It’s getting to be increasingly hard to describe Sam Rockwell as a character actor, but he does have a habit of playing funny man-boys that border the line between mentor and compatriot. He’s recently moved into many big budget films, like last year’s “Poltergeist” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” However, Sam Rockwell is one of those actors that received their big break in independent film, and continues to return to add his lovable charm to indie mvoies.
Rockwell can be next seen with Anna Kendrick as a hitman who grows a conscience in “Mr. Right.” Afterwards, he will also star in the new Martin McDonagh film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which is set for a 2017 release. Rockwell previously collaborated in another indie movie with McDonagh, “Seven Psychopaths.”
“Box of Moonlight” (1996) – The Kid
The indie darling is responsible for putting Rockwell on the map, and jettisoned him to the forefront of independent film for the years to come. After being turned down for many roles, critics and casting directors recognized his comedic brilliance after playing an eccentric hermit, one of the first man-child roles that would help to define his career. Donning a hippie hairstyle and weird jumpsuit, Rockwell introduced himself as the likable, quirky scene stealer. Although critics were mixed on the reviews of the film itself, they agreed that this was a star-making performance for Rockwell.
“Lawn Dogs” (1997) – Trent
After his winning performance in “Box of Moonlight,” Rockwell gave another great turn in “Lawn Dogs” playing a working-class lawn maintenance worker who befriends an affluent Mischa Barton. Rockwell seems to shine when he acts as a mentor and friend to a younger actor, and the sweet friendship between the two becomes the heart of the movie. In fact, Barton could be considered half of what makes Rockwell’s performance great, since their dynamic wouldn’t have been complete without their bonding over their joined hatred of the preppy neighborhood they experience. We’ll see Rockwell take on this same type of role again in “The Way, Way Back.”
“Moon“(2009) – Sam Bell
Taking on one of the most difficult roles an actor can sign on for, Rockwell carries “Moon” as the only actor to appear on screen. Preceding Sandra Bullock in “Gravity,” Rockwell gives an uncharacteristically intense performance, shedding the charismatic, funny guy that he’s known for. It’s hard to say too much about his multi-layered acting without giving away the plot, so let’s just say that “Moon” probably also inspired Tom Cruise’s “Oblivion” as well as “Gravity.” A slow-burning thriller, “Moon” succeeds largely because of Rockwell’s dedication to the role, and his ability to hold our attention even during some of more fatigued parts of the movie.
“The Winning Season” (2009) – Bill Greaves
2009 was a great year for Rockwell, since he was able to give two very different performances that carried both indie films. Although “The Winning Season” often panders to the clichéd sports movie tropes, Rockwell manages to bring the film back to life and vitality as a father trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter by becoming the basketball coach at her school. His transition from a moody, mopey sap to a bright, funny man who improves as his team and relationships improve. His performance again hinges on his relationships with the younger actors as he serves as a mentor and the occasional friend for the teenage girls.
“Seven Psychopaths” (2012) – Billy
Although Martin McDonagh’s film is bolstered by his well-written script, the fantastic cast elevates “Seven Psychopaths” to cult-level status. Joining Rockwell is an impressive list of names including Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken. Taking on another goofball role, Rockwell plays to his strengths as another teenager stuck in an adult’s body (not literally). A fast-talking cartoon-character, he makes a nice addition to an already slightly kooky cast. The film itself is an original, dark comedy that didn’t receive the attention it deserved.
“The Way, Way Back” (2013) – Owen
In a touchingly sweet and funny role, Rockwell stars as a semi-surrogate dad for the neglected, nerdy Duncan. Although Rockwell does not receive the majority of the screen time, he paints quite a picture as a lovable, talkative flake who runs a water park. Although he seems like an immature adult who’s living the dream of every 12-year-old, Rockwell surprisingly brings a quiet gravitas to the role that shines through moving moments with Liam James. Rockwell appears to be born for the role, but at times it seems like he is simply playing a simpler version of himself. Although the film itself sometimes fails to move past the stereotyped genre of angsty teenage coming-of-age movies, there is just enough sincere emotion and connection between the characters for it to succeed.