*note: this is the first in a 2-part tribute to some of my favorite lesser-known actors.
I was watching The Island the other day -- An underrated film, in my opinion -- when I found myself thinking the same thing I always think when Djimon comes on screen. And that was: "Man, that guy is awesome."
Djimon -- pronounced, as far as I know, Jai-man even though I like to refer to him as Digimon like the old Pokemon animé knock-off.
But I digress.
Djimon has existed comfortably below the radar but within sight ever since making his first major splash as the-only-person-to-survive in Gladiator.
Since then, Digi has stayed busy without buying a condo in A-list paparazzi land, shelling out a score of solid performances in popcorn fare (The Island, Beauty Shop) and critical darlings (The Blood Diamond, In American -- for which he received a well-deserved Oscar Nomination). Even in movies that aren't the most well-recieved (Constantine) or films that just plain suck (Eragon) Digi carries a remarkable gravitas and seems to seize control of his scenes without making a meal of the scenery.
In the aforementioned Island, Hansou plays a mercenary on the trail of two runaway clones. You can see his conflicted character arc and subsequent redemption coming a mile away and yet it still feels real. That, to me, is Digi's strength. He brings a subtle sincerity to the screen and is a complete and utter B.A.
And for someone who could probably crush my head like a grape, he still carries an unreal emotional strength. In no way do I imply that his costars in Gladiator and Blood Diamond were weak -- I mean have you seen Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator? Crazy-scary-freaking awesome -- but in both those movies Digi made the film work for me, no more so than his painfully raw performance of an African slave-laborer in Blood Diamond.
Fantastic stuff, truly.
Chiwetel has been around for a while but he first hit my radar playing the cold-calculating assassin in 2005's Serenity.
Now, I have to admit that anyone associated with the Firefly universe gets an automatic pass to my good side but even so, Chiwetel is gifted and severely under-appreciated actor and has been involved in some fantastic films. Let's take a quick look at his acting resume.
* Love Actually - arguably the greatest chick flick and/or Christmas movie ever made.
* Serenity - 'nuff said.
* Inside Man - a superb trippy entry into the Heist flick genre
* Children of Men - a semi-noir dystopian delight.
* American Gangster - I mean, come on.
* 2012 - dumb as a bag of hair, but you know you saw it and you were entertained.
* Salt - The kind of smash-bang summer tentpole America is founded on.
Take a closer look and you'll recall that Chiwetel's vignette in Love Actually is one of the most memorable (kind of like saying which of your children you love the most, I admit) and sure, it wasn't because of him (how awesome is that cue card confession?) but still, respect.
In Gangster and Inside he's Denzel Washington's right-hand man (not an easy task), in Children he's a traitorous leader of a group of rebels, and in Salt he's the military agent with a conscience who sees through the web of lies.
He's got a little way to go, and admittedly 2012 may not have been the best career move (although he did get to share some screen time with Thandi Newton, no complaint there) but he's a treat every time and I can't wait to see what he does next.