“What’s your favorite Colin Farrell movie?” was the message I sent out to friends, a very specific group of heterosexual female and gay male friends, the people whom you’d assume would be the most excited to talk about anything related to the unfairly good looking Irish actor. Here are the answers:
- “What’s that gay movie he was in? I can’t remember the name. I saw that. Other than that one I haven’t seen his films.”
- “I liked the part in ‘Phone Booth’ with the hooker. And I liked ‘Minority Report’ but I don’t really remember him in it. I guess that doesn’t count then, right?”
- “None. I think his bad boy mannerisms are pretentious.”
- “I’ve got ‘Tigerland’ in my Netflix queue because I heard you see his butt.”
- “The sex tape. Seriously, that’s the only thing I’ve seen.”
At first I thought, “What gives?” I mean it’s Colin Farrell. Just look at the man. Who cares if “S.W.A.T” sucked. Isn’t simply enjoying the way the camera loves him enough? Isn’t everyone else as shallow as I am? Whatever their reasons for ignoring him, the fact remains Farrell’s most marketed-to potential fans haven’t taken the bait yet. Neither has the rest of America. He’s famous, but his presence in a movie is no gauge of its box-office or critical success.
And then I decided I wasn’t stunned so much at all.
We didn’t get a chance to discover Colin Farrell. He appeared in a Tim Roth-directed movie called “The War Zone” that, trust me, you don’t want to see. Not that it was bad. It was just a miserably depressing movie about child molestation. And then he played a young military recruit in Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland.” It was another small film, but Farrell was shot like he was the object of his director’s lustful gaze. And he probably was. So the buzz began about a hot new screen star and his Brando-like talent. But the buzzers forgot about how very few people saw either of these films on the big screen. If you did see them it was likely because you were a film critic.
The next thing you know he’s being served up on a big platter by Vanity Fair and all the other magazines and Entertainment Tonight-ish shows that rely on an endless stream of new, pretty faces to keep their bored editors interested in life. How many times can you look at Brad Pitt, after all, before it wears off and you have to think about his acting ability? New meat has to come from somewhere. Why not Ireland?
But even though he’s a star we’re stuck with because the people who make entertainment decisions have told us we’re stuck with him, we could do a lot worse. Farrell can act. He’s been in some cruddy movies (“American Outlaws,” “Daredevil,” “Alexander”) but he’s been in some decent ones (“Miami Vice,” which opens July 28th, and is pretty darn good) and at least one excellent film, Terrence Malick’s “The New World,” a movie that, like many of the others Farrell’s been in, underperformed at the box office.
Let’s talk about sex
So he’s talented. He’s good-looking. Word is they love him on sets. He’s worked with big deal directors like Schumacher, Spielberg, Malick and now Michael Mann. They want him, the media wants him, someone named Dessarae Bradford wants him enough to try to physically attack him on the set of “The Tonight Show” — a get-in-all-the-papers mini-event that couldn’t feel any more like a publicity stunt to promote “Miami Vice” than it already does. So why hasn’t the public responded with their ticket money when it’s not a movie that also stars Tom Cruise, like “Minority Report,” or a no-brainer like “S.W.A.T.?”
I think it’s about sex. We as a nation are scared of Colin Farrell’s blatant sexuality.
Don’t buy it? Take Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or George Clooney. All sex symbols. Outside of a screen-grab split-second in “All The Right Moves,” have we any real evidence that Tom Cruise has genitalia? No, we don’t. He’s unattainable. Regardless of his current blip-length dip in popularity, he’s still aspirational. He courts us avidly but chastely. We’ll never have him and we can dream safely because we know we’ll never have him. This is how we want it.
Pitt has gone out of his way to ugly himself up for roles, to publicly enjoy things like architecture, to remind us that he’s a real actor and a smart person who wears glasses sometimes and goes off with Angelina Jolie to fight poverty and executive produces documentaries about Sudanese refugees. So when he takes off his shirt in a movie to reveal his dozen-pack or however many muscles his lower torso contains, he’s even more unreachable than Cruise because now we’re also supposed to be in awe of his brain. We know that we’ll never have him because we’ll never be Frank Gehry. And Frank Gehry won’t have him either.
Clooney cuts through his sex symbolry and simultaneously fuels it by being funny. You’d sooner hang out with him than strip him down. And it’s this kind of personalized balance that keeps these three marketable, loveable, desirable and generally able to open movies.
Farrell, on the other hand, has a sex tape that is the only commonly seen denominator among the friends I talked to. And a party-hard rep. And subsequently a stint in rehab under his belt at 30. And his own shrine on the gossip Web sites. And tabloid stories of him bedding more famous women than just about anyone of his generation. But whether those stories are true or not isn’t the point. There’s not a shred of soft ambiguity about him. No Rob-Lowe-in-the-’80s androgyny. He doesn’t have occasional gay rumors popping up. He could get you pregnant. Or give you an STD. His fingernails could be dirty. The gritty sensuality he displays onscreen whenever the camera lets him also spills over into reality. And that would be okay with us if he weren’t so pretty. But he is. So we’re terrified. We like to gossip about him but we don’t want him in our homes or dating our sisters.
And don’t look for him to tone it down onscreen anytime soon. You won’t remember a thing he says in “Miami Vice” but you’ll remember the way he dances with Chinese actress Gong Li. At the screening I attended a small group of bold young women behind me applauded openly and knowingly when those two began their 30-foot-tall lambada. Those media-employed women (it was an all-media screening) get it, even if lots of ticket buyers don’t. His reign of sex-danger is just beginning.
For now at least. He’s still young. And a father. And rehab seems to have done him some good. A stern publicist could help too. He’ll stay a star. And if he’s smart and secretly oddball enough he’ll make cooler choices than “S.W.A.T.” in the future and maybe inherit the Johnny Depp crown someday. Weirder things have happened. Just don’t look for him to sink into Gary Busey obscurity anytime soon. And maybe, in the not too distant future, moviegoers will decide that his name above the title is a product safe enough to consume.
Dave White is the author of “Exile in Guyville” and writes film criticism for Movies.com. He can be found at .