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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Ed Harris

12.05.2016
Last week, we took a look at the career of beloved character actor, John Lithgow. This week’s is another iconic actor of that ilk, having arguably, never given a bad performance in his nearly forty year career...
Ed Harris

There are few actors that can go toe-to-toe with Ed Harris in terms of intensity. Heck, even in the outtakes from THE ROCK, he seems like a guy on the verge of snapping, a live wire quality that makes him pretty thrilling to watch. A natural for bad guy parts, nailing iconic roles such as his scarred killer in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE or his sadistic mob boss in STATE OF GRACE, Harris has topped the A-list as far as character actors have gone since at least 1982, when he appeared in one of his first big parts in CREEPSHOW.

Back then, he was more of an every man, and he even flirted with leading man status in films like THE RIGHT STUFF as John Glenn, the spy thriller CODE NAME: EMERALD and more (rumor has it, he almost got the lead over Fred Ward in REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS). While he still occasionally plays leads, Harris is like Robert Duvall, in that character parts seem to be his real bread-and-butter. Clearly, this hasn’t left him the worse for wear, and besides, character actors last longer, and the man is still in high demand.

With a huge filmography, Harris can be a chameleon, and while heavy parts, such as in HBO’s “Westworld” may seem like a more natural fit, he can really play anything, from cool-headed professionals in movies like APOLLO 13, to the romantic lead in thrillers such as CHINA MOON, to an uncanny John McCain in GAME CHANGE. He’s pretty much the best of the best.

His Best Work

To me, one of the best parts Ed Harris ever had was as Christof, the God-like creator of THE TRUMAN SHOW, from director Peter Weir (with whom he re-teamed in the underrated THE WAY BACK). Back in ‘98, the idea of a man’s life being manipulated in order to provide round-the-clock entertainment for viewers seemed insane - until just a few years later reality TV started to become a thing. Harris gives an unusual performance considering his reputation for intensity, giving Christof a quiet, almost zen-like demeanor, the perfect counterpoint to Jim Carrey’s title character.

His Most Overrated Work

Plowing through Harris’s filmography, one thing became very clear. Harris, despite his one hundred film credits, has never really given a bad performance. In fact, his nose for material has usually been solid as well, with only one film really standing out as a turd in his filmography, the Cuba Gooding Jr. vehicle, RADIO. In this, thankfully forgotten, movie, Gooding plays a mentally handicapped man who becomes Harris’s assistant in coaching his college football team, and holy moly, is this one misguided, disaster of a film. Harris isn’t humiliated like Gooding is (he went to VOD right after) but no one comes out looking alright in this one.

His Most Underrated Film

James Cameron’s THE ABYSS was something of a disaster when it came out in 1989. Badly compromised, with Cameron’s three hour epic being pared-down to a more manageable two and a half hours (eliminating a major subplot about an impending natural disaster that threatens the world), which was later restored on VHS/DVD (when will Fox release the Blu-ray?), it’s a pretty incredible film. Apparently, it was a nightmare to shoot, with Harris himself going on-record saying he almost had a nervous breakdown after dealing with Cameron’s methods. Even through it’s nearly thirty-years old (geez!), the CGI holds up amazingly well, and it’s an incredible piece of work, with Harris making an appealing everyman hero.

His Best Scene

As one of the leads in GLENGARY GLEN ROSS, Harris, as Moss, recites David Mamet’s often difficult dialogue as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Easier said that done, as I found out when I presented the scene as a final project in an acting class I did some years ago.

His Five Best Films (as a lead)

10. A BEAUTIFUL MIND
9. ENEMY AT THE GATES
8. THE RIGHT STUFF
7. STATE OF GRACE
6. GONE BABY, GONE
5. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
4. APOLLO 13
3. THE ROCK
2. GLENGARY GLEN ROSS
1. THE TRUMAN SHOW

Up Next

Harris is busy as always, with another season of “Westworld” in the mix, along with a role in Dean Devlin’s GEOSTORM opposite Gerard Butler, and Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming Jennifer Lawrence/ Javier Bardem vehicle.

Source: JoBlo.com

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6:58PM on 12/06/2016

Badass Defined

The fact that the article gave him ten movies in a top five list says it all; Ed Harris's prowess cannot be defined by conventional mortal means. A bunch of female readers got pregnant just by reading this article.

Anyway, the man is a force to be reckoned with, and given his equally formidable work behind the lens on Pollock and Appaloosa, it's surprising that he hasn't taken on more directing gigs. If you have any doubt about his skills, consider he came on board The Truman Show at the
The fact that the article gave him ten movies in a top five list says it all; Ed Harris's prowess cannot be defined by conventional mortal means. A bunch of female readers got pregnant just by reading this article.

Anyway, the man is a force to be reckoned with, and given his equally formidable work behind the lens on Pollock and Appaloosa, it's surprising that he hasn't taken on more directing gigs. If you have any doubt about his skills, consider he came on board The Truman Show at the last minute after Dennis Hopper left, and he still managed to bag an Oscar nomination.
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1:24PM on 12/06/2016
Very badass indeed. Ed Harris is one a few actors that can literally handle any kind of role. As much as I like The Abyss, I think his most underrated work is Pollock where he portrayed the artist Jackson Pollock. People didn't expect him for a Drama movie actor but he's good too.
Very badass indeed. Ed Harris is one a few actors that can literally handle any kind of role. As much as I like The Abyss, I think his most underrated work is Pollock where he portrayed the artist Jackson Pollock. People didn't expect him for a Drama movie actor but he's good too.
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+2
5:30PM on 12/05/2016
I agree with Glinda and knightvalin, Ed Harris is the epitome of the sort of talents who live up to the title of this column, one of the modern greats and (as everyone else has pointed out) remarkably consistent in a very prolific career. He's always been my dream choice for Commissioner Gordon, although Oldman was perfect in the role and I'm stoked to see what Simmons will do with it.
I agree with Glinda and knightvalin, Ed Harris is the epitome of the sort of talents who live up to the title of this column, one of the modern greats and (as everyone else has pointed out) remarkably consistent in a very prolific career. He's always been my dream choice for Commissioner Gordon, although Oldman was perfect in the role and I'm stoked to see what Simmons will do with it.
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5:59PM on 12/05/2016
He would make such a perfect Commissioner Gordon! Damn. I like Simmons but I can really see Harris in this role now you say this. Not just his ability to play this type of character so well, but he really has the right "look" too, imo.
He would make such a perfect Commissioner Gordon! Damn. I like Simmons but I can really see Harris in this role now you say this. Not just his ability to play this type of character so well, but he really has the right "look" too, imo.
3:45PM on 12/05/2016

One of my all-time favorites

I still get chills watching the scene outside of the hospital in Gone, Baby, Gone with Ed and Casey Affleck. I love his performance in The Abyss, even though it did cause him to go a little crazy. I think you definitely got it right on his worst work, Radio was terrible. Ed wasn't necessarily bad in it but if it had made in the 80 or 90s it would have been a Sunday night movie. I remember watching it and thinking Ed seemed very unengaged in the movie, he knew that was a paycheck and that was
I still get chills watching the scene outside of the hospital in Gone, Baby, Gone with Ed and Casey Affleck. I love his performance in The Abyss, even though it did cause him to go a little crazy. I think you definitely got it right on his worst work, Radio was terrible. Ed wasn't necessarily bad in it but if it had made in the 80 or 90s it would have been a Sunday night movie. I remember watching it and thinking Ed seemed very unengaged in the movie, he knew that was a paycheck and that was it. Also Stepmom wasn't very good. Really other than a few scattered duds he's had one of the most reliable track records of any actor. Great choice for the column!
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2:51PM on 12/05/2016

A personal favorite.

Pollock. One of the best films ever about the artistic struggle of the creative process. Harris was perfect.
Pollock. One of the best films ever about the artistic struggle of the creative process. Harris was perfect.
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12:43PM on 12/05/2016

Way , Way Overdue for this column

Ed Harris has been so consistently good for so long that he gets taken for granted,which is a crime. The scope of his roles over 40 years defines what a ' character actor' is; someone who can slip effortlessly into whatever role he's hired for, and will generally steal all the scenes he's in. Working Man's Actor. Dependable. His intensity in roles is obvious. Method to the core, but yet He's never been typed. My favourite role of his? A film he did in 1983 , called Under Fire. Was about
Ed Harris has been so consistently good for so long that he gets taken for granted,which is a crime. The scope of his roles over 40 years defines what a ' character actor' is; someone who can slip effortlessly into whatever role he's hired for, and will generally steal all the scenes he's in. Working Man's Actor. Dependable. His intensity in roles is obvious. Method to the core, but yet He's never been typed. My favourite role of his? A film he did in 1983 , called Under Fire. Was about the war in Nicaragua in the 70s under Samosa. Nick Nolte and Joanna Cassidy were the leads, but Harris played an amoral mercenary who was hilarious one moment, and scary as hell the next. There's a scene in a church bell tower that once you see it, you don't ever turn your back on the character he plays. I don't know if he has an Oscar, but if he doesn't, that's a crime. Ed Harris is an 'actor's Actor' if that's a cliche, so what? it fits.
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12:53PM on 12/05/2016
He has been nominated for 4 Oscars, but hasn't won yet.
He has been nominated for 4 Oscars, but hasn't won yet.
5:56PM on 12/05/2016
Under Fire is such a great movie and one I need to watch again as it's been a while. Glad you posted about it
Under Fire is such a great movie and one I need to watch again as it's been a while. Glad you posted about it
+1
11:23AM on 12/05/2016

One of the best choices ever for this column

I've had a crush on him since The Right Stuff came out.. I haven't seen all of his movies but I've seen plenty and he's always fantastic and often the best part of the film. The Good, The Bad and The Badass describes him so well.
I've had a crush on him since The Right Stuff came out.. I haven't seen all of his movies but I've seen plenty and he's always fantastic and often the best part of the film. The Good, The Bad and The Badass describes him so well.
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-3
11:14AM on 12/05/2016
-0/10: PLANES 2.
-1/10: MAN ON A LEDGE.
-3/10: THE ABYSS; THE FIRM.
-4/10: THE ROCK; STEPMOM.
-5/10: MILK MONEY; NATIONAL TREASURE 2; RUN ALL NIGHT.
-6/10: GONE BABY GONE; A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE; THE HOURS.
-7/10: GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS; THE TRUMAN SHOW.
-Worst good movies: APOLLO 13; THE WAY BACK.

Best scenes:
-RICHIE BROWN's final scene.
-CHRISTOF's last conversation with TRUMAN BURBANK.
-0/10: PLANES 2.
-1/10: MAN ON A LEDGE.
-3/10: THE ABYSS; THE FIRM.
-4/10: THE ROCK; STEPMOM.
-5/10: MILK MONEY; NATIONAL TREASURE 2; RUN ALL NIGHT.
-6/10: GONE BABY GONE; A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE; THE HOURS.
-7/10: GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS; THE TRUMAN SHOW.
-Worst good movies: APOLLO 13; THE WAY BACK.

Best scenes:
-RICHIE BROWN's final scene.
-CHRISTOF's last conversation with TRUMAN BURBANK.
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11:50AM on 12/05/2016
Run all night is better than the abyss? Lay off that damn crack bro
Run all night is better than the abyss? Lay off that damn crack bro
12:51PM on 12/05/2016
Neither is better or worse. I don't compare movies of different genres.
Neither is better or worse. I don't compare movies of different genres.
5:26PM on 12/05/2016
Eh, no... when you say one movie is a "3/10" and one is a "5/10" that's saying that one is better than the other.

I'm guessing that this is just how much you personally like these movies, rather than trying to be a statement on their actual quality? Because otherwise half of these make absolutely no sense at all.
Eh, no... when you say one movie is a "3/10" and one is a "5/10" that's saying that one is better than the other.

I'm guessing that this is just how much you personally like these movies, rather than trying to be a statement on their actual quality? Because otherwise half of these make absolutely no sense at all.
6:50PM on 12/05/2016
1) Only when I talk about movies of the same genre. The standards to judge each genre are different.
2) If grades were 100% about a movie's quality without a small combination of personal taste, there would be no need for people (critics or not) to grade, since the grade would be a fact.
3) Which ones do you think don't make sense?
1) Only when I talk about movies of the same genre. The standards to judge each genre are different.
2) If grades were 100% about a movie's quality without a small combination of personal taste, there would be no need for people (critics or not) to grade, since the grade would be a fact.
3) Which ones do you think don't make sense?
11:11AM on 12/05/2016
One of the most brilliant and gifted actors of our time. Was always a big hero of mine growing up. Also FYI for "The Abyss" that Cameron did announce a 4K restoration Blu-Ray is coming this year.
One of the most brilliant and gifted actors of our time. Was always a big hero of mine growing up. Also FYI for "The Abyss" that Cameron did announce a 4K restoration Blu-Ray is coming this year.
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