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The Good, The Bad and The Badass: Sam Rockwell

05.18.2015
Last week, we took at look at the career of the original MAD MAX, Mel Gibson. While this week's subject has never quite reached mega-stardom, he's still become a kind of indie icon and a favorite of us here at JoBlo.com...
Sam Rockwell
sam rockwell way way back

While he's been kicking around in features for well over twenty years, the first time I really noticed Sam Rockwell was in GALAXY QUEST, where he stole scenes as the crew's disposable “red shirt” character. (literally named "Crewman Guy"). The part that was so well-received it arguably led to his being cast as Chuck Barris in George Clooney's directorial debut, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. Based on Barris' fake memoirs where he imagined that his time as the host of “The Gong Show” was just a cover for his real job as a CIA assassin, Rockwell had the unenviable task of making his defiantly unlikable “hero” a protagonist you could root for. While the movie never quite broke out, it certainly gave Rockwell a boost, leading to lots of great character parts in movies like MATCHSTICK MEN, THE HITCHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, FROST/NIXON and more.

sam rockwell confessions of a dangerous mind

Arguably, it was Rockwell's turn as the lead in Duncan Jones' MOON which established him as a leading man, and since then Rockwell's had a great deal of success juggling his status as an indie favorite as well as the more conventional lead of movies like this week's POLTERGEIST. Another film that also helped propel Rockwell was the Sundance hit THE WAY WAY BACK, where he plays the goofball owner of a water-park who takes a fatherless teen under his wing and teaches him self-confidence in a way that's neither saccharine nor cynical. That movie contains arguably Rockwell's finest bit of acting ever in a very brief throwaway bit where Steve Carell comes to retrieve the boy that he's put down for most of the film, and for a split second, Rockwell stands between the two, sizing up Carell and giving him a look that says “you're nothing.” I was lucky enough to interview Rockwell a few years ago for SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS and I found him to be an absolutely hilarious, down-to-earth guy and even if POLTERGEIST doesn't feel like the ideal vehicle for his talents, he's someone worth rooting for and always worth watching.

His Best Work
sam rockwell moon

Without a doubt, Rockwell's best all-around work was as the hero in MOON. Playing a moon-base attendant who comes to the mindf**k of a realization that he's no more than a maintenance clone, Rockwell was really surprising in that he was totally subdued and convincing as a kind of every-man hero. As the only actor on-screen for close to two hours, he absolutely commands your attention and probably deserved an Oscar nod, were it not for the fact that the academy notoriously looks down on genre films.

His Most Underrated Film
sam rockwell snow angels

One movie of Rockwell's that I'm absolutely stunned has never really caught on is David Gordon Green's SNOW ANGELS. Thoroughly depressing but a must-see, Rockwell's incredible opposite Kate Beckinsale. He plays her born-again, ex-con husband who struggles to reunite his family even though it puts him on a disastrous collision course with fate. Watching it now, it feels like a precursor to Green's JOE and it's a shame more people haven't heard of it as Rockwell's so terrific in it (as is Beckinsale).

His Most Overrated Film
sam rockwell choke

I'd hesitate to call any of Rockwell's performances overrated as he's typically well-deserving of any praise he gets. However, one movie that has a lot of fans in Clark Gregg's adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's CHOKE. Unless you're David Fincher, Palahniuk is notoriously tough to pull off, and considering they were adapting one of his lesser books, Gregg's film was OK I guess. Still, there's something about it that's never worked for me, although Gregg and Rockwell later re-teamed for the far superior TRUST ME.

His Most Memorable Scene

Martin McDonagh's SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS never really caught on with a mainstream crowd despite the positive reception it got at TIFF in 2012, where many of us thought it would be the film to make Rockwell a real break-out star. Still, the movie is a pretty inspired deconstruction of the Hollywood crime film, and Rockwell's monologue where he imagines a blood-soaked orgy of violence as the most appropriate end to his dog-napping scheme is not only ingenious writing and directing by McDonagh, but a moment that should have become iconic for Rockwell, who gave it his all.

His Five Best Films

5. GALAXY QUEST
4. THE WAY WAY BACK
3. SNOW ANGELS
2. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND
1. MOON

 

Up Next

In addition to this week's (perhaps ill-advised) POLTERGEIST remake, Rockwell's got two movies I saw and liked at Sundance ready for release, Jared Hess' DON VERDEAN (review) and Joe Swanberg's DIGGING FOR FIRE (review).

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Source: JoBlo.com

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6:33AM on 05/25/2015

Missed two of his best

How is Lawn Dogs or Box of Moonlight not even mentioned in this article?
How is Lawn Dogs or Box of Moonlight not even mentioned in this article?
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8:29PM on 05/18/2015
Man, I like Rockwell so much, ever since Galaxy Quest. But, I'm a bit disappointed he chose to star in the Poltergeist remake; even though I know he'll put in a great performance, I don't have much hope for it otherwise.
Man, I like Rockwell so much, ever since Galaxy Quest. But, I'm a bit disappointed he chose to star in the Poltergeist remake; even though I know he'll put in a great performance, I don't have much hope for it otherwise.
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2:16PM on 05/18/2015
I just watched Choke a couple weeks ago. I thought it was pretty good.
I just watched Choke a couple weeks ago. I thought it was pretty good.
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2:13PM on 05/18/2015
Sam Rockwell is just one of the most likable guys in movies. I first really took note of him in the underrated David Mamet thriller Heist, before having a holy shit moment realizing he was the psycho from The Green Mile. His output in the late '90s/early '00s is good enough. Movies like Safe Men (with a similarly underrated Steve Zahn), Galaxy Quest (a movie that never gets old for me), and A Midsummer Night's Dream are all evidence of his talent. I'm so glad that he caught on with people, and
Sam Rockwell is just one of the most likable guys in movies. I first really took note of him in the underrated David Mamet thriller Heist, before having a holy shit moment realizing he was the psycho from The Green Mile. His output in the late '90s/early '00s is good enough. Movies like Safe Men (with a similarly underrated Steve Zahn), Galaxy Quest (a movie that never gets old for me), and A Midsummer Night's Dream are all evidence of his talent. I'm so glad that he caught on with people, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a big part of that (if not a great movie in itself). Like John C. Reilly Rockwell has shown a real talent for balancing out the comedy with the drama. Snow Angels is an underrated film, to be certain. I actually owe you one Chris for turning me onto that movie. I'd heard of it when it came out, but I'd long since forgotten the title until you mentioned it in your review of one of David Gordon Green's comedies. Definitely worth seeking out.
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10:12AM on 05/18/2015
Love him... he has excellent films, and Moon is nearly perfection.. he deserves to have an opportunity with a heavy weight director in a starring role
Love him... he has excellent films, and Moon is nearly perfection.. he deserves to have an opportunity with a heavy weight director in a starring role
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9:55AM on 05/18/2015
I want a buddy cop movie starring him and Giovanni Ribisi.
I want a buddy cop movie starring him and Giovanni Ribisi.
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8:23AM on 05/18/2015
He's definitely badass in Moon. Any actor that can carry an entire movie on his own is super cool in my book.
He's definitely badass in Moon. Any actor that can carry an entire movie on his own is super cool in my book.
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7:48AM on 05/18/2015
Definitely in my top 5 actors of all time. Couldn't believe it when I noticed him in the original Teenage Mutant Nijja Turtles movie!!! Favourite role of his though is in Galaxg Quest. He steals the film!
Definitely in my top 5 actors of all time. Couldn't believe it when I noticed him in the original Teenage Mutant Nijja Turtles movie!!! Favourite role of his though is in Galaxg Quest. He steals the film!
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7:40AM on 05/18/2015
Rockwell is one of my favorite actors and is argurably the most underrated actor working today (in my opinion). He always gives a great performance in any film he does and makes said film that much better.

Some of my favorite films of his include The Way Way Back, The Green Mile, Conviction, Snow Angels, Choke, Galaxy Quest, and especially Moon.
Rockwell is one of my favorite actors and is argurably the most underrated actor working today (in my opinion). He always gives a great performance in any film he does and makes said film that much better.

Some of my favorite films of his include The Way Way Back, The Green Mile, Conviction, Snow Angels, Choke, Galaxy Quest, and especially Moon.
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7:21AM on 05/18/2015
Huge fan, great actor.
Huge fan, great actor.
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3:37AM on 05/18/2015

I'm gonna get Thumbed down but here it goes

Sam Rockwell in my opinion is just ok. Sure I like it when he shows up here or there. But usually he is a non factor in my eyes.
Sam Rockwell in my opinion is just ok. Sure I like it when he shows up here or there. But usually he is a non factor in my eyes.
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3:11AM on 05/18/2015
He's fucking great. First time I saw him was in Glory Daze with Ben Affleck.
But I do think the movie that got him recognition was The Green Mile.
You should also see A Single Shot. The movie is so so but he's fantastic in it.
He's fucking great. First time I saw him was in Glory Daze with Ben Affleck.
But I do think the movie that got him recognition was The Green Mile.
You should also see A Single Shot. The movie is so so but he's fantastic in it.
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2:41AM on 05/18/2015
I've been a fan of his since the indie Lawn Dogs. He is consistently good even if some of the movies themselves aren't.
I've been a fan of his since the indie Lawn Dogs. He is consistently good even if some of the movies themselves aren't.
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1:53AM on 05/18/2015
Sam Rockwell makes everything better. Seriously, every goddamn movie he's done is better because he is in it. I'm glad you recognized Snow Angels. Both Rockwell and Beckinsale were pretty incredible in the film. As a matter of fact Kate Beckinsale would be a pretty good subject for this column.
Sam Rockwell makes everything better. Seriously, every goddamn movie he's done is better because he is in it. I'm glad you recognized Snow Angels. Both Rockwell and Beckinsale were pretty incredible in the film. As a matter of fact Kate Beckinsale would be a pretty good subject for this column.
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10:28AM on 05/18/2015
We'll definitely be doing her sooner rather than later.
We'll definitely be doing her sooner rather than later.
11:50AM on 05/18/2015
Cool. Kate really is an underrated actress. Unfortunately most of the attention goes to her admittedly gorgeous body and her talent gets ignored but her filmography really does have a few gems on it.
Cool. Kate really is an underrated actress. Unfortunately most of the attention goes to her admittedly gorgeous body and her talent gets ignored but her filmography really does have a few gems on it.
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