Actor Profile: Colin Farrell

Actor Profile: Colin Farrell
Colin Farrell

There are certain stereotypes that continue in Hollywood: the young ingenue, the method actor and the bad boy, to name a few. Colin Farrell was introduced to us as the Hollywood bad boy when he broke out on the scene in the early 2000s. And all the stereotypes followed him; he was the brash Irish drinker, the womanizer, and the foulmouthed lad. Luckily, he has made one of the successful comebacks in Hollywood history and has reinvented his career with some of the most interesting and beautiful independent and commercial films. Along the same vein of Robert Downey Jr., Farrell has embraced his past and has been able to forge through as an actor of substance and grace.

Sports fans often follow players throughout their careers, mapping their accomplishments and following them from team to team. I do the same when it comes to actors. And I will admit that I have gotten a fair amount of judgement from others when I say that I am a Colin Farrell fan. Sure, he has done some films that I am not so fond of, but I’m a sucker for the underdog with a good comeback story.

Irish Roots

Colin Farrell was born in 1976 in Castleknock, Ireland, a suburb of Dublin. His father, Eamon, played football for the Shamrock Rovers. Colin spent his youth playing football and finding himself in trouble often at school. He would daydream frequently, get into fights, and skip class. In his late teens, Colin became interested in pursuing acting, and with the encouragement of his brother, he auditioned for the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin. After spending a year at the school, Colin landed a television role on Ballykissangel.

In just a few short years of small television and film roles, Colin’s agent in Dublin got him an audition for Joel Schumacher’s latest film, Tigerland. Colin traveled to America for the first time to go through the auditioning process and ended up landing the role. He left Ireland for Hollywood and his acting career almost immediately exploded into super stardom.

The Recruit (2003)

Actor Profile: Colin Farrell
The Recruit (2003) – source: Buena Vista Pictures

Colin Farrell’s first commercial film was Tigerland, directed by Joel Schumacher. It was followed by Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise. So it would only make sense for his third film to be starring opposite an acting legend, like Al Pacino, in The Recruit. I first saw this film when I was fifteen and I went to see it because I am a huge Al Pacino fan. Unfortunately, I walked into the movie theater a couple minutes late and rushed to a seat. It was a few moments before Farrell popped on the screen and my teenage heart couldn’t take it; I was officially in love. I sat in that movie theater completely infatuated with this new actor. He had an old time quality about him, that certain je ne sais qua of actors from a previous era. Pacino had my admiration, but Farrell had my heart. (Yes, I am fully aware of how vomit-inducing this whole description is, but I don’t care, it’s my truth!).

James Clayton, played by Farrell, is a software programmer, who gains the interest of CIA recruiter, Walter Burke, played by Al Pacino. Clayton’s father was killed when he was young and had involvement with the CIA. Burke, knowing this, plays on Clayton’s past to get him into the CIA training camp, known as The Farm. At The Farm, Clayton meets Layla Moore, played by Bridget Moynahan, and they quickly spark up a relationship. After a training exercise gone wrong, Clayton is expelled from the camp and made to believe that he washed out of the program. Burke visits him to explain that he is actually in a coveted position, he did not wash of the program, but that he has to start following Moore because they believe she is a sleeper cell. After hesitation, Clayton takes on the job only to find out that it’s Burke who has turned against the CIA, not Moore.

No one can really upstage Pacino, but Farrell does a really good job of holding his own alongside him. While the film was not a huge blockbuster, it did prove that Farrell had the acting chops to work with film legends and co-headline a major motion picture.

The New World (2005)

Actor Profile: Colin Farrell
The New World (2005) – source: New Line Cinema

To continue his trend of working with the greats in film, Colin Farrell starred in The New World, directed by Terrence Malick. Malick’s cinematography style is effortless and beautiful, and The New World embodies that. Farrell plays Captain John Smith as he travels to the new world and is captured by the natives. As we all know from history, he meets Pocahontas, played by Q’orianka Kilcher, and starts the building of Jamestown. 

The film gives a glimpse into the hardships of colonization, the speech and culture barrier between the English and the natives, and the difficult living conditions of the time. But what the film is really about is the love story between Pocahontas and Smith. Malick gives us numerous shots of the two frolicking in the fields, bathing in the rivers, and attempting to communicate through gestures and hand motions. The films dialogue is sparse and relies heavily on the movement of the actors. It’s beautiful. That’s all I can really say to sum up this film. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking. Smith knows he can never have a relationship with Pocahontas, so he walks away and leaves her distraught. But we see as she begins to love again when she is introduced to John Rolfe, played by Christian Bale. The love triangle that is depicted is heart-wrenching and accurate and proves that first loves are always hard to overcome.

Farrell pulls off the doing’s of his character rather well. What I mean by that is that he embodied his character without having to rely too much on dialogue; he just is. His portrayal of Smith is one that might be different than what we learned about in history books, but he conveys a man of duty and a man who is moved by love.

In Bruges (2008)

Actor Profile: Colin Farrell
In Bruges (2008) – source: Universal Studios

There is a chance that at one point in my life I had an entire conversation with another person made up entirely of quotes from the film In Bruges. I’m not saying I’m proud of it, I’m just stating that it happened. When I come across a person questioning Colin Farrell’s acting skills, I immediately tell them to watch this film. It’s hilarious, depressing, and smart.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges follows two hit men as they lay low in the Belgium town of Bruges. Ray (Farrell), and his partner Ken, (Brendan Gleeson), flee to Bruges while they wait for orders from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), after a job cost the life of an innocent person. While they wait, Ken decides to become a tourist and take in the sights of the town. Ray, on the other hand, is unable to appreciate anything around him and it is revealed that the reason they had to flee was because Ray accidentally shot a young boy. Unable to cope with what he has done, Ray tries to kill himself, but is stopped by Ken. This is not good news to Harry, who has given Ken the job of killing Ray. When Harry learns that Ken refuses this job, he travels to Bruges to do the job himself. What ensues is a comical chase through the streets of Bruges, probably the last place on earth that anyone would expect hit men to go running after each other.

Colin Farrell alongside Gleeson makes for a powerful duo. In this film, Farrell covers an array of emotions, which makes it difficult when trying to categorize it into a genre. And I think that’s why I love this film so much; it’s inability to be defined. What can be defined by this movie is that Colin Farrell is an actor of range and depth. His comedic timing and emotional presence are apparent every time he is on screen.

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Actor Profile: Colin Farrell
Seven Psychopaths (2012) – source: Momentum Pictures

Farrell teamed up again with Martin McDonagh for the ridiculous and hilarious movie Seven Psychopaths. The only way that I can describe this film is that it’s a story about a story that involves a lot of murder and a dog. Sound strange? Well, it is, but it’s full of rich, fleshed-out characters and a lot of demented comedy.

Marty (Farrell), is a screenwriter who is dealing with writer’s block as he tries to finish his script “Seven Psychopaths”. His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is a dog thief who is constantly giving Marty the wrong advice. Billy has a partner in his business, Hans (Christopher Walken). Billy and Hans end up stealing a shih tzu that belongs to a prominent crime boss, Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). As the story-line unfolds of Charlie trying to get his dog back, Marty tells the stories of the Seven Psychopaths that he has already written. His story is missing one psychopath and Billy suggests that he use the real life “Jack of Diamonds” killer, who recently committed a double homicide. There are story-line’s crossing all over the place, but the film is one cohesive unit. Marty, Hans, and Billy all flee to the desert to get away from Charlie and his gang. Marty sees a paper that Billy is connected to the Jack of Diamonds killer. Billy, is in fact, the Jack of Diamonds killer and created that persona to help Marty finish his script. Both Billy and Hans are murdered by Charlie and his crew, leaving Marty with plenty of material to finish his script.

Colin Farrell’s performance serves as the anchor to Rockwell and Walken‘s grandiose characters. The film balances comedy and violence without being absurd. Just reading about the plot does not do the film any sort of justice; it’s a must see.

The Lobster (2015)

Actor Profile: Colin Farrell
The Lobster (2015) – source: A24

Everyone has those movie experiences that they consider life-changing. The ones where you sit in the theater minutes after the final credits role just to try to come to terms with what you just saw. The Lobster was one of those experiences for me. I sat and watched this film, frequently asking myself “what the hell is going on?” while simultaneously being aware of the fact that I was watching something of pure genius. The Lobster was the first English language film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz.

The film takes place in a society where being single is banned. If you are single you are sent to a place called The Hotel and given forty-five days to find a partner. If you don’t find a mate, you will be turned into an animal of your choice. David, played by Farrell, is sent to the hotel and decides to be turned into a lobster if he doesn’t find a partner. In order to extend their time past the forty-five days, the guests can go out into the woods and shoot free folk, the “loners”, who have chosen to remain single. Each loner buys the guest another day. After not being able to match with anyone, David fakes similarities with another guest just to get into a relationship and buy more time. When the woman senses what David is doing, she kills his brother, a dog. David flees the hotel and joins with the loners. But the loners have their own sets of rules and one of them is that they cannot partner up with anyone. David, who is shortsighted, falls in love with a shortsighted woman, played by Weisz. They have to speak in code to not be caught. The leader of the loners, played by Léa Seydoux, finds the shortsighted woman’s journal and forces them to go to the city where she has an operation performed on Weisz that causes her to go blind. Now that David and the woman no longer have anything in common, they sit at a restaurant debating their future.

The story-line of this film left me giddy with its originality. But the real genius of this movie is Farrell’s perfect dead-panned performance. I marveled at how hard it must have been to be so emotionless while still conveying an emotional story. This film is utterly amazing and anyone who dares to question Farrell’s abilities after viewing this is an absolute fool!

Colin Farrell: Conclusion

I tend to get a little carried away when it comes to subjects that I care about. As you can tell, I care a great deal about the career of Colin Farrell. He started off as my teenage heartthrob (and still is) and has progressed into an actor that I admire. Everyone loves a good comeback and Colin Farrell is one of my favorites. From the horrible Hollywood bad boy image to a mellowed actor who does character-driven roles, Farrell is a force to be reckoned with. I will agree that a lot of his film choices have not been the best, but look at any successful actor’s career and you will find a few duds. Farrell’s choices continue to evolve and become more character-based, which is a delight to me.

What are some of your favorite Colin Farrell films? Does his more recent work help change the narrative of his career?

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Michelle Sabato

Michelle Sabato is an actor and writer from Cleveland, Ohio. By the age of 2 Michelle had memorized all the words to The Wizard of Oz. So, yes, she can carry a conversation with just using movie quotes.

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