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Ethan Hawke might be the most underrated actor in Hollywood

EE British Academy Film Awards 2015 - Arrivals

I don’t know if many people notice, but there’s almost nothing in the film industry that Ethan Hawke can’t do…and do well. He’s been an awards mainstay of late, as well as being someone who Oscar has nominated far more often than you probably realize. This week, he makes another 2015 appearance (one of many for him this year) in Good Kill, which also reunites him with filmmaker Andrew Niccol. I think this intense role just serves as more evidence that Hawke can pretty much do anything. He’s already had a documentary of his come out in 2015, has some other indies on the way, and always is on the cusp of working with Richard Linklater again, not to mention being an author. He’s a true renaissance man.

First of all, we should briefly discuss Good Kill. The film centers around an Air Force pilot played by Hawke who’s assigned to work as a drone operator. As he continues to kill terrorists from the comfort of a base stateside, he begins to long for actual combat and to exist some signs of a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His PTSD affects his job performance, interactions with his family, and his own sanity. In addition to Niccol writing/directing and Hawke in the central role, the cast includes Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kravitz, and January Jones, among others. It’s a small scale outing by Niccol, but it’s a medium sized one for Hawke, who’s as comfortable in big budget features as he is in micro-budgeted indies.

I saw Good Kill back at the just recently completed 2015 Tribeca Film Festival and found it to be pretty solid. Besides having a captivating premise, what really struck me was Hawke’s performance. It’s a bit different than what he normally does, while at the same time fitting perfectly for him. It’s a part that fits him like a glove, frankly. As the screws get wound tighter, you just lean in and stare at his work. It’s nothing like his nominated performance in Boyhood, for example (which is nothing like his other nominated acting job in Training Day), but that’s the point…he’s so flexible, and I don’t think enough folks realize it.

Not to hammer the point home, but Hawke pretty much can do anything. If you look just at what the Academy has noticed, he’s got a pair of Best Supporting Actor nominations to his credit, alongside a pair of nods in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. He’s been cited by Oscar more than once in each field, and while none of those noms have turned into wins, they always show something different. Before Midnight is different than Before Sunset, which is different than Boyhood, which is nothing like Training Day. Those are jus the times he’s been in contention for awards…that’s just the tip of the iceberg, if we’re really looking at Hawke.

Besides acting, Hawke has made before narrative and documentary films behind the camera, in addition to writing. He’s diverse in a way that really slips below the radar. It’s hard to guess that the director of The Hottest State and Seymour: An Introduction is the star of Good Kill, if you didn’t already know ahead of time. That’s just one small example in a career that’s full of them. Hawke consistently makes interesting choices year in and year out, always challenging himself as well as his audience. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at last year’s New York Film Festival, and it was well deserved. I was a guest at his celebratory dinner at NYFF and was thrilled to help honor the man who pretty much can do anything.

Overall, while Good Kill represents something new on Friday for Hawke, it’s just another example of his skill set, one that should be feted far more often than it already is. Going forward, I’m sure we’ll see him do more of everything (and remember, he’s shown a musical talent as well), and I’m pleased as punch about that. One day, he’ll be an Oscar winner too, which will be a just dessert as well. Until the time comes that he becomes an Academy Award winner, we’ll just have to do our part to recognize Hawke as the singular talent that he truly is…

Be sure to give Good Kill a look this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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