The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Ralph Fiennes

After a few weeks off to cover Sundance, we're back with a look at the long career of an excellent English character actor…

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes is among the most unpredictable actors of our generation. Back in the nineties, when he first became a big name (back when people still called him Ralph rather than the appropriate “Ra-fe”) it seemed like he’d go the Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise-root. While he was chilling as unrepentant Nazi Amon Goeth in SCHINDLER’S LIST, QUIZ SHOW and THE ENGLISH PATIENT made him a heartthrob. Alas, his big at American superstardom hit a snag with 1998’s disastrous THE AVENGERS, which paired him with Uma Thurman as sixties spies John Steed and Emma Peel. While a notable flop, Fiennes could have easily bounced back but it seemed to put him on a self-imposed other track, with him focusing his talents on more high-brow, arty fare save for the occasional Hollywood part in movies like RED DRAGON or his no-doubt profitable turn as Voldemort in the HARRY POTTER films.

But then, just when it seemed we had Fiennes pegged as a kind of Laurence Olivier-type, he goes and tears his image to shred with his hilariously profane turn in Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES. His first time cast as a so-called “hard-man”, Fiennes went on to other tough guy roles, including a juicy cameo as a contractor in THE HURT LOCKER (for his STRANGE DAYS director Kathryn Bigelow), the title part in the Shakespeare adaptation CORIOLANUS (which he also directed) and finally as the new, decidedly tough M in the James Bond movies.

 Again though, Fiennes reinvented himself with a hilarious turn as Monsieur Gustave in Wes Anderson’s THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and this week’s HAIL, CAESAR! where he unforgettably tries to teach Alden Ehrenreich how to say “would that it were so simple.”

His Best Work

This is a tough one for Fiennes as he’s so damn good in everything. I’m tempted to go with Goeth in SCHINDLER’S LIST but I must admit I have a soft spot for his turn as Monsieur Gustave in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. He’s absolutely brilliant in his pursuit of his older conquests, through his adventures as an inmate and his effete, ultra polite way of dealing with everyone (“hello darling”) save for his occasional, hilarisouly foul outbursts (“What happened, my dear Zero, is I beat the living shit out of a sniveling little runt called Pinky Bandinski, who had the gall to question my virility. Because, if there's one thing we've learned from penny dreadfuls, it's that when you find yourself in a place like this, you must never be a candy ass; you've got to prove yourself from day one.”)

His Most Overrated Film

I remember when RED DRAGON came out it got pretty solid reviews, with many having the gall to say Bret Ratner had made a better adaptation of the material than Michael Mann. Rubbish. Luckily people have come around on this nonsensical way of thinking as MANHUNTER is a bloody masterpiece. None of the scenery-chewing big names in RED DRAGON is as good as the lower-key cast was in MANHUNTER, and that includes Fiennes as Dolarhyde, although of everyone else he probably fares the best. Still, Tom Noonan had this part down cold and Fiennes, despite his best efforts, can’t compare.

His Most Underrated Film

The financial failure of STRANGE DAYS is a bloody tragedy. Ten years before THE HURT LOCKER, Bigelow was already at the top of her game with this noirish story set in L.A on the cusp of the millennium. Fiennes plays an American as Lenny Nero, a corrupt ex-cop turned blackmarket dealer in SQUIDS, a blackmarket device that taps into the cerebral cortex and allows users to experience the recorders memories and physical sensations. This is a real gem of a movie that (shamefully) hasn’t even popped up on Blu-Ray although unlike other Lightstorm productions (THE ABYSS & TRUE LIES) at least a decent HD master exists on Netflix. Its incredible this wasn’t a smash as Fiennes was so damn good, while it should have turned co-star Angela Basset into a Sigourney Weaver-style badass. What a shame.

His Best Scene

I almost wet my pants seeing IN BRUGES during Fiennes’ introduction, from his insane reaction to Brendan Gleeson’s message, to his faux-sensitive tete-a-tete with his kids. It’s brilliant.

His Five Best Films


Up Next

As always, Fiennes is much in demand. He’s due to voice Alfred Pennyworth in the LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, co-star in Gary Oldman’s first directorial effort since NIL BY MOUTH – FLYNG HORSE, and a part in the well-received at TIFF  – A BIGGER SPLASH  by I AM LOVE’s Luca Guadagnino


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.