Sacha Howells October 4, 2009
In the last 10 years, Clive Owen has gone from small-time British TV actor to international household name. In The Boys Are Back, he plays a sports writer raising two sons alone, in a nuanced performance that some are calling one of his best. Here are our picks for the rest.
5. Inside Man
This Spike Lee thriller stars Owen as a bank robber narrating his greatest score from inside a cell. As the robbery unfolds, Owen and his crew keep the hostages and the police off-balance, leaving everyone, including the audience, guessing at their real motives. With Denzel Washington as the cop trying to unravel the mystery and Jodi Foster as the bank chairman’s “fixer,” Owen has no problem sharing the screen with multiple Oscar winners.
4. Gosford Park
Robert Altman‘s upstairs-downstairs murder mystery featured grand dames of acting like Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith alongside up-and-comers. Owen’s manservant with a murky past could easily have been a cliché, as could so many of the characters in this send-up of the proper parlor whodunit. But the script is so well written (nominated for an Academy Award) and the action so finely directed (ditto) that it always surprises, and Owen’s slick, charming, slightly dangerous performance put him on the map.
In this British indie directed by Get Carter‘s Mike Hodges, Owen plays a down-on-his-luck writer who takes a job working at a London casino. He hates the work, which starts to take over his life as he gets tangled up with a fellow dealer and then seduced by a regular customer, who wants him to help rob his employers. He plays the role as smug, arrogant, and supremely in control — until he finds out he isn’t. Though already a TV star in England, this was the movie that launched Owen in the U.S., bringing him the critical attention that his previous movie, the Halle Berry bomb The Rich Man’s Wife, didn’t.
2. Children of Men
In a near future England where a baby hasn’t been born in 20 years, mankind is at the brink of extinction. Owen plays a jaded bureaucrat in the authoritarian regime that now rules Britain, but when a pregnant illegal immigrant is discovered, he returns to his activist roots to smuggle her out of the country. Owen nails a mix of weary cynicism, hope, and heroism as he risks his life to save the woman who may save the species. An underrated modern sci-fi classic, Children of Men lost money but was a critical favorite.
In the award-winning stage play Owen played Dan, a novelist who cheats on his stripper girlfriend with a photographer in this love triangle-turned-square. In the film adaptation he switched parts to play Larry, the sex-obsessed dermatologist who doesn’t (at first) know his wife is having an affair, with Jude Law as Dan and Natalie Portman and Julia Roberts as their female counterparts. The high-powered cast and intricate plot made the movie a minor domestic hit but an international smash, and Owen, combining his bent-nosed charisma with cruelty and vulnerability, was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe.
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