Thursday, November 28, 2019

5 Favorite Ed Harris Characters

Edward Allen Harris - November 28, 1950
The great actor Ed Harris celebrates his 69th birthday today and what better way to celebrate it (and use this occasion as an excuse) than to post my five favorite characters that the man has played in his 40-year career. I was aware of the man's work growing up and HBO airing many of his films like Apollo 13, The Rock and Milk Money but Harris has had steady work in the film industry for years and in 2018 I decided to seek out many of his films I was unfamiliar with thanks to randomly stumbling into Cinematic Corner and a friend I've found on twitter who we'll just call Paul it was quite easy to track down many films in Harris' filmography particularly the ones they highly recommend. His first lead role was in George A. Romero's Knightriders in 1981, two years later he got his big break in a big budget film in 1983's The Right Stuff playing astronaut John Glenn and since then Harris has proved time and time again why he deserves his place in American cinema with performances in Sweet DreamsThe AbyssGlengarry Glen RossApollo 13The RockThe Truman ShowPollock and The Hours, four of which earned him Academy Award nominations among his impeccable filmography and perhaps also proving that he deserves to be in better roles than the ones he has been given lately. This list will only contain his fictional characters so his roles in The Right Stuff, Apollo 13 etc. won't be included on this list.

This post was a little difficult to compile since the man rarely plays the hero or morally superior characters but that just means that he has covered a lot of ground in his career and gives his fans a lot of variety so without anything else to add, here are my five favorite Ed Harris roles:

Jimmy Wing - A Flash of Green (shown in festivals in 1984 and aired as an American Playhouse episode in 1986)

In one of Harris' first and rare lead roles he plays Jimmy Wing, a small town Florida reporter in the 1960s who is lured by an old friend and local politician Elmo Bliss into spying against his environmentalist friends, he accepts but proceeds to warn Kat Hubble of what Bliss is up to. Wing is in love with Kat and acts as a surrogate father to her children while also having to deal with the repercussions of his actions when someone finally gets hurt and getting a slow and difficult redemption. Harris is always best used whenever he gets the chance to play conflicted heroes or villains and it was showcased here in his early career.

Brig. General Francis X. Hummel - The Rock (1996)

There are a handful of actors who can pull off military roles and Harris is no exception to this. In Michael Bay's 1996 action classic Harris plays a tortured antagonist who just wants compensation for the families of the men who died under his command in battle. Hummel was a fairly revolutionary villain when The Rock came out in 1996, but he's also tender, noble, someone you'd follow into battle, we don't see other villains warning little school children to get off early during their Alcatraz tour because he's about to take the island hostage.

Fr. Frank Shore - The Third Miracle (1999)

Harris plays a priest who is given the task to look into a woman's miraculous deeds and see if she's fit to become a saint in the Catholic church soon he meets the woman’s world weary daughter Roxanne and begin a relationship with her. Harris character goes through a crisis, similar to a mid-life crisis but for priests and he must decide whether to keep his priestly vows or follow his carnal desires. I wasn't expecting to love the film or the character since movies centered around religion are one-sided more often than not but this one was refreshing. 

Sheriff Cornelius Jackson - Sweetwater (2013)

Harris in one of his westerns always offers something new about the characters he plays in the genre. In Sweetwater he plays an eccentric lawman who is in search of two brothers who went missing in the rugged plains of New Mexico and later finds himself in a blood triangle with a former prostitute and a sadistic preacher. Harris plays his character with gusto and looks to be having the time of his life playing a role where he's allowed to be hilarious, intelligent and eccentric all in one movie. It makes you wish he was asked to play more characters like this.   

Roy McNary - Frontera (2014)

In this modern day western Harris plays a former Arizona sheriff who lives a quiet existence with his wife Libby (played by his real life wife Amy Madigan) and their horses in a ranch that is frequented by immigrants who cross the border over to America. One day, Libby is killed and everyone believes that the was crime perpetrated by an immigrant illegally crossing the border. The story is told from different points of view but Harris plays Roy as unsentimental, equipped with a horse and a pistol looking to find whoever did his wife dirty while also finding empathy along the way. This was the last time Harris got to play the hero before going all dark for Westworld.


Man in Black - Westworld (2016-present)

In the twilight of his career, Harris seems to be relegated into playing two dimensional villains in by the numbers action films, cowboys and villains with depth in films that aren't worth his time. In Westworld he plays the villainous cowboy with depth and despite his violence towards the hosts I could never truly condemn the man. His search for the Maze in season 1 and his journey in season 2 is my favourite in the show despite the many criticisms towards the latter season. I suppose we owe  this more towards the fact that despite being Harris most despicable and detestable role in his career (only second to Just Cause) he manages to make the audience sympathize with him through his performance while also playing a deconstruction of the cowboy trope.

He currently stars as Atticus Finch in Broadway's To Kill a Mockingbird, and will appear next year in the third season of Westworld, The Last Full MeasureTop Gun: Maverick, and the Jesse Eisenberg-led WWII drama Resistance and will start production for his third film as director in The Ploughmen based on Kim Zupan's debut novel in early June in Montana and New Mexico.

Who's your favorite Ed Harris character? Tell me in the comments below.

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