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Dissecting Jeffrey Dean Morgan!

12.06.2016by: Jake Dee

JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN!

Quick show of hands...how many Jeffrey Dean Morgan fans do we have in the house? More specifically, how do we think JDM has done so far in assuming the villainous mantle of Negan in The Walking Dead? Is he comporting the role with the requisite terror and charisma that made the character so damn popular on the page? Is he, dare we ask, more balefully badass than The Governor?

Weigh in below, but first know, that's not all we're discussing today. See, while certainly running the cinematic gamut over his 20 year acting career, JDM has quietly mounted a decent little genre resume. Since 2006, this gruff and grizzled character actor has lent his talent to such big and small screen credits as DEAD & BREAKFAST, CHASING GHOSTS, WATCHMEN, SUPERNATURAL, JONAH HEX, THE RESIDENT, TEXAS KILLING FIELDS, THE POSSESSION, RED DAWN, SOLACE, DESIERTO, and now, with perhaps is most substantial role to date, THE WALKING DEAD. Full disclosure, we're pretty big fans of the guy around here, but that doesn't mean he's exempt from catching the AITH blade. Lads, ladies...let us Dissect the genre outings of one Jeffrey Dean Morgan!

BEST WORK

GET WATCHMEN HERE

Though clearly on course to be his richest, juiciest, most deeply plumbed role as a whole, Negan's nascency on The Walking Dead precludes it from being, now, at this time, JDM's best work. It's certainly on its way to being his most substantial though, isn't it? We can therefore shift the focus, however briefly, over to the man's memorable 12-episode run as papa John Winchester on Supernatural (despite being only 12 years older than the two leads). Having become a relative household name for his stint on Grey's Anatomy, Morgan has forged quite a memorable acting career in television. Supernatural gave him his first real foray into long-form genre work, and anyone who's seen the show on a regular basis knows what commanding presence and authentic pathos he lent toward the growth of boys Sam and Dean. We'd argue that, if it weren't for her sterling turn as papa John, he would never have been given the opportunity to be cast in what is likely his best film roles to date: that of the colorful Comedian Edward Blake in WATCHMEN and the rifle-toting psycho-racist Sam in DESIERTO!

While certainly polarizing among fans of the film and devotees of the graphic novel on which it was based, there's no arguing that Edward Blake, aka The Comedian, is likely the flamboyantly showiest role Morgan has been afforded to date. You can tell the guy is having an absolute blast! I suppose we have JDM's agent to thank, as word is Morgan almost turned down what he deemed a throwaway cameo after reading only three pages of the script. He was implored to finish and then make a decision. Glad he did. How Morgan manages to give us such a campy, slapstick kind of cartoon character yet still imbue it with a palpable sense of terror and abject menace is a true testament to his acting abilty. It's almost good enough that you can't imagine the role being played by anyone else, including a once considered Johnny Depp under the direction of once-interested Tim Burton. Nope, Morgan took the role, made it his own and ran away with it! In fact, here's what Morgan is on record saying in regard to the role:

"For some reason, in reading the novel, you don't hate this guy even though he does things that are unmentionable. [...] My job is to kind of make that translate, so as a viewer you end up not making excuses to like him, but you don't hate him like you should for doing the things that he does."

GET DESIERTO HERE

For that role in particular, we're inclined to agree. For the role of Sam in DESIERTO, not so much. There isn't a redeemable morsel of humanity in what's essentially a psychotic American nationalist who would rather commit murder than share his country with a single immigrant. It's true, in the extremely taut and tense DESIERTO, Morgan plays Sam, an embittered war-vet who spends his days with his sniper rifle and rabid attack dog scouring the desert borderland for illegal crossers. When he spots any movement in the acrid shrubbery, he lets the rifle sing louder than Francis Scott Key. Dude's unhinged. Hatefully intolerant. Staggeringly ignorant in his failure to realize that, at an inchoate 240 years old, everyone in the country is now, or has descended from, the parents of immigrants at some point in their history.

No, Sam is inconsolable in his fear and hatred of the other, deeming his whiteness as an endangered species in desperate need of violent protection. Props to Morgan for even opting to play such a deplorable character, and doing so with such uncompromised verve. He makes no attempt for the sympathies of the audience, instead traverses the land like a possessed terminator out to hunt any interloper that dare threaten is way of life. Morgan is so good at playing charismatic villains, a la TWD, but here he strikes such a loathsomely unforgivable turn that you can't help but reciprocate the very hate on him that he has for others.

WORST WORK

Since his glorified cameo in JONAH HEX went uncredited (how fortunate), we shall leave that flaming embarrassment of riches alone, instead opting for his role opposite Oscar winner Hilary Swank in THE RESIDENT as JDM's biggest misstep to date. What the hell were you thinking, Jeff?! Perhaps not the worst movie he's appeared in overall, but in terms of the size and scope of the role itself, holy hell is this one woefully suboptimal.

In what essentially plays out like every obsessive psycho-stalker film we've ever seen, from FATAL ATTRACTION to SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, from THE ROOMMATE to OBSESSED, here Morgan plays a landlord of a posh Brooklyn loft who develops a deep-seeded infatuation with his new tenant (Swank), skulking and stalking around her apartment in all hours of the day in order to grow closer and closer to his unsuspecting mark. He watches her, spies on her, voyeuristically leers at her through peepholes and hidden viewpoints, lecherously advancing on the woman until she figures out what's going on. Sadly, for us it takes all of 6 minutes to figure out what's going on, and the movie insufferably plays out with one rote conventional cliché after another. Everything about this movie is predictable, and not even the presence of Morgan and Swank can elevate what remains substandard material.

TRADEMARKS

GET DEAD & BREAKFAST HERE

Aside from being a dead ringer for Javier Bardem, what would you say is JDM's resounding onscreen calling card? We'd likely argue it's his physical demeanor, a unique masculine physicality that he's used to play a barrage of villainous roles over the years. Standing at 6'2'', Morgan has an undeniably commanding presence, which is why he's been so effective in playing not just a bad guy, but positions of unassailable authority as well. His law enforcement portrayals in flicks like TEXAS KILLING FIELDS and SOLACE, while in diametric opposition to his outright villains (THE RESIDENT, TWD), are equally forceful in a way that lets you know he's not to be f*cked with. Dude means business. Even when he drops 40 pounds to play a TB ridden character in something like TEXAS RISING, Morgan's striking physical comportment is one in which many of his contemporaries can't quite measure up to.

Consider what Zack Snyder said about Morgan upon casting him as Edward Blake in WATCHMEN:

"It's hard to find a man's man in Hollywood. It just is. And Jeffrey came in and was grumpy and cool and grizzled, and I was, like, 'OK, Jeffrey is perfect!'"

Indeed. No wonder he was cast as Negan in The Walking Dead!

HIDDEN GEMS

GET THE POSSESSION HERE

While not a great film on the whole, the first time I personally ever laid eyes on Morgan is an unrecognizable one I've yet to forget. Anyone remember the man playing a hefty, chainsaw-wielding maniac of a sheriff in the indie zom-com DEAD & BREAKFAST? Yup, that was JDM! Under the excessive weight, baggy clothes and burly beard, it's easy for Morgan to go unnoticed in the role. But make no mistake, this was the man's first real entry into the horror realm, one he's continued to subsist in to this day. What's cooler, Morgan made DEAD & BREAKFAST with a bunch of best friends. Turns out that, as a Seattle native, Morgan met fellow costars Billy Burke and Brent David Fraser way back in the 80s at an underage nightclub. They've remained close ever since. And honestly, even for a low-budget horror comedy, the chemistry combusts onscreen.

But if you come away with nothing else after reading this article, we really urge you to check out Morgan's solid work in the equally solid and overlooked 2012 horror flick THE POSSESSION. This is a shamefully glanced over horror yarn from Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures, directed by Danish director Ole Bornedal (NIGHTWATCH). Most critics panned the film, save for our man The Arrow (Ebert also gave it 3.5 stars) who gave it a respectable 7/10 rating. The film, which more or less essays the lore of the Dibbuk Box tale, follows a young girl who buys an antique box at a garage sale, unaware that an ancient evil lives inside. Morgan plays the caring and compassionate father of the little girl who, along with his ex-wife (Kyra Sedgwick), is tasked with solving the mystery of the box and quelling the curse its bestowed on his innocent daughter. Morgan gives a touching turn here, quite contrary to the malicious and immoral ones of villainy he's more known for. Please give this movie the attention it deserves!

NEXT PROJECT

GET THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 6 HERE

With no real imminent film release on the docket, all eyes shift to Morgan's sophomore stint as the primary foe Rick Grimes must square off with in The Walking Dead. While we await what kind of show-stopping cliffhanger will go down on this Sunday's midseason 7 finale, we've been able to parse a logline for episode 7.9, which airs when the show returns February 12th. Peep it...

Negan's unwelcome visit to Alexandria continues as other members scavenge for supplies, things quickly spin out of control.

Place that in the context of what we've seen so far, most recently:

Negan and his men arrive at Alexandria earlier than expected. He forces Rick to give him a tour while Rick holds Lucille and makes pithy comments along the way. He later talks Carl out of shooting a Savior (though he states he likes the boy and that Carl has "giant balls") and decides to take all of Alexandria's guns. When two guns go missing from the inventory, Negan threatens to kill Olivia if they aren't found. This is later resolved when Rick finds them as well as a hunting rifle which wasn't in the armory. This impresses Negan who states that "this is something to build a relationship on" before telling him to find them something interesting for next time. Before leaving, Negan takes back Lucille and tells Rick that "I just slid my dick down your throat and you thanked me for it" as a way of gloating over Rick's deference to him.

Hey now! That last line not only embodies the coarse vulgarity of Negan's true character, it also sets the course for things to come. There's no way in hell Rick can let this sucker reign supreme among the survivors, yet there is no sign he'll soon be able to quell Negan's dominant persona. This dude is rough, gruff, rude, crude...a spiked-bat swinging madman without a single scruple weighing down his conscience. With no other project in the work, it's safe to assume Morgan will continue to bleed every drop of life out of Negan until the show finally has enough balls to do him in. Will it be Carl that does the deed? We'll all find out together as TWD forges ahead!

OVERALL

GET TEXAS KILLING FIELDS HERE

In the last ten years, Jeffrey Dean Morgan has established himself as a formidable presence in both big and small screen genre entertainment. With more hits than misses in stuff like DEAD & BREAKFAST, CHASING GHOSTS, WATCHMEN, SUPERNATURAL, JONAH HEX, THE RESIDENT, TEXAS KILLING FIELDS, THE POSSESSION, RED DAWN, SOLACE, DESIERTO and now The Walking Dead, the arrow is inarguably pointed northward for Mr. Morgan. Let's hope that's an inalterable direction, as we're huge fans of Jeffrey Dean around here!

Extra Tidbit: What do you think is JDM's most impressive role?
Source: AITH

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