With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story imminent, Sean Wilson explores the litany of memorable bad guys from Orson Krennic actor Ben Mendelsohn…
There are many reasons to be intergalactically excited about the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, not least because it will reveal the events leading up to Darth Vader’s majestic entrance in A New Hope. It also has an outstanding international cast on its side, chief among which is Aussie character actor extraordinaire Ben Mendelsohn, poised to add to his gallery of memorable rogues with his role as Death Star Director Orson Krennic. So what better time to celebrate Mendelsohn’s most memorably creepy roles so far?
Animal Kingdom (2010)
Although he had enjoyed a multifaceted and lengthy career beforehand (including appearances in Australia and Knowing), it was the release of David Michod’s disturbing and gripping Aussie crime drama that brought Mendelsohn to international attention. A story of an outwardly ordinary suburban family who are in fact a pack of murderous, dangerous criminals, the film offers a plum role to the actor as the disquietingly calm yet utterly terrifying psychopath Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody, whose every appearance crackles with menace.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Tom Hardy may have stolen the villainous plaudits for his role as the bruising Bane in Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman movie, but Mendelsohn makes an impression as the hapless businessman John Daggett. Labouring under the misapprehension that he can enlist Bane’s help to liquidate and then seize control of Wayne Industries, Daggett then realises with horror what a mistake he has made. Given that Mendelsohn so often plays intimidating characters, it’s quite a thrill to watch the imposing Hardy ultimately get the better of him.
Killing Them Softly (2012)
Characters don’t come scuzzier than Ben’s memorable role as a low-rent junkie in this dark thriller from The Assassination of Jesse James director Andrew Dominik. The actor plays Russell, one of two street-level criminals who steal from a Mob-affiliated poker game and attempt to pin it on past offender Markie (Ray Liotta), but the former’s drug-addicted impulses mean the secret doesn’t stay hidden for very long. In terms of taking the worst kind of bottom-feeding criminal character and making him compelling, it’s a superb performance.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
The sign of a truly great actor is when they can hoover up a limited amount of screen time and linger in the memory afterwards (think Gary Oldman in True Romance). Ben doesn’t feature in Derek Cianfrance’s sprawling, generation-spanning drama all that much, but it does again highlight his talent for taking salty, lawless outlaw characters and making them terrifically juicy. As Robin, the misfit who teaches stunt biker Luke (Ryan Gosling) how to utilise his skills for bank robberies, Mendelsohn is easily the most memorable figure in the movie.
Starred Up (2013)
Former Skins actor Jack O’Connell burst onto the international scene in this hard-hitting and superb British prison drama, playing violent young offender Eric whose dangerous nature has led him to be ‘starred up’ – in other ways, bumped up to the level of adult prison before his time. Whilst inside, he makes contact with his lifer father Neville, played by Mendelsohn in another terrific display of coiled menace. Lacing his criminal character with undercurrents of paternal warmth, it’s one of the actor’s most complex and engrossing performances.
Lost River (2013)
Mendelsohn must have made an impression on his Place Beyond the Pines co-star Ryan Gosling, the latter casting him as the creepy antagonist in his directorial debut. A conflation of fairy tale and David Lynchian surrealism, the movie doesn’t quite add up, although there’s plenty of striking imagery on offer. And as one would expect Mendelsohn’s character, a sleazy banker named Dave who has a habit of incarcerating women inside plastic boxes (don’t ask), walks away with the movie. Plus, he’s got some moves too, as the following scene demonstrates.
Slow West (2015)
John Maclean’s fantastic, New Zealand-shot Western has at its centre the bickering chemistry between lovelorn Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and gun-toting Silas (Michael Fassbender). But blasting them both off the screen with another enjoyably eccentric and despicable performance is Ben. Possessor of possibly the grubbiest fur coat ever seen, the reek of Mendelsohn’s bounty hunting baddie Payne practically emanates from the screen. Once again, the actor has the great ability to make his villainous creations feel more tactile and lifelike than your token movie antagonist.
Bloodline (2015 – present)
The chickens really do come home to roost in this acclaimed series about a wealthy Florida family harbouring more than a few skeletons in the closet. The Wolf of Wall Street‘s Kyle Chandler is the ostensible lead as John Rayburn, but it’s Mendelsohn’s performance as fractious black sheep Danny that threatens to cause everything to implode. In fact, he’s so good in it he clinched both an Emmy and a Golden Globe nomination. Now it’s time for the movies to catch up.
Sean Wilson is a film reviewer, soundtrack fan and avid tea drinker. If all three can be combined at the same time, all is good with the world.