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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Tommy Lee Jones

04.11.2016
Last week, we took a look at the career of actor Jake Gyllenhaal. If he’s very lucky Gyllenhaal may go on to have a career as long as this week’s subject...
Tommy Lee Jones
tommy lee jones

Tommy Lee Jones has had an enviable career. A veteran with forty-six years in the business (his debut was as Ryan O’Neal’s roommate in the weepie classic LOVE STORY) it took a good twenty-years before stardom happened for Jones. Maybe his craggy, laconic looks were to blame as even when he was a thirty-year old leading man in THE EYES OF LAURA MARS, he looked middle-aged. He generated a lot of buzz in 1980 for his part in COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, but his big stabs at action-adventure stardom (the fun NATE & HAYES and BLACK MOON RISING) both fizzled at the box office. Yet, after starring in the epic miniseries LONESOME DOVE (opposite Robert Duvall - an actor he’s often compared to), Jones’s career shot-off like a firecracker, with an Oscar-nominated part in JFK, and then - a prime bad guy part in the Steven Seagal vehicle UNDER SIEGE.

tommy lee jones under siege

The reason that particular movie meant a lot to Jones is that not only was it a box-office hit, but when the director, Andrew Davis, went on to make THE FUGITIVE with Harrison Ford, Jones was given the showy part of the iconic adversary, Marshal Sam Gerard. Not only did it win him an Oscar, but it catapulted him, at age forty-seven, into the leading man status that had long evaded him. Big paycheck roles, including one as Two-Face in BATMAN FOREVER, followed and once MEN IN BLACK hit, Jones became a full-on megastar, to the point that when a sequel to THE FUGITIVE - U.S MARSHALS - was made, it was spun off to make Jones the star.

tommy lee jones under siege

Afterward, Jones settled into to a comfortable role as the lead in medium budget thrillers such as DOUBLE JEOPARDY, RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, and THE HUNTED, in between MIB movies. As he got older, the leading roles started to dry-up a bit, but then he settled into becoming more of a character actor, turning in career-best performances in movies like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and LINCOLN, while also establishing a second career as a director, with THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA, THE HOMESMAN and his HBO film THE SUNSET LIMITED all earning raves. His career is marred only by the fact that he’s notoriously press-adverse and more than occasionally dour at award shows (looking like he’s rather be anywhere else) but even if he takes himself a little too seriously one can’t deny he’s earned that right.

His Best Work
tommy lee jones no country for old men

Jones has always has a certain kinship with the work of author Cormac McCarthy, to the point that he came close to mounting a big-screen adaptation of Blood Meridian, while eventually adapting his SUNSET LIMITED for cable. His casting in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was ideal, with his grizzled, laconic, all-too-human sheriff the perfect counterpoint to Javier Bardem’s force-of-nature, Anton Chigurh. One of the Coen Bros., best movies, Jones was robbed of an Oscar nomination for his work here. The finale, where his sheriff character essentially admits to his uncle that he’s over-matched is one of the most sobering, truthful moments to ever make its way into a Hollywood film, and McCarthy has never been embodied as well as Jones managed in that film.

His Most Overrated Film
tommy lee jones men in black

This might strike some of you nineties kids as heresy, but I never much cared for the MEN IN BLACK films. In fact, the only one I even halfway liked was the third, but even that was a one-time watch at best. Nevertheless, those movies were phenomenally successful and iconic and I suppose that’s what a whole generation of people know Jones the best from. He’s fine, and his chemistry with Will Smith is ideal, but the movies are rather thinly plotted and not as creative as people remember.

His Most Underrated Film
tommy lee jones william devane rolling thunder

The seventies are renowned as the toughest decade of American film, and of all the classics that came out in that era, ROLLING THUNDER is one of the hardest-hitting of them all. Written by Paul Schrader, William Devane stars as a former Vietnam P.O.W who returns home to discover his wife has taken up with another man that his son now views as a father-figure. Having been given some money for his troubles, when a gang of psychos come to rob him, he suicidally refuses to give in to them, even after they torture him by sticking his hand in a garbage disposal unit. The men then kill his wife and son, and when he recovers he embarks on a sadistic mission of revenge. Now, Tommy Lee Jones only plays a small, supporting part - but it’s an impactful one. He plays one of Devane’s former men, with his own adjusting to do. When Devane finds-out the gang who killed his son are holed-up at a bordello in town, he goes to see his old Nam buddy, and all it takes is Devane telling him where they are for Jones to say “I’ll just get my gear...let’s go clean em’ up.” It’s badass cinema at its finest - so cool that Quentin Tarantino has gone on record saying it’s one of his all-time favorite movies (he even named his production company after it). If you haven’t seen this gem I highly recommend checking it out.

His Best Scene

Jones’s stardom was sealed with his appearance in THE FUGITIVE and his introduction, where he takes control of the train crash crime scene and assigns his marshals to find Kimble, probably won him the Oscar. Even though U.S MARSHALS was thoroughly mediocre, I’d love them to make another spin-off movie for his character.

His Five Best Films

5. NATURAL BORN KILLERS
4. ROLLING THUNDER
3. THE FUGITIVE
2. JFK
1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Up Next

Jones always keeps busy, with parts in this week’s CRIMINAL opposite his JFK co-star Kevin Costner, as well as a part in JASON BOURNE, and surprisingly, the Jason Statham sequel MECHANIC: RESSURECTION.

Source: JoBlo.com

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