Diane Lane: Her Best Roles

From child prodigy to Oscar prospect

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Horse-racing biopic Secretariat gallops into cinemas this week. While it might have the nag’s name in the title, the real story is about the swift-hoofed horse’s owner, Penny Chenery. Lane’s enjoyed an eclectic career through the years, and we know she has plenty of fans among you out there, so we thought we’d list what we think are her best work…

Diane Lane has been acting professionally since the age of six, treading the boards around the world and in New York with the likes of Meryl Streep. At 13, she turned down a role on Broadway to make the jump to movies, signing on to co-star in George Roy Hill’s love-chronicling comedy A Little Romance. Among her co-stars was no less a talent than Laurence Olivier, who described her as the "new Grace Kelly". Feted by Francis Ford Coppola, she also landed on the cover of Time, listed as one of "Hollywood’s Whiz Kids". Not bad for a first film…

Coppola’s appreciation for Lane saw him cast her in the next big landmark of her career, gang drama The Outsiders. In a continuing trend of the actress appearing alongside big names, her cast mates were the pick of young Hollywood at the time: Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell... The list goes on. Lane impressed as Cherry Valance, a flame-haired cheerleader with sparkling green eyes and a thing for bad boys. That she stood out among the Brat pack-heavy cast makes her achievement even more remarkable.

After a second collaboration with Coppola for Rumble Fish, she suffered her first real flop with Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire (a film she turned down Splash and Risky Business to make). She then returned to Coppola, this time with the director charting the regulars who haunted the infamous Harlem nightspot. The movie saw her working with Richard Gere for the first time, but sadly it also fizzled and failed to launch her into the stratosphere. Quite the opposite, in fact: she (unfairly) got a Razzie nomination for her part as singer/gangster’s moll Vera Cicero. In response, she temporarily threw in the acting towel, moving home to Georgia to rebuild her relationship with her mother.

Despite having earned millions by the time she turned 18, Lane ended her self-enforced hiatus, to make a couple of smaller films, but found real acclaim and success on the small screen with this hugely popular Western miniseries adapted from Larry McMurtry’s novel. Lane is Lorena 'Lorie' Wood, the prostitute of Lonesome Dove who charms Jake Spoon (Robert Ulrich) and convinces him to take him with her to San Francisco, instead of leaving on a planned trip to Montana. Her work earned her an Emmy nomination.

Between the odd blockbuster, Lane has often shown a keen eye for interesting indies, including this little comedy that won acclaim at Cannes. Stacy Cochran crafted the tale of housewife Debbie Bender (Lane), whose life takes a turn when her domineering husband (Stephen Collins) demands she has a gun in the place. “Diane Lane’s delicately funny performance conveys the movie’s exploratory sensibility with thrilling clarity: she makes us feel the risky joy of venturing beyond your own narrow plot and becoming a part of someone else’s story,” said the New Yorker’s Terrence Rafferty about her performance.

The ‘90s were not an especially notable time for the actress, who had small roles in big films (Chaplin) and made some more questionable choices with awful Sly-fi Judge Dredd, maudlin Robin Williams ageing comedy Jack and rote Wesley Snipes thriller Murder At 1600. Things improved considerably with this drama, which sees her playing another frustrated, neglected housewife, this time one who embarks on an affair with blouse salesman Viggo Mortensen. “Diane has this potentially volcanic sexuality that is in no way self-conscious or opportunistic,” is how director Tony Goldwyn described her on-screen presence.

While George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg brave the ocean to keep up their fishing quotas, it’s Lane who leads the Women Who Wait brigade of worried other halfs who must watch the weather reports and worry about the men folk (and in Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s case, women folk) in peril on the sea. Director Wolfgang Petersen might be more obsessed with the Big Wave and the testosterony battle between man and nature, but it’s Lane who keeps the home fires burning and the drama grounded as Wahlberg’s partner.

Another example of Lane being the best thing about an otherwise faulty film (unless you have a thing for Olivier Martinez's chiselled frame or still harbour love for Richard Gere). Adrian Lyne’s remake of La Femme Infidele sees Lane and Gere reunited on screen, only to be torn apart by the lustful urges of Martinez’s Paul Martel, who seduces Lane’s Connie Sumner away from devoted hubbie Ed (Gere). Lots of rumpy pumpy results, and Lane, trooper that she was, worked through bruises and Lyne’s shouty, enthusiastic directing style.

After a detour into bland rom-com territory with Must Love Dogs, Lane sparked to a script that offered something slightly meatier. In a film which also saw Ben Affleck start to reheat his career after several flops, Lane plays bored studio wife Toni Mannix, offering a sensitive portrayal of a woman fully cognisant that her beauty and allure are fleeting. “I have seven good years before my ass drops like a duffel bag,” she comments at one point. It’s definitely a highlight of her more recent career choices.

Little since Hollywoodland has really showcased what she can do, including dull ‘net thriller Untraceable (a stab at something darker that misfired) and a tiny role in Doug Liman’s serviceable sci-fi Jumper. Her third collaboration with Richard Gere, Nights In Rodanthe, won her some plaudits and scored decent business with its Nicholas Sparks-fuelled romantic drama appeal, but the film itself is no classic. Hopefully her sparky turn, as housewife-turned-racehorse owner Penny Chenery in Secretariat will shove her back into a place where she can grab some more interesting roles. After proving to be the best thing in many a dull movie, she deserves a few good scripts.

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