SYNOPSIS: I, Frankenstein, Aaron Eckhart’s martial arts update of the famous Mary Shelley story wasn’t screened for the press in time to meet our deadline, so after a long conversation with our editor the Reel Guys have decided to do a column on Eckhart’s oeuvre. At least that’s how we saw it. Our boss has a different idea. “As your editor I demand a thorough dissection of Eckhart’s abs,” she wrote before adding, “More than pretty, Eckhart is.” What follows is our humble attempt to mix cinematic business with our editor’s pleasure.
RC: Mark, Aaron Eckhart isn’t exactly a household name, but he has appeared in some very big movies. He’s the only live-action actor in the Batman films to play both Harvey Dent and his villainous alter-ego Two-Face. The Dark Knight is by far and away his biggest hit, followed by his star-making turn in Erin Brockovich but despite those box office busters we don’t talk about the handsome actor in the same breath as a-listers like Cruise, di Caprio or Smith. He has the above- mentioned absn and is versatile to star in everything from video game action movies like Battle: Los Angeles to hardcore dramas like Rabbit Hole and yet doesn’t get the same recognition as many of his peers. What’s your take on him?
Mark: You mean the cleft that walked like a man? I could probably fit my grad thesis in there! Eckhart exploded onto my radar with two films he did in the late Nineties, both by the cynical playwright Neil Labute: In the Company Men, and Your Friends and Neighbors. In both films he plays despicable, curdled, almost unwatchably misogynistic men. The key word here is almost. As rotten as he behaves in these movies, there’s an inchoate grace under the surface that redeems the characters, and it’s a testimony to his acting skills that he can keep us watching. And that cleft.
RC: Some like the cleft, some the abs. I like his versatility. In a year span between 2010 and ’11 he released three very different movies. In Rabbit Hole and Nicole Kidman were a couple trying to deal with the death of their four-year-old son. They are at different stages of their grief, but they share a couple of things; a terrible sense of loss and an inability to know how to deal with it. Terrific stuff. Next was the alien invader movie Battle Los Angeles followed by The Rum Diaries where he played a slick PR person. Three different movies and three very different performances. Maybe we have a hard time defining him because he constantly does wild career flip flops.
MB: Or because there’s an opacity to him that allows him to play so many compromised characters, allowing us to project our feelings onto him. Look at one of his finest roles, as the tobacco lobbyist in Thank You For Smoking. He’s so slick, so shifty, we don’t judge him, precisely because we don’t really know him. A quality that’s great for an actor. but less so for a movie star. I really liked him in Rabbit Hole and Rum Diaries, too, but his mainstream work doesn’t register with me as much. Except for his cleft.
RC: He’s has made a number of movies I wouldn’t recommend for the big screen but work well enough as rentals. Two action films, Erased and Suspect Zero are very VOD friendly and feature many cleft hero shots.
MB: Or two romantic comedies that would have been disastrous without him: No Reservations and Love Happens. He doesn’t do nude scenes in them, though, because in close-up you couldn’t tell if it were his backside or his cleft.