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.
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!
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.
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.