Total Recall

Total Recall: Guy Pearce's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark star.

by | August 25, 2011 | Comments

Guy Pearce

By the time he turned 20, Guy Pearce had already been an award-winning amateur bodybuilder, fencing student, and Australian soap star — the kind of career path that not only must make for great conversation at cocktail parties, but set the tone for an eclectic filmography that has seen Pearce go on to take roles in period dramas, Disney comedies, and neo-noir classics. This week, he returns to theaters with Katie Holmes and a house full of creepy-crawlies in the Guillermo del Toro-produced Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, and we’re celebrating by taking a look back at his critical highlights. It’s time for Total Recall!


10. First Snow

A thriller starring Guy Pearce as a man with a haunted past who’s told by a fortune teller that he may not have long to live, First Snow should have been a slam dunk with critics — especially considering that the fortune teller was played by consummate character actor J.K. Simmons, and that the supporting cast was rounded out by dependable faces such as William Fichtner and Adam Scott. Alas, a sizable percentage of writers felt the finished product was too slow, and didn’t do enough with its intriguing premise — although for Stephen Holden of the New York Times, it was pretty strong stuff. Calling it “a pointed little thriller with metaphysical pretensions,” Holden argued that “First Snow is shrewd enough to approach basic philosophical questions in sneaky, offhand ways.”


9. Traitor

It’s hard to decide which is more surprising about Traitor — that it presented a sympathetic view of a Muslim terrorist (or is he?) in 2008, or that the story was cooked up by none other than Steve Martin. Either way, Traitor represented a nice opportunity for star Don Cheadle to show off his dramatic chops, along with a terrific supporting cast that included Pearce as an FBI agent whose relentless pursuit of Cheadle helps frame the final act of the movie. It didn’t do much at the box office, but for critics like Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek, Traitor was “an earnest, efficient, serviceable thriller that makes a valiant effort to untangle some of the moral complexities of the post-9/11 world.”


8. The Count of Monte Cristo

For its tenth adaptation, Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel received a bit of a facelift — and, as is their wont, a number of critics were fairly cheesed about the storyline alterations and beefed-up action that director Kevin Reynolds and screenwriter Jay Wolpert brought to the tale. For most, however, the most crucial elements of the story remained intact — namely, the struggle for vengeance of a French sailor (James Cavizel) who is betrayed and sent to prison by his supposed friend (Pearce). As Peter Bradshaw put it in his review for the Guardian, “Dumas’s classic tale is such a rattling good yarn, there’s nothing you can do to derail it as it hurtles down the track.”


7. Two Brothers

The two brothers of the title are a pair of tigers that viewers meet as adorable cubs in the opening act, but this isn’t the syrupy cuddlefest it might look like. Really, although Two Brothers doesn’t lack for coo-inducing shots of the fuzzy protagonists, it’s also a darker and altogether more intense animal movie than American audiences have grown accustomed to — the tale of a tiger family torn asunder by an unscrupulous hunter (played by Pearce) who wreaks havoc in the brothers’ lives. Does it all end on a heartwarming note? Of course. But as the Arizona Republic’s Randy Cordova argued, “Anyone older than 12 can figure out what’s going to happen, but the movie still packs an emotional punch that will keep adults entertained as much as the young ones.”


6. The Proposition

With John Hillcoat behind the cameras and a script by Australian musical icon Nick Cave, The Proposition is a modern Western with offscreen credentials that fairly ooze cool — and the same could be said of its cast, a lineup that included Pearce, John Hurt, Emily Watson, Ray Winstone, and Danny Huston. They all came together to help dramatize the tale of the Burns brothers gang, a notorious group of 19th century Australian outlaws who weren’t above raping and/or murdering anyone who got in their way. Not exactly a family film, in other words — but one whose finely tuned sense of violent dread mesmerized critics like Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who wrote, “Hillcoat creates a vision as nihilistic as any horror film ever put on a screen, but so well acted and carefully conceived that it transcends exploitation.”


5. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

A road trip movie with a decidedly flamboyant twist, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert follows the trail of three drag queens (played by Pearce, Hugo Weaving, and Terence Stamp) on their journey across the Australian Outback in an unreliable tour bus. Containing drama, comedy, and a fair amount of social commentary, Priscilla was an arthouse favorite during its theatrical run, spun off a pair of musical stage adaptations, won an Oscar (for Best Costume Design, natch), and earned raves from critics like Kevin Carr of 7M Pictures, who asked, “Where else are you going to see General Zod, Agent Smith and the guy from Memento as drag queens stranded in the Australian Outback?”


4. Memento

The grim noir puzzle that reaffirmed Pearce’s leading-man talent and served as Christopher Nolan’s full-fledged Hollywood coming-out party, Memento offered an early glimpse of Nolan’s fondness for narrative games — as well as his ability to get the most out of his actors. Playing a man who spends most of the film as not only a mystery to the viewer, but to himself, Pearce won a pile of honors from various film critics’ circles, and was a major part of what led the Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan to call Memento “provocatively structured and thrillingly executed film noir, an intricate, inventive use of cinema’s possibilities that pushes what can be done on screen in an unusual direction.”


3. The King’s Speech

This Best Picture winner is really Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush’s show, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for some stellar supporting roles — including Pearce’s work as Edward VIII, the British king whose relationship with a divorced American prompted a constitutional crisis during his brief, tumultuous reign. While not the focal point of the film, Pearce’s performance illuminated a complex character whose conflicted relationship with Firth’s George VI helps lend additional weight to the story’s central relationships. “It is an intelligent, winning drama fit for a king — and the rest of us,” wrote Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post. “And this year, there were far too few of those coming from Hollywood.”


2. Animal Kingdom

Based on the true story of a crime family that won acquittal in a case involving the murder of two police officers, 2010’s Animal Kingdom was nicknamed “the Australian GoodFellas” — and although Kingdom never approached that film’s heights at the box office, it earned plenty of acclaim, including seven Australian Film Institute Awards against a dozen nominations — including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Pearce, who played a cop trying to break up the family by swaying its youngest member (James Frecheville). Calling it “a coiled rattlesnake of a family-crime drama,” Ty Burr of the Boston Globe wrote, “You probably won’t see a better directorial debut this year than David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom.”


1. L.A. Confidential

In the midst of the 1990s neo-noir movement that brought us films like Pulp Fiction and Heat, writer/director Curtis Hanson took a sharply retro approach with L.A. Confidential — and won two Academy Awards (against nine nominations) for his trouble. A 1950s-set murder mystery involving mobsters, corrupt politicians, drugs, a pair of bickering cops (Pearce and Russell Crowe, making their American breakthroughs), and one righteous dame (Kim Basinger, who won one of those Oscars), Confidential managed to add to the genre’s history while paying its respects. As Roger Ebert put it, “L.A. Confidential is immersed in the atmosphere and lore of film noir, but it doesn’t seem like a period picture — it believes its noir values and isn’t just using them for decoration.”

In case you were wondering, here are Pearce’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Memento — 93%
2. The King’s Speech — 93%
3. L.A. Confidential — 90%
4. The Count of Monte Cristo — 85%
5. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — 84%
6. Animal Kingdom — 80%
7. The Proposition — 78%
8. Ravenous — 78%
9. Two Brothers — 74%
10. Till Human Voices Wake Us — 67%

Take a look through Pearce’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.


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