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Main| "Out Stealing Horses"wins Norway's Top Film Prizes »
Sunday
Aug 18 2019

Five Underrated Edward Norton Performances for his 50th

by Abe Fried-Tanzer

Norton directs and co-stars with Bruce Willis in "Motherless Brooklyn"If you had asked me fifteen years ago who my favorite actor was,I surely would have said Edward Norton,though I'm not sure he's worked enough since then to continue to hold that status.(My other choice of the time,Kevin Spacey,also bears reevaluation...for other reasons).With Edward Norton turning 50 today paired with the recent announcement that Norton'sMotherless Brooklyn,which he wrote and directed and stars in,will be closing out this year's New York Film Festival,it's the perfect time to take a look back at his career.

His feature film debut in 1996 inPrimal Feardemonstrated an incredible ability to shift back and forth between different personas,earning him an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of an altar boy on trial for a brutal murder.Two years later,he scored a second Oscar bid for a more staggering and gradual shift in worldview as a reformed neo-Nazi trying to prevent his younger brother from going down the same path inAmerican History X.It took sixteen years for Norton to return to the Oscar lineup,this time in Best Picture winnerBirdmanas an actor who,by many accounts,is closest to what Norton is actually like on set,with a penchant for attempting to exert control even if he's not actually the one in charge...

Three years – 1996,2002,and 2006 – have delivered three separate Norton performances,but it's much more common to see Norton on screen only every few years.The most dependable place to see him these days is as a regular member of Wes Anderson's ensemble,with three collaborations to date,most recentlyIsle of Dogs(2018).It's probably for the best that his stint inIncredible Hulkdidn't result in a featured part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series since Norton's talents are best reserved for psychological transformations rather than uncontrolled physical manifestations.From Norton's resumé,which we all wish was longer,here are...

Edward Norton's 5 Most Underrated Performances

5.Keeping the Faith(2000)
This comedy,Norton's lightest project,might seem like an unusual choice since it demands the least of the actor.But in addition to marking Norton's directorial debut,this enjoyable film also finds Norton taking on the more challenging role as a priest vying for the affection of his best friend,played by Jenna Elfman,with his other best friend,a rabbi played by Ben Stiller.It's far easier to find sympathy for Stiller's charismatic and popular Jake,while Norton's Brian,whose chosen vocation is far more prohibitive when it comes to being with a woman,no matter what religion,is likeable because Norton makes him so.For those without positive memories of this film,it's worth another watch.

4.The Score(2001)
Few would call this crime thriller a great movie.It was one of several high-profile genre films that year includingHeistandSwordfishthat aren't discussed much now.Robert De Niro certainly isn't putting in too much effort as an aging thief,but Norton takes a completely different approach.He's delivering the kind of performance more likely to be found in an independent drama,playing a skilled criminal who is able to transform completely into the role his character is playing,that of a mentally-challenged janitor.Norton is as natural as ever,showing that,at least in this case,the film he's in doesn't affect his level of commitment to a role.

3.Down in the Valley(2006)
Critics paid much more attention to the other two movies Norton starred in this year,The IllusionistandThe Painted Veil,but this little-seen drama from director David Jacobson (Dahmer) features the strongest and most mesmerizing Norton turn of the three.He plays a man who believes he is a cowboy and who begins to pursue a young woman,played by the pre-WestworldEvan Rachel Wood.Norton immerses himself in the delusions of his character,and his most impressive feat is remaining focused and fascinating even when the film falters.

2.Leaves of Grass(2010)
This comedic drama comes from the mind of writer-director Tim Blake Nelson,andThe Ballad of Buster Scruggsis a pretty solid frame of reference for those unfamiliar.Norton doesn't play someone with two personalities here but two completely different characters.Twin brothers Bill and Brady have little in common – one is an Ivy League professor and the other grows pot in Oklahoma – and it's a twisted delight to watch them both together and apart in this fun and worthwhile film that knows just how to use both its Nortons.

1.25th Hour(2002)
Red DragonandDeath to Smoochy,the other two films Norton made in 2002,have their merits,but there's no comparison to this exceptional joint from Spike Lee.As a drug dealer facing an impending prison term,Norton is deeply introspective,navigating the many things he has to love about his life and the people in it.Yet those moments are unmatched by the tremendously powerful scene in which Norton's Monty lets loose on every person he knows and every facet of society he finds objectionable,expressing his rage at the world before realizing that he's the one to blame for his misfortune.Watch the astounding profanity-laced scene below:

What are your favorite Norton performances?Well,besides the obvious Oscar-nominated star turns.

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Reader Comments (1)

Even if he had done nothing else,Norton's performance in 25th Hour would mark him as an exceptional actor.I love that film.

August 18,2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

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