2015 release of the vengeful western IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE. Huge departures for both, no? Peep the simple logline for the flick below:

A revenge Western film set in the 1890s, where a man arrives in a small town seeking vengeance for his murdered friend.

Riding in the saddle with Hawke in the picture are Karen Gillan, Taissa Farmiga, John Travolta, James Ransone, Larry Fessenden, Toby Huss and Burn Gorman.

OVERALL

Get BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD Here

It doesn't take a bird's eye to spot the Hawke's talons...talent in this case. Ethan Hawke has, in the last 15 years or so, starting with GATTACA - wholeheartedly embraced the horror/sci-fi branch of cinema. And we love him for it. In movies such as TRAINING DAY, TAKING LIVES, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, DAYBREAKERS, SINISTER, TOTAL RECALL, THE PURGE, PREDESTINATION - as well as the soon to be seen GOOD KILL, ANARCHY, REGRESSION and IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE - Hawke continues to craft one diverse, believable characters after another. Props Ethan, keep it up good sir, we're all big f*cking fans 'round here!

Extra Tidbit: You have a favorite Hawke movie or performance?

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10:56AM on 01/21/2015
He's a really great actor that have a variety of roles. I really like him in Reality Bites, Before Sunrise and Assault on Precinct 13.
He's a really great actor that have a variety of roles. I really like him in Reality Bites, Before Sunrise and Assault on Precinct 13.
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