In Movies & TV Commentary

Colin Farrell (right) and fellow Irishman Brendan Gleeson do some of their best work in "In Bruges."

Five Irish actors and their best movies

It's time to dye the Chicago River green and make it look like some sort of toxic sludge that will grant superpowers. It's time to wear a Boston Celtics jersey even though you're a Bucks fan. It's time to drink … a lot.

Yep, St. Patrick's Day is on Sunday. But what if you want to pay tribute to one of the most Irish days of the year but can't stand the loud chaos of a crowded night out at the bars? Or perhaps you have an allergy to hops, barley, green food coloring or drunk people? You could pay tribute to Ireland's contributions to the arts with one of these five films, which feature some of the country's most famous actors doing some of their best work.

"In Bruges" starring Colin Farrell

Farrell's Hollywood projects – including "Alexander," "Total Recall" and his prolific period of mostly forgettable thrillers in the early 2000s – have never really found massive success, but since he's started focusing on smaller budget dark dramas and comedies, he's found a nice niche. For proof, look no further than 2008's pitch black hit man comedy "In Bruges."

Writer-director Martin McDonagh's debut feature film combines brutally dark humor with soul-wrenching heavy drama, and Farrell aces both. He has fun with McDonagh's bluntly profane yet artful barbs while never losing sight of his emotionally wounded hit man's soul. It also helps to share the screen with Brendan Gleeson, a terrific Irish actor in his own right. It's the kind of role that shows that Farrell might actually be too interesting of an actor to become a standard-issue Hollywood star.

"There Will Be Blood" starring Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis was technically born in London, but he has both British and Irish citizenship, so he counts. Plus, if there's an excuse to put Day-Lewis, arguably the greatest screen actor in film history, on a list of great things, I'm going to do it. And don't take it lightly that I just called Day-Lewis potentially the best film actor in the history of the medium. He's done so quietly – mainly because he doesn't do big movies that everyone sees and create big box office results – but his performances in "Lincoln" and "My Left Foot" qualify as some of film's best.

The best performance on that ridiculously impressive resume, however, comes in 2007's "There Will Be Blood," with Day-Lewis playing ravenous oil tycoon Daniel Plainview. When I first saw Paul Thomas Anderson's polarizing character study, I had no idea what to think; I just knew that I had seen a fascinating performance that glued me to my seat.

After seeing it several more times since then, I've grown to love Anderson's incredibly nuanced look at two polar opposites in battle, and the little details in DDL's performance only make the film's featured relationship more compelling and incredible to witness. Watch his face during the baptism scene. It's the definition of quietly bubbling, seething rage, and that's just one of the many layers to the moment. Plus, he had the line "I drink your milkshake" and made it brilliant. Imagine Nicolas Cage with that. Better yet, don't.

"Schindler's List" starring Liam Neeson

This may be hard to believe, but before Liam Neeson became Albania's worst nightmare in the "Taken" series and became an action star, he was a really, really good actor (if you saw "The Grey," you also knew this). At 6'4", he looks like an intimidating presence on screen but brings a human soulfulness to his performances, as seen in Steven Spielberg's painful masterpiece "Schindler's List."

Spielberg earns a lot of credit for his visual craftsmanship, including the famous girl with the red jacket and the film's horrifying realism and authenticity. Ralph Fiennes also gets a lot of credit since he has the flashy role as the sadistic Nazi camp leader. It's Neeson, however, who quietly helps provide the movie's soul as a man who evolves from a profit-driven businessman to a silent fighter of a massive, cruel injustice. There's a lot of evil and sadness on display in "Schindler's List," but Neeson's soulful and honest turn helps remind audiences that goodness and humanity can rise out of even the most horrid darkness.

"28 Days Later" starring Cillian Murphy

Irish actor Cillian Murphy has always flirted with popularity and fame without ever really reaching it. He's appeared in some of the biggest movies of the past ten years ("Inception," all three of Nolan's Batman films) and worked with some great directors, but he's never been able to crack into the mainstream leading man role.

Director Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" is one of the few exceptions – as well as "Sunshine," which was also directed by Boyle and is worth watching … but I'm talking about "28 Days Later" right now. At a time when zombie movies were in a rut (hard to believe, I know), "28 Days Later" exploded into theaters with a new sense of energy and excitement. Plus, it had characters and actors, including Murphy, Brendan Gleeson (again) and Naomie Harris from "Skyfall," that the audience really cared about. You can tell because when the movie makes a sudden shift away from zombies and toward a new set of villains in its last act, you still care.

"My Favorite Year" starring Peter O'Toole

It probably seems really weird that out of a filmography that includes Hollywood classics like "Lawrence of Arabia," "The Lion in Winter" and many other prestigious projects, I chose a light-hearted farce about celebrity and television to represent the iconic Peter O'Toole. But I just find something really enchanting and lovely about O'Toole's performance as Alan Swann, a former star who has become a wily drunk.

As I said before, the movie itself is light, but whenever O'Toole is on screen, he mesmerizes. Of course O'Toole gets the drama of the role, a star who wants to hide his humanity, flaws and fears, but what makes it great – and worthy of an Oscar nomination in 1983 – is his effortless charm and sense of humor. Comedy never gets the credit it deserves, mainly because when it's done well, it looks and feels so easy. O'Toole does exactly that.

In a moment of fear, O'Toole's character declares, "I'm not an actor, I'm a movie star!" In "My Favorite Year," he shows how to be both without cracking a sweat.

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Talkbacks

High_Life_Man | March 14, 2013 at 3:20 p.m. (report)

"In Bruges" is an underrated classic. It's one I recommend on a regular basis.

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