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Colin Farrell: A Viewer's Guide

Image for Colin Farrell: A Viewer's Guide

Movie buffs talk in hushed tones about John Wayne’s first starring appearance, saddle in hand, as the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach. Well, Colin Farrell actually went one better in his debut role. Okay, so it was an episode of Ballykissangel rather than a John Ford classic, but at least he had an actual horse under him. Even gallivanting about Ireland for the BBC, Farrell’s languid charisma marked him out as an actor with a big future. He moved swiftly from the Emerald Isle to the A-list with a starring role in Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland, and that roughneck charm has been ever present in the 10 years since. It’s fair to say that his charms haven’t seduced all moviegoers – he’s as devilled by preconceptions as Marmite (or Keira Knightley) – but with Fright Night and Total Recall arriving, his Hollywood standing has never been higher. Here’s our handy guide to Farrell’s filmography to date.

ESSENTIAL VIEWING: In Bruges (2008)

Director Martin McDonagh talks of Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), the odd-couple assassins at the heart of his black comedy, as the conflicting sides of his own personality. If that’s the case, you’d have to worry about Colin Farrell's part. Ray is a lovable, often hilarious man-child but he’s hardly what you’d call ‘stable’. He nurses a broken heart, not to mention an unsuppressed enthusiasm for baiting “midgets” and the same interest in old buildings as a nine year-old on a sugar high. Farrell plays him with twisted glee – hardly surprising considering the golden lines he gets to deliver – and terrific comic timing, but it’s the underlying melancholy that’s gradually revealed in the heart of Ray that lingers longest. Well, that and his pathological hatred of Bruges. After all, “even midgets have to take drugs to stick it”.

ESSENTIAL VIEWING: Tigerland (2000)

Farrell may not bleed testosterone like Jason Statham or pack weapons-grade pecs like The Rock, but he’s been in and out of uniform more times than Mr Benn in his Hollywood career to date. It was Joel Schumacher who first thrust an M16 into his hand and shoved him out into the limelight in this impressive Vietnam-era character piece. The Irishman returned the favour with a breakthrough turn as Private Roland Bozz, the rebellious, anti-war recruit who gains mythical status within his platoon of greenhorns for his ability to get them out of the army. Farrell fuels the draftee with a defiant blaze and fix-it smarts, giving us a khaki-clad Jimmy Savile with the attitude of Jimmy Cliff. All that, and a perfect American accent too.

ESSENTIAL VIEWING: Phone Booth (2002)

A second Schumacher collaboration in as many years saw Farrell put in a terrific shift as whiny publicist Stu Shepard, a man who learns the hard way that you should never answer a phone call from Jack Bauer. He’s on screen for virtually every sweat-stained minute and shows impressive range, veering from ‘slick smarm’ to ‘cold panic’ and straight on to ‘righteous fury’. When we meet Stu he’s a sleazy, motormouthed New York publicist – the kind of person you’d cross the country, never mind the road to avoid – but at the pointy end of Kiefer Sutherland’s sniper rifle, Farrell strips away the bravado to show a man who’s very alone and very frightened. Thanks to the goading of that anonymous voice, it doesn’t end there for Stu. By the time the film’s 80 minutes have elapsed, he’s practically John McClane. It’s a character arc that would fell a less gifted actor, but Farrell’s jittery presence carries the high concept through to its taut conclusion. Still, someone should get that man an iPhone.

RECOMMENDED: Minority Report (2002)

Farrell may not have played too many superheroes to date - Daredevil's Bullseye aside - but there’s a little Bruce Wayne in Minority Report’s sharply tailored G-Man Danny Witwer. His dad was murdered when he was still in togs and Witwer has followed him into crime fighting - and down the rabbit hole of Spielberg’s future noir. A Department of Justice wonk, his audit of the Pre-Crime division leads him into a clash of personalities with Tom Cruise’s frayed, drug-addled 'tec, John Anderton. It’s the Cruiser’s film – obvs – but Farrell never lets him hog the screen. Even with Anderton’s world capsizing and much emoting to be done, Farrell holds his end of this ever-shifting dynamic and never lets the suspect – or us – know quite what he’s thinking. The pair’s face-off in an automated car factory is a reminder that he can’t half throw a punch too. There are few actors better at portraying Type A confidence. When Farrell’s agent meets that sticky end it’s the most wrong-footing movie death since Jack Vincennes.

RECOMMENDED: Ondine (2009)

A love story on both sides of the camera, this intimate Irish yarn introduced Farrell to his then-partner Alicja Bachleda. He’s cast as Beara trawlerman and recovering alcoholic Syracuse; she’s the mysterious beauty he stumbles upon in the deep. Their offbeat love affair is more Captain Birdseye than Cupid – he literally fishes her from the brine – but the tender chemistry between the pair gives Neil Jordan’s film the emotional grip to go with its tickle of whimsy. Farrell’s acute comic timing is on display again in his scenes opposite Stephen Rea’s gruff priest, but it’s Syracuse’ guilt over his sozzled past and attempts to redeem himself in his care of his sick daughter that best define the role. Even if, as his daughter suggests, Dad’s new love interest may actually turn out to be a selkie, Syracuse fights hard to make it work. It’s a surprisingly rare romantic lead for Farrell and if like his Pocahontas-wooing settler, John Smith, in Terrence Malick’s The New World, the path of true love doesn’t run smoothly, boy, is it a lovely ride. Stifle those “seal the deal” puns right now.

FOR THE FAN: Daredevil (2003)

The movie may have been a little ho-hum, but Farrell fans will derive pleasure from a rare-ish chance to watch their man get his villain on. A kind of evil Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, his Irish hit man, Bullseye, could skewer you through the noggin with a pencil from sixty paces while downing a Guinness. Presumably because throwing stationery at people isn’t the most sinister of superpowers, Farrell augments it with the scariest haircut this side of, well, Alexander. A goatee, tatts and biking leathers complete the picture of a balls-out bad guy who goes toe-to-toe with Ben Affleck’s crime fighter with madcap exuberance and a healthy disregard for the conventions of fashion. Alas, despite Daredevil’s blindness, Affleck can see him coming a mile off. It’s almost like he’s got a target on his forehead. Whoooah, hang on a second...

ONE TO MISS: Cassandra's Dream (2007)

One from the midst of Woody Allen’s Blighty phase, this thriller offers a glimpse of what an episode of Allen’s EastEnders might look like. On this evidence, it would clear the Queen Vic in seconds. None of the film’s fine cast escapes unscathed from the debacle, least of all Farrell. As the feckless Terry, he draws his brother (Ewan McGregor) inexorably into messy, gambling debt-ridden life, but with London accents more Timbuktu than Tooting, it’s a wonder the pair can even understand each other, let alone see the tortuous plot through to its end. The unusually clumsy Allen dialogue gives Farrell little chance to show off his chops - or do what he does best and build a dogged yet vulnerable character. While Farrell’s got a fine line in catholic guilt (see also: In Bruges, Pride & Glory, Ondine, Triage) this self-consciously weighty effort – like Miami Vice – wastes his talents.

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