Critics used to love Brendan Fraser. Early on Roger Ebert called him “subtle and attuned” and Barbara Ellen in The Times raved that he was “a revelation — so measured, suave and intrinsically watchable.”
That was then. This is now.
Lately the tone of his reviews has taken a turn. “Noticeably uninvolved” and “worn out” are just two descriptions of his current work in movies like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. One blogger even wrote, with simple hatful eloquence, “His face makes me angry.”
I thought of this as I watched Inkheart. A big budget fantasy adventure, it encapsulates everything that’s wrong with Fraser’s career. It’s another forgettable performance in an unremarkable movie that allows the premise and the CGI to overshadow everything else. According to avclub.com, in recent years this guy has spent so much time in front of a green screen “his children probably have traces of CGI in their DNA.”
Of course Fraser would counter that he’s not making films for the critics, but judging by the gross of the last Mummy movie, he’s not making them for audiences either.
But let’s put the snarkiness aside for a moment and remember a time when Fraser was actually considered a real actor. Years before he discovered the financial benefits of emoting in front of a green screen he made small, interesting, character-driven films.
For example, in Gods and Monsters Fraser played Clay Boone, a young straight ex-Marine who forms a bond with James Whale, the elderly gay director of Frankenstein played by Ian McKellen. Fraser’s take on Clay is complicated but sympathetic as he forms a platonic relationship with the older man who becomes the father figure he never had. In this film Fraser holds his own against the masterful McKellen.
The Quiet American sees Fraser as Alden Pyle, an idealist who must learn to deal with moral ambiguity. Again his work is well crafted and thoughtful.
Further acting high points include the image obsessed district attorney in Crash; and Journey to the End of Night’s Paul, a degenerate gambler who double-crosses his father and tries to run off with the cash.
Not since Orson Welles voiced commercials for a frozen pea company has one actor squandered his talent so flagrantly, so let’s remember Fraser for the good ones — the ones listed above as well as 1997’s Still Breathing —and hope that he gets over his green screen addiction sooner rather than later.
– Richard Crouse is the author of Son of the 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen and film critic for CTV’s Canada AM.