Colin Farrell: Bad Boy Makes Good
Updated: Sep 24
All throughout November and December, Story Screen is giving thanks to those cinematic stories that have always been there for us – whether through film, TV or even specific persons (on, behind or in front of the silver screen). These are the works we cannot help but appreciate, the ones that molded us, guided us, and stuck with us through good times and bad. These are the ones that deserve our personal thanks.
Colin Farrell has had one hell of a career: from blasting out of nowhere, to shamelessly being in just about every movie between 2002 and 2003, to being a punch line, getting caught up in a sex tape scandal, (for which he is credited as, “Director” on IMDb. Sure!), to becoming one of the most commanding and daring actors working on both big and small screen Hollywood today. As many of my oldest friends and cohorts will attest, I've been a die hard Farrell Fan for a long time, almost since the beginning. I have always felt that he had a certain electricity that didn't come standard in most actors of his quality, (meaning good looking but still a bad boy), able to headline major blockbuster events or play quiet side characters with a secret or two. As an actor, he's often a loose cannon, practically vibrating with unpredictability and seemingly ready to pop at the light of a cigarette or the sip of a drink. And his hair. His goddamn hair. So, if you're into this as much as I am, I'd like to discuss some (not all, mind you), of Colin Farrell's credits over his nearly 20 year career, so that we can understand how this rising star finally ascended.
Known for his turbulent upbringing and wild lash outs as a teenager – Farrell was expelled from school at age 17 for punching a supervisor – the rascally Irishman got his start in show business teaching line-dancing and auditioning for a boy band. Yep, it was called Boyzone. Apparently, while messing about with this in London, he developed an interest in acting for fun, and eventually found himself performing on several local stages, until that fateful day he was spotted by the widely-respected, (and not at all disgraced and totally done thespian actor), Kevin Spacey. Spacey admired Farrell's abilities, and brought him onto a little film he was making called, Ordinary Decent Criminal (2000), which garnered newcomer Colin some amount of attention from critics. This gave him the ol' actor itch, and he was quickly off to Hollywood to try and make it big while the spotlight was still on him.
And make it big he did. Joel Schumacher cast Farrell as the lead in his Vietnam bro-story, Tigerland (2000), launching him onto the scene pretty hot with a head-turning performance, seemingly tailor-made to show off all the chops he had: from humor to drama, good looking to dangerous, and an ability to work well within the Hollywood system. Next Colin decided to portray Jesse James in the ill-fated American Outlaws (2001), a spectacular mess of a western that Farrell himself claims to have no recollection of making, due mainly in part, to his heavy drug and alcohol abuse at the time. I personally spent an afternoon or two watching this Scott Caan infested movie, and I can confirm how magically forgettable it is. But even still, Farrell shines; he charms the viewer through horrible dialogue and pretty cool stunt work, creating a fun, relatable character who's just surrounded by stupid people in a stupid world.
The Make It Happen, Damn It! Years
At around this time, Hollywood producers figured out that the best way to get this kid in the picture was by stacking him up with some big names. Hart's War (2002), saw Farrell standing alongside Bruce Willis in a battle of morals and brotherhood in the little seen, but competent enough, prisoner of war drama. Then Colin was tapped by Steven Spielberg to play the hard-nosed antagonist in the sci-fi-noir Tom Cruise vehicle, Minority Report (2002). This was the first role that really made me perk up at the site of Colin Farrell. Although he admits in interviews that he was more than a little star struck working with Cruise and Spielberg, it in no way shows in the finished product. Farrell goes toe-to-toe, (literally and figuratively), with Cruise throughout the course of the film and holds his own, even creating a surprise turn of empathy towards his character in the final act. It's no small feat.
Next up was his heart-pounding one-man performance in the sleeper-hit thriller, Phone Booth (2002), which found Farrell caught between rogue sniper Kiefer Sutherland, and hostage negotiator, Forest Whitaker. The Recruit (2003) was his follow-up, and this is another movie I go to bat for. Not just because Farrell showed up to the premiere dating Britney Spears (admirable), but also because The Recruit is just sinfully underrated. It's a movie packed with fun twists, smart dialogue and one hell of an Al Pacino performance. Pacino, in his established later years, called Farrell, “…one of the greatest.” He unfortunately may have spoken too soon. Around this time, Farrell teamed up with the likes of Michael Clarke Duncan, Jennifer Garner, Joe Pantoliano and Ben “Are You Following The News At All” Affleck, for everybody's favorite regret: Daredevil (2003). While this movie is schlock, (and I, too, would like to keep this part brief), I will say that Farrell is probably the most “entertaining” part of the “film.” Especially in scenes where he and Duncan get to act like goofy-ass Bond villains, delivering lines of dialogue for an audience that is not in the room. Then he made S.W.A.T. (2003), which has LL Cool J in it.
Having shown how good this boy can shoot guns and really chew on a moment in big blockbusters, the world-weary Farrell, (who at this point had only been acting in films professionally for 3 fucking years), decided to pump the brakes on the explosions, and take a few cracks at that Oscar gold while getting the opportunity to work with some of the best in the biz. John Crowley's Intermission (2003), gave us a peek at the dim-wit scumbag with a heart of gold character, that would come to be a staple of the Farrell’s career, while A Home at the End of the World (2004), handled Colin with your typical forbidden fruit bad boy persona, while allowing for some great dramatic risks from the actor, who was trying to find a sincere way to communicate his own delicate style of performance. This movie, however passable it may be, does contain an amazing performance from Farrell, (again surrounded by stupid people in a stupid world), this time while wearing a stupid wig, and trying to sleep with EVERYONE.
Oliver Stone's A-B-Y-S-M-A-L Alexander (2004), also happened to contain a pretty good performance from Farrell, but even second-wave Val Kilmer couldn't save that one. The movie was panned by critics, practically unanimously, and also happened to have one of the most legendary disastrous press tours just before its release. It's crazy; I still remember the hype behind this thing, as well as the agonizing embarrassment once it finally hit screens. The New World (2005), saw Farrell teaming up with cinematic genius, Terrence Malick, who at this point was still making movies, instead of poetry-laden horseshit that I wouldn't recommend to my most pretentious enemies, (Song to Song is s'okay). While The New World is itself filled to the brim with poetry-like inner monologue, presenting the mindset of our three main characters caught unknowingly in a love triangle centered on the story of Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher) and John Smith (Farrell), the film still has a narrative through-line, with a beginning, middle and end. Oh, and a point. Good to have one of those (I kid, I kid). And if I may be so bold, I consider The New World to be my favorite of Farrell's career, not just because of the film itself or Farrell's performance in it, but both, and so much more. It is near perfect; the film’s sweetness is as electrifying as its passion is contagious. Then I think he made Miami Vice (2006), with Michael Mann and Jamie Foxx. To be honest, I'm not sure. And again, neither is Colin Farrell. There was a Woody Allen movie too, called Cassandra's Dream (2007), which is aight, but like, not really.
The Soul Searching Years
What followed next for Farrell was a wild little ride between the indie actor and the big star within, as he tightrope walked between both previous eras of his career. I think it can be blamed (although not fully), on Colin’s first collaboration with director Martin McDonagh, In Bruges (2008). Farrell returned to his plucky, dimwit criminal demeanor, and accidentally scooped up a Golden Globe for Best Actor in the process. I say accidentally, because I don't think anyone saw this coming, as fantastic as the character and his performance is! I'd imagine this created quite the complex in Farrell; after years of reaching out with heavy dramatic roles and big name directors and co-stars, he landed the gold by playing one of his oldest personas with a first-time director and a cast that is virtually unrecognizable to the average movie watcher. In Bruges was followed by a string of missteps and departures, both good and bad: Pride and Glory (2008) teamed him up with Edward Norton, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), saw him share a character with the likes of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and the late-Heath Ledger, and Ondine (2009) had him fall in love with a selkie, (kind of like a seal-mermaid), because some shit just needs to be did.
Around this time Colin sang some songs in the wickedly good, yet arguably overrated, Crazy Heart (2009), alongside living legend, Jeff Bridges, before giving everybody a good groan or laugh when he stole Tom Cruise's costume from Tropic Thunder, and hopped in front of the cameras for Horrible Bosses (2011), a flick I genuinely enjoy, and a performance I think is hilarious and insanely self-aware. This was around the time where Farrell apparently cleaned up 100%, quitting the wild life to focus on honing in on the type of actor he really wanted to be. This change led to what I think is the most underrated chapter of his filmography, the remake of the 1980's comedy-horror classic, Fright Night (2011). While the film pales in comparison to the original, it should be noted that the remake doesn't really seem all that interested in creating a story that can be compared to the 1985 version, deviating heavily in both story and tone, as the film progresses. Farrell's portrayal of Jerry the Vampire stacks right up there with Chris Sarandon's version, and we also get a super-duper bonus performance from the late Anton Yelchin, in a role that he seems chemically engineered to play.
Total Recall (2012) was up next, and all the groans, sighs and yawns were to be expected, and I was right there with everyone else. Total Recall is a movie you just don't need to remake. I'd go so far as to say, you couldn’t remake it, although I wouldn't really even know where to begin explaining that. It like... just is, man. Farrell ain't bad in it. At this point he had perfected his big action movie star presence, but he also ain't doing the flick any favors. After those two ventures into Hollywood-Remake-Land, Farrell shouldered back up with director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) for Seven Psychopaths (2012), a film with a star-studded cast of talent, including Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Harry Dean Stanton. Even despite all that power onscreen, Farrell still shines as the morally confused glue that keeps all these wacky oddballs together.
Fully Formed Farrell
Colin next took a trip to HBO, to become a part of the doomed-from-the-start production of the second season of one of the most critically acclaimed shows in recent years: True Detective (2015). Farrell's portrayal of fallen officer Ray Velcoro is one of the highlights of the show. His character echoes the very basic nature of the show's two seasons, dealing with the futility of being good in a world that has so much evil and seems so unfair. Much of the angst and disappointment I find regarding TDS2, tends towards viewers always wanting things to be explained more clearly and earlier on in the season, (as if the show wasn't a fucking murder mystery). And I get it; confusion doesn't make people feel very good. But to be fair, the noir-ish nuance of the second season is hard-boiled to a crisp, and this causes our character's inner conflicts to reflect the surrounding mystery; as we learn more about the crime, we learn more about our characters. There are bad things about it, (*cough* dialogue *cough*), that is inarguable, but that should not interfere with the quality of other aspects of the show, such as character, motivation, tone and theme. And I really think Farrell, (along with season MVP Taylor Kitsch), deserves a fair shake in the aftermath years of the disappointing sequel-season.
But hey! No time to feel bad for our boy, because next up was one of his most critically appreciated films to date: The Lobster (2015). Farrell teamed up with the unique directing style of Yorgos Lathimos and nabbed himself a Golden Globe nomination. Like in Horrible Bosses, Colin threw aside his usual sexy demeanor for a more average male physique and stature, growing a mustache and putting on some weight, (but was still unable to shake that amazing head of hair of his). The Lobster saw Farrell demonstrating that great knack for comedy-infused sadness and awkwardness to wonderful execution, garnering him almost unanimous praise from critics and audiences alike. (Robby wrote an incredible article on it, which you can, and should, read here) Deciding he'd continue messing with our heads, he jumped into what originally seemed to be the villain role in the new Harry Potter spin-off series: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), as Percival Graves. While I'll try to stray from any major spoilers for the film, I will say that what ends up happening was not very much to the liking of many viewers I've talked to, as the events during the movie have led some to believe that Farrell may not be a part of the rest of the film series. And this sucks, because he was actually the best part of the decent-enough rebranding of the wizarding world phenomena. Fingers and wands crossed for his triumphant return later down the line.
This brings us to what very well may be considered the Farrellvolution (trademarked). 2017 has seen Farrell not only work with amazing actors in amazing movies, but he takes home the show in each one, even when up against the likes of Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington and Nicole Kidman again! Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled (2017) is a breathtakingly beautiful study on male-dominance and the role gender plays in the manipulation of friendship, desire and sex. At the center of this story is would-be sweetheart Farrell, using all the charm at his disposal to find a way to escape the clutches of women he believes himself to be superior than. Again, the movie is so much more than this, and even this description doesn't do it justice, but it really is a movie meant to be seen cold. I highly recommend it, not just as a kick-ass Farrell exhibition, but also as an insanely impressive joint from Coppola. (Check out Bern and Robby's Hot Takes episode) Very soon thereafter, we see the actor rejoining his buddy Yorgos Lanthimos for The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), a return to the director's absurdist form of storytelling, this time, trading in romance and humor for psychological horror and mythology. If that confuses you, you may or may not have seen this movie. Farrell again kills it, as he delivers monotonous lines with razor sharp edges intended to cut just the right way, a feat that is no easy task, as we see other incredible actors attempting to nail down the cadence of how humans talk to one another in this world, always seeming to be just one step behind Mr. Farrell. He also has amazing hair again, (naturally). (Here's the Hot Takes episode on that one!) His latest film, and final of this year is Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), directed by Nightcrawler's upcoming superstar writer/director, Dan Gilroy. Farrell is (once again) magnetic. His role is quite small for a second-billed actor, basically starting off as the film's moral measure to our hero, (the titular Roman, played with the eternal grace that is Denzel Washington), to become a sidekick of sorts, used to bounce on and off of the philosophical musings the film is presenting to the audience. But even with this little part, Farrell shines in every scene with a naturalism that actors in their early 40's rarely master. It may sound like exaggeration, but I assure you, the kid has got it.
So, what next for the Bad Boy That Was? He's going to be in the new Dumbo (2019) remake (yay?), as well as the far more exciting, Widows (2018): Steve McQueen's crime-drama follow-up to 12 Years a Slave, which has a cast that will knock your hat off if you're wearing a hat when you read it. Beyond that, the sky is the limit. I'd imagine Farrell would see some smaller scale accords for any of his last three performances; however, I wouldn't hold out much hope for the big award shows, as this year is already teeming with hot newcomers, bold performances and long overdue thespians taking one last shot at that sweet, sweet gold. Awards aside, I think Farrell will continue to delight with his choices in projects and the artists connected to them, meaning we'll probably get at least another 52 flicks out of him before he's out of that magic charm.
What's your favorite/most hated Colin Farrell movie and why? Jump down to the comments and let us know!
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He lives in Beacon, NY with his cat who is named after Kevin Bacon's character from Friday the 13th.