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Robert Pattinson, toeing the line of independent cinema and mainstream Hollywood


When Matthew McConaughey transitioned from a career pedalling romantic comedies and weightless family-friendly roles, his career went through what is now known as the ‘McConaissance’, embracing more serious character roles into the 2010s. Likewise, working to break away from a typecast image as a ‘pin-up boy’, Robert Pattinson was somewhat of a protégé, flirting with mainstream Hollywood cinema before breaking away to have a ‘Pattaisaance’ of his own. 

Whether or not the ‘Pattaisaance’ has a ring to it (it does), it certainly works to explain the revival of Robert Pattinson’s career away from his hunk typecast, toward an altogether more gruff persona. First appearing as fan-favourite Cedric Diggory in 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Robert Pattinson quickly established himself as a teenage heartthrob, appearing in How to Be and cultural phenomenon Twilight four years later. From the series’ inception in 2008 to its closure with Breaking Dawn: Part 2 in 2012, Pattinson became the subject of desire for tweens across the world, even engaging in pop-culture competition with his co-star Taylor Lautner for heartthrob supremacy. It was his role as pale-faced vampire Edward Cullen that would seize the attention of young audiences, but perhaps his ulterior roles in 2010s Remember Me and Water for Elephants a year later that would establish the actor as a Hollywood darling; at least until 2012.  

Upon the conclusion of the Twilight series, and Pattinson’s newly acquired role in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, the actor’s pin-up status was about to be torn down and the ‘Pattaisaance’ about to begin. Starring as a billionaire asset-manager riding in a limousine across Manhattan, Pattinson dominates the screen in Cronenberg’s strange odyssey against capitalism, showing off a peculiar malaise that would suggest a future for the actor rich in complexity. As film critic Robbie Collin wrote upon the film’s release, “Pattinson plays him like a human caldera; stony on the surface, with volcanic chambers of nervous energy and self-loathing churning deep below.”

Such a critical success opened Pattinson up to a new avenue of filmmaking, one that viewed him as a serious tool to benefit the story, as opposed to a purely aesthetic figure. His second collaboration with director David Cronenberg in Maps to the Stars would help Pattinson to consolidate his newfound ambitions, though it was his role in 2014’s The Rover that would catapult him to future success. Underappreciated upon its release, David Michôd’s hopeless post-apocalyptic tale is set in the Australian outback ten years after a global economic collapse where Eric (Guy Pearce) and Rey (Pattinson) form a tumultuous bond. A desperate portrayal from Pattinson perfectly reflects the chaos of a post-apocalyptic scenario that focuses less on the infrastructural damage of such an event, and more on the psychological impact. 

In a barren landscape of ruthless villainy, a timid defeated Rey sings alone in the darkness of his car. Sheepishly singing along in broken-breath to Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock”, the true power of Robert Pattinson’s performance is revealed, exposing a tender underbelly to the boney, rugged exterior of his character. This moment itself marks the turning point in the perception of the actor, with the same sympathetic hardiness elicited from future performances in the Safdie brothers’ Good Time, as well as Claire Denis’ High Life.

Establishing himself as one of the most exciting actors of his generation, Pattinson impressively rejected the glamour of mainstream filmmaking and has instead bought his star persona to independent cinema. Though his passion for the spotlight has never dwindled, appearing in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, and soon to be donning the jet-black cape of the Dark Knight in The Batman, Pattinson brings an enigmatic assertion to every role he adopts, it’s no wonder he remains such a seductively endearing figure.