Eight must-see John C. Reilly performances
John C. Reilly is one of the most recognized and celebrated character actors today, and he stars in “Stan & Ollie”, a film about the famous comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The much-anticipated movie – that also includes Steve Coogan - arrives in Phoenix on Friday, Jan. 11, and while Reilly hopes to deliver in his latest film, let’s look back at his must-see performances.
This list is limited to eight, but admittedly, many more movies/roles could have been included. For instance, his work in “The Sisters Brothers” (2018) and “Kong: Skull Island” (2017) immediately come to mind, and others delve farther back, like his bit role in the Irish mob movie “State of Grace” (1990) and his Golden Globe-nominated effort in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007). Reilly works hard in front of the camera, but he makes it seem so effortless with a natural everyman-persona throughout his jam-packed, 30-year career.
“Boogie Nights” (1997), Reed Rothchild – Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s groovy and winding tale of a dishwasher-turned-pornstar struts with confident bravado but also twists through the seedy underbelly of the industry. With a perilous journey ahead, our hero Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) - who becomes Dirk Diggler – needs a wingman, and Reed (Reilly) is that guy! Sure, Reed boasts about his weightlifting prowess and resemblance to Han Solo, but this good-intentioned doofus always has Eddie’s/Dirk’s back, even when they flail in the recording studio or attempt to rob a drug dealer. What are best friends for?
“Cedar Rapids” (2011), Dean Ziegler – Ed Helms and Reilly are perfectly cast as a squeaky-clean Tim Lippe and a boorish Dean Ziegler, respectively. They - along with a collection of midwestern insurance salespeople - descend on Cedar Rapids for an annual convention. While Lippe needs this business trip to find his way in the game of life, Dean feels overwhelming needs to play drinking games and regularly emit inappropriate comments, but hey, the man certainly livens up a room. Every moment with Dean (nicknamed Deanzy, or is it Deanzie?) is pure comedic gold, and Reilly lifts an ordinary story to big, new heights with barrages of lows.
“Chicago” (2002), Amos Hart – Director Rob Marshall’s musical collected some serious Oscar hardware, six statues to be exact, and the film also garnered seven other Academy Award nominations, including Reilly’s Best Supporting Actor nod. While “And All That Jazz” is the most famous song, and “We Both Reached for the Gun” is the most catchy, “Mister Cellophane” might be the most memorable. Mister Cellophane is none other than Amos Hart (Reilly), who is constantly passed over, used or ignored by his wife (Renee Zellweger), her lawyer (Richard Gere) - who cannot stop calling him Andy - and everyone else. You see, Amos is right when he sings, “Cause you can look right through me, walk right by me and never know I’m there.” Poor Andy…err, Amos.
“Hard Eight” (1996), John Finnegan – Sad sack John (Reilly) sits on the ground and props his back against the wall of a diner without a dime or a friend in the world, but a grandfatherly gentlemen named Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) walks up and offers him a cup of coffee and a cigarette. The two start a sunny teacher-apprentice relationship and navigate in-between the raindrops within the local casinos, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s feature film debut ensures that everyone on-screen gets a bit wet in a nifty, character-driven crime story. This is Hall’s movie, but Reilly’s John brings a naïveté that always keeps the audience thinking, “When will John screw this whole thing up?”
“Les Cowboys” (2016), The American – Reilly’s appearance, in this gritty drama wrapped in European cultural clashes, comes as a total surprise, so it feels like a spoiler to even mention that he stars in veteran screenwriter Thomas Bidegain’s first directing effort. A concerned father Alain (Francois Damiens) desperately searches for his missing daughter and drags his son Georges (Finnegan Oldfield) into his pursuit. They find few answers, but a mysterious American (Reilly) with a questionable background might provide some clues. Reilly plays way off-type here, as his character offers plenty of risks instead of hearty laughs.
“Magnolia” (1999), Jim Kurring – In Paul Thomas Anderson’s multiple-storyline masterpiece, he introduces several dysfunctional characters who cope with present day-life and dwell on the past. Anderson’s favorite actors make appearances, including Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, and of course, Reilly. Reilly plays a lonely Los Angeles cop who falls for an emotionally-distressed woman but does not recognize her obvious troubles and shortcomings. Officer Jim Kurring (Reilly) carries his own faults too. He does not think that he’s the greatest cop, but he might surprise himself. Well, one should not be surprised that Reilly hits another acting-bullseye.
“Step Brothers” (2008), Dale Doback – Two years after directing “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006), Adam McKay brings Will Ferrell and Reilly together again for one of the funniest lowbrow comedies in recent memory. Two 40-somethings with severe cases of arrested development are forced to live together, and the hilarity between Brennan (Ferrell) and Dale (Reilly) never stops for 98 minutes. Look, Dale’s first kiss at the 34-minute mark is worth the entire price of admission. Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, and Rob Riggle help enable Ferrell’s and Reilly’s adolescent hijinks.
“Terri” (2011), Mr. Fitzgerald - High school is the best time of your life. That’s what the collective they say, right? Well, not for everyone and include Terri (Jacob Wysocki), a troubled loner, in this underappreciated group. When Terri’s classwork suffers, and he starts sporting pajamas to school, assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald (Reilly) intervenes. Not by blasting him into an eternity of detention, but by becoming his mentor. Reilly brings his unique comic touch to this charming indie, as Mr. Fitzgerald bares his soul and gives weathered perspectives like, “Life’s a mess, Dude, but we’re all just doing the best we can.” Woody Harrelson’s work in “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016) includes more sarcasm, but he almost seems to model Reilly’s 2011 performance.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.