It’s simultaneously encouraging and frustrating to see an actor you like constantly teetering on the verge of being a household name. Ben Foster, one of the stars of the upcoming action thriller Contraband, is one such talent. He’s found himself in several high profile films and otherwise blockbustery fare, but A-list status seems to elude him. Before you race off to see Contraband this weekend, refresh yourself with some of Foster’s best performances over the last few years.
X-Men 3: The Last Stand
Though reception to the third film in the X-Men franchise from fans was less than warm, Ben Foster turned in an excellent portrayal of one of the source material’s original characters. Foster brought a great deal of weight and pathos to the role of Warren Worthington III, a mutant blessed with (or cursed with depending on your outlook) with a pair of angelic wings sprouting from his back that grant him the ability to fly. It’s no surprise that his heroic moniker was Angel, later Archangel. My only complaint with his role in X-Men 3: The Last Stand is that he kicks the film off with such an emotional resonance and then is given little to do from that point forward. We need more Foster!
3:10 To Yuma
Major studios rarely touch the classic western genre these days; not that they no longer exist of course, by they are by no means as prevalent as they once were. The 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma stands as one of my favorite modern westerns. The film follows a downtrodden rancher, who agrees to escort a ruthless, recently-captured outlaw to his scheduled train ride to Yuma, which will deliver him to trial. Along the way, members of the outlaw’s gang do all they can to free their leader. The most frightening of these gang members is the sinister Charlie Prince. Foster plays Prince with an ice-cold disdain for all human life that would allow his character to feel equally at home in a horror film. It gives me goose bumps just recalling his heinous deeds in the film.
Another remake in which Foster found himself was last year’s The Mechanic. Originally a 1972 vehicle for Charles Bronson, the Bronson part in the remake being occupied by Jason Statham, The Mechanic is about a seasoned hit man who takes a young upstart killer under his wing. What was so impressive about The Mechanic was how adeptly Foster held his own against Statham in the action sequences. By now, Statham has become recognized for his action chops, but Foster was still largely a question mark going into The Mechanic. Foster not only proved his action movie mettle, but was also more emotionally compelling than Jan-Michael Vincent who had played his role in the original.
These days, it seems like some of the best science-fiction films that get released do so completely (forgive us) under the radar. Such was definitely the case with 2009’s Pandorum. The film centers on two members of a spaceship’s crew who come out of cryogenic sleep with no memory of their mission and no sign of any other crew. However, they are far from alone. I can’t recommend this film highly enough; it is a fantastic mix of thoughtful sci-fi and blisteringly entertaining action. Foster once again shows his leading man potential as one of the two unfortunate remaining crew members.
Don't get the wrong impression of Foster—he's taken on many a genre project, but he's not just gunning for a spot in major blockbusters. In 2009, Foster teamed with Oren Moverman (writer of I'm Not There) for Moverman's debut film, The Messenger. A solemn, introspective look at a forgotten occupation of war, that of the men and women employed to break news to the families of soldiers killed in action, The Messenger is easily Foster's best work to date. Paired with an animated Woody Harrelson, Foster pulls back on his usual crazy train antics to unleash a quiet, devastating performance.
30 Days of Night
Bookending this list with another comic book adaptation, Ben Foster appeared in 2007’s 30 Days of Night. The film takes place in an Alaskan town at the start of its “dark season;” a period during the winter wherein they experience, you guessed it, 30 days of night. This makes the town a perfect target for a sect of bloodthirsty vampires who are free to hunt the townspeople at will unabated by sunlight. Foster plays an eerie stranger whose mysterious arrival in the town serves as a herald of the gruesome, nightmarish events to come. His words, the foreboding scratches that eek from his lips, are enough to send chills down your spine in this arctic horror bloodbath.
The Crossroads star is preparing to star in Manson Girls, a film focusing on the lives of the convicted murderer's female followers, and she has been given the unique opportunity of choosing between two key parts - serial killer Susan 'Sadie' Atkins and longtime cult member Sandra 'Blue' Good.
Manning admits she's torn between the roles because they're both challenging - but only one is truly Oscar worthy.
She tells WENN, "We haven't filmed it but I'm signed on. I can choose between two roles right now. One of them is Sadie Atkins which is the obvious part because of typecasting. I'm much more sophisticated than I get credit for and I'm much more well read and educated.
"But I've also had the opportunity to play Sandra 'Blue' Good who is still alive and she still follows Manson and she's crazy. She was the most educated of all the women that fell into this cult and she was never part of any of the murders and was pregnant during the early days of the family. She's not a part I would normally get to play but if I want to win an Oscar, which is my intention, I want the part that will stand out and that's Sadie Atkins."
And Manning is determined to draw the attention of Academy voters, with whichever role she chooses, after being snubbed in 2005.
She says, "I feel like I should have been nominated for Hustle & Flow to be honest and a lot of people feel that way, but that's fine and it wasn't my time... I'm one part away from winning an Oscar, if it's the right part, and that could be playing Sadie Atkins."
But there's one aspect of the Manson Girls project she's a little apprehensive about: "There are people who don't like her (Atkins) and what she really did in real life and I don't know if I want to sign up for that potential abuse that could come my way from people that are horrified from the murders she committed of innocent people. So I'm torn between what part do I play. It's a good problem to have!"
Manson is serving a life prison sentence after co-ordinating a killing spree in the late 1960s as the leader of the Manson Family.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.