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From Yorgos Lanthimos to Steven Spielberg: The 10 best Colin Farrell films

“You’re scrutinised all through your life – you’re scrutinized by your family, by yourself, by society, and your friends in a certain way, shape, or form.”

As Colin Farrell turns 45 today on May 31, 2021, one cannot help but marvel at the actor’s versatility, talent and skill with which he handles each role, carefully weaving his Irish identity within characters that need that extra pus. Proud of his roots, Farrell has often proclaimed that “being Irish is very much a part of who I am. I take it everywhere with me.” Born in the suburbs of Dublin, Farrell was more invested in football and running a health food shop in his formative years. That said, he was always interested in acting as well and credits his sister for fanning his interest in films. “My sister would be up at two o’clock in the morning watching black-and-white movies on TV, and I’d stay up and watch them with her—Hitchcock and stuff,” the actor once commented.

Later, Farrell had decided to try acting to get rid of his laziness and “drinking and smoking” habits, attempting acting at the National performing Arts School in Ireland, which he loved. To Farrell, acting was never “therapeutic” as he did not try to “hide behind it by changing into this person or that person”; it was simply a “huge challenge” for him as it was “hard and frustrating” and constantly kept him on his toes.  

His debut TV role was in the BBC drama Ballyykissangel as Danny Byrne after which he was consistent in few shows before making his feature film debut in Tim Roth’s 1999 directorial debut The War Zone. The film, which dealt with the heavyweight theme of child abuse, saw Farrell’s excellent work with a troubling toping lead to him being rewarded with a casting role in his breakthrough role in Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland, a job which propelled him to fame and critical acclaim and brought him to audience attention. Following a few commercial failures, he enacted in some box office hits including Phone Booth, The Recruit, S.W.A.T and more, where his intensity and calibre were well appreciated. However, his American accent derived some criticism as opposed to the high praise he garnered for his brilliant performance. 

A popular face in the realm of independent cinema, Farrell has made no secrets of his struggles with his addiction issues while delivering phenomenal performances; yet the former impacted the latter immensely and Farrell said that “there was an energy that was created, a character that was created, that no doubt benefited me. And then there was a stage where it all began to crumble around me.” While addiction helped him escape his inner demons, it had an adverse effect on his career. However, his impeccable acting chops kept the ship sailing. After starring in acclaimed films such as Intermission, The New World, Ask the Dust, Cassandra’s Dream and more, Farrell won his first Golden Globe Award for his brilliant performance as a rookie hitman in Martin McDonagh’s 2007 film In Bruges. 

Farrell is known for frequently collaborating with the same director over and over again, namely martin McDonagh, Joel Schumacher and Yorgos Lanthimos. With Lanthimos, Farrell has been able to embrace the character actor in him as the quirky director manages to help the actor deliver intricate dialogues steeped in satire and dark humour with deadpan expressions. In films such as The Lobster and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Farrell delivers his best performances and has amassed a lot of praise. He shall be next seen in the 2022 film by Matt Reeves, The Batman as the supervillain Penguin, pitted against Robert Pattinson in the lead.

To celebrate this uber-talented actor’s birthday, let us take a look at his 10 best films that are a testament to his skill, prowess and brilliant execution of each and every role assigned: 

The 10 best Colin Farrell movies:

10. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)

Steve Murphy is a skilful and successful cardiothoracic surgeon who is somnophilic and has a somewhat happy family. He extends his shoulder for a grieving Martin to cry on as the latter has recently lost his father in a car accident and is having difficulties dealing with it. Overwhelmed by the boy’s sorrow, Murphy introduces him to his family which proves to be a big mistake as soon Murphy learns of Martin’s ulterior motives to get back at the doctor as he believes that his father died due to the surgeon’s callousness. As Martin embarks to destroy the Murphy family by crippling their children one by one, the parents try to find ways in which they can prevent their family from crumbling down. 

Lanthimos’ film is disturbing and tends to seep under one’s skin due to the idiosyncratic director’s genius shining through. In his second collaboration with the director, while Farrell delivers a wonderful, sympathetic yet eerie performance, seeing him unite with Nicole Kidman once again is a delight. Farrell apparently was nauseous after reading the script of the film which is itself self-explanatory of the kind of ominous and uncomfortable aura of the film. The characters deliver cold and monotonous dialogues with effortless ease which escalates the overall tension of the plot. Lanthimos manages to uphold the surrealism that is unique to him in this venture as well. 

“A surgeon never kills a patient. An anesthesiologist can kill a patient, but a surgeon never can.”

9. The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola, 2017)

Reeking of the female gaze embedded in Gothic horror, the film revolves around the haunting setting with the Civil War as the backdrop where Miss Farnsworth and Miss Morrow are teaching certain girl students in a seminary. A young Amy finds an unconscious soldier who is nearly dead in the mossy forests and brings him to the school. Miss Farnsworth decides to tend to his leg and take care of him till he gets better however, the women soon find themselves ensnared by his beauty and feel the pangs of desire and arousal as they try and vie for his attention, jostling one another. They soon find out that this dashing devil is manipulative and calculating lest the beguiled ladies seek action.

Sofia Coppola had won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film festival, being the first woman to do so in the last 50 years and rightfully so. The director had manipulated the screen ratio to add a sense of ominous claustrophobia to the film. Themes of jealousy and betrayal emerging from repressed sexuality take the forefront in the film. The characters are scheming and treacherous and lust brings out the worst in the kindest of hearts. Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst deliver well-balanced performances while Farrell as the lecherous and deceiving John McBurney is loathsome and dangerous. The character was Irish in the book and thus Farrell got to stick to his native Dubliner accent for the role. 

“Well, well, well. What are you lovely Southern ladies learning today? The art of castration?”

8. Tigerland (Joel Schumacher, 2000)

In 1971 as the United States is still at loggerheads with Vietnam in the Vietnam War, the dreadful casualties and the palpably escalating tension threatens the stability of the nation. At Fort Polk in Louisana, more men start joining them and the Second Platoon starts infantry training. One of the anti-establishment draftee Roland Bozz has a natural leadership quality and revels in helping misfits escape. He soon clambers to the top and becomes the team leader which does not sit well with Wilson, a racist, who vows to avenge this and take Bozz down. 

With his brilliant and galvanizing performance as the indifferent Bozz, Farrell made his way into the hearts of the American audience and cemented his position among Hollywood stars. To see a newcomer deliver his performance with utmost passion was refreshing and added to the grappling nature of this documentary-like film. In an interview with the Interview Magazine, Farrell had elucidated his rebellious character by talking about how “my character, Bozz, was very aware that America was losing the war and that there wasn’t even a 50-50 chance that you’d survive. The chances were you were gonna come back in a body bag if you come back at all”. 

“Just because you wear those sergeant’s stripes don’t mean you ain’t gonna die.”

7. Phone Booth (Joel Schumacher, 2002)

Stuart Shephard is an arrogant, charismatic and manipulative New York-based publicist who is an infidel. He is married to kelly yet charms her into believing that he loves her while cheating on her with his girlfriend Pam. One day, while on a phone call with whom he believes is Pam, Stuart connects with a dangerous and witty sniper who coerces him into a mind game of corruption, power and psyche. He is tricked into complying with the sniper’s demands even as the police arrive and surround the phone booth while Stuart is left deciding whether or not he must step out. 

After working with Colin Farrell in the 2000 flick Tigerland, Schumacher was eager to cast Farrell in the lead role much to the chagrin of the studio who had not watched the film yet and campaigned for Jim Carrey instead. However, after watching Farrell’s intriguing presence in the aforementioned film, they complied. Farrell’s wonderful performance as the lying cheat who is thrust into a world of morality and conscience makes the film a nail-biting watch. While Kiefer Sutherland’s voice sends goosebumps to the viewer’s skin, it is Farrell’s captivating on-screen presence that makes the film so riveting. Recounting his shooting experience, Farrell found it “strange when I was just confined to this space and it was all this dialogue and there was all this pandemonium and I didn’t want to just scream for an hour and 25 minutes and the whole thing and he wants to have a bit of up and down and so I just put myself under, you know, healthy mind pressure.” 

“You’re not going to let us go. I know a thing or two about lies, and I know a thing or two about liars.”

6. Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009)

57-year-old four-time-divorced alcoholic Otis ‘Bad’ Blake was a jaded country singer-songwriter who is now stuck doing small gigs. He is a failure in his personal life and it is not until he meets and falls in love with Jean that he wants to get a grip over himself. He reaches out to his ex-mentee, now a star, Tommy Sweet and performs the opening act, before being offered by Sweet to write songs for him. However, with his raging alcoholism slowly seeping out of control, Bad’s family life gets affected and he risks losing everything that he has built in a very short span of time before he commits himself to a treatment program to rid his system of alcohol. 

Jeff Bridges as Bad won an Academy Award for his performance as the exhausted country star. Colin Farrel, as his mentee, does a brilliant job and proves his mettle to the audience with his singing. Both Bridges and Farrell had sung their individual songs by training with a voice coach named Roger Love. when Farrell and Bridges performed live, the crowd went gaga over their performance. The film cemented Farrell’s calibre and multidimensional talent while presenting to us a familiar story that tugged at the heartstrings. 

“Son, I’ve played sick, drunk, divorced, and on the run. Bad Blake hasn’t missed a goddamn show in his whole fucking life.”

5. Widows (Steve McQueen, 2018)

After losing their husbands to a getaway van accident, four widows, Veronica, Linda, Alice and Amanda find themselves posed with the opportunity of carrying out a heist worth $5 million to relieve them of their woes the first three along with the babysitter Belle decide to rob the dynastic alderman candidate Jack Mulligan who is competing against the scheming Jamal Manning. While doing so, the women stumble upon the harsh reality of carrying out the heist as well as face consequences of their actions, while grieving their husband’s deaths. 

The film makes us root for the spirited and fierce women who reek of courage, determination and desperation to pay off their husbands’ debts in an inherently patriarchal world. It engages with scathing thees of sexism, police brutality, interracial relationships, political struggle etc. Colin Farrell brings out the anguish of his character Jack Mulligan quite well as the character runs for alderman just to please his father and becomes a victim of Veronica’s wrath as he loses his father to the heist. Farrell had reportedly improvised many of his scenes, following suit of Robert Duvall who played his father in the film. 

“What I’ve learned from men like my father and your husband is that you reap what you sow.” 

4. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

In a futuristic world set in 2054 AD, Washington DC has been freed of criminal activities due to the presence of an elite and integrated law and justice enforcement squad called ‘Precrime’ which appoints three gifted Precog humans with special powers to foresee the future and predict crimes in advance which helps prevent them. The head of Precrime, John Anderton is a staunch believer of the system’s flawlessness until one day it is predicted that Anderton himself shall commit murder within 36 hours. Pursued closely by Danny Witwer, Anderton vows to get to the bottom of this and seeks help from one of the Precogs named Agatha in hopes of an alternative “minority report”. 

Farrell landed this role after Javier Barde refused to play the character of Danny Witwer as he “didn’t want to just run around chasing Tom Cruise”. Fresh off his success in Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland, Farrell reportedly had trouble delivering a single line for a shot, taking up nearly 56 takes to get it perfect given the disgusting hangover he experienced right after his 25th birthday celebrations. Kudos to Spielberg’s patience as well as Farrell’s determination to get the line right.

“I’m sure you all understand the legalistic drawback to PreCrime methodology.”  

3. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh, 2012)

Marty is a struggling alcoholic who tries to finish his screenplay Seven Psychopaths where he derives inspiration from the people in his lives who are indeed psychopathic. His best friend Billy steals dogs from rich owners and makes a living by posing as their rescuer and extorts money from the rich along with his partner Hans. However, one day they end up kidnapping a Shih Tzu named Bonny who is the beloved dog of a violent and volatile gangster named Charlie Costello who is extremely displeased with the kidnapping. Thus they embark on a cat-and-mouse chase with Charlie pursuing them closely. 

Imagine a dark and mischievous Quentin Tarantino film with Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, and you shall have this film. Farrell is extraordinary as the struggling writer whose desperation to write a good plot inadvertently gets him embroiled in the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles. While the actors deliver a compelling performance in this film that is steeped in black comedy, the adorable Shih Tzu who becomes the subject of all ruckus steals the show; the promotional materials do not mislead when they say the characters in the film “won’t take any Shih Tzu”.  

“I don’t have a drinking problem. I just like drinking.”

2. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)

After botching up on his first day as a rookie hitman where he ends up killing an innocent bystander, Ray and his mentor Ken are advised by their boss Harry to lay low at the Flemish town of Bruges. While Ken takes an immediate liking to the place, Ray is not very keen on the place until he meets one of the film crew named Chloe who is shooting a film in the picturesque, medieval city. Harry asks Ken to gun down Ken for having killed an innocent yet the latter, having learned a lot from his time in Bruges, cannot bring himself to do it. Enraged, Harry arrives at Bruges, taking matters into his own hands. 

In his quirky performance as the rookie hitman Ray, Colin Farrell shows how he is cut ut for incredible character acting. With a very well-deserved Golden Globe for his performance, Farrell played the role with immense dexterity, adding in bits and pieces of emotionally conflicted and self-deprecating humour. Farrell had admitted that the “unbridled honesty” that was packed in the characters’ dialogues coaxed him into taking up the role and added to the “otherworldliness” of the script amidst a somewhat hyper-real setting. The character was also made to be of Irish descent, instead of English, allowing Farrell to use his native accent, referring to which Farrell said that “it was nice to just be able to shed that coak that is sometimes there and just put 100% energy into the text”, calling it a “lovely” exercise.   

“Maybe that’s what hell is, the entire rest of eternity spent in fucking Bruges.”

1. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)

Being one of Lanthimos’ finest, the film revolves around a middle-aged David who is taken to the hotel where he is given a maximum of 45 days to find himself a partner by the manager lest he finds himself turned into a lobster after his wife leaves him. Living in the hotel is nothing short of living like a prisoner where strict rules are imposed on them and they are not even allowed to masturbate. The inmates need to find their partner by locating at least one similarity. As David nears his due date, he elopes and subsequently falls in love with a short-sighted loner woman in the woods which comes with severe consequences. 

Lanthimos infuses satirical, deadpan humour and in his unique take on love, breakups and relationships present a surreal dystopian world steeped in black comedy. Colin Farrell as David is meek and bespectacled which is the polar opposite of the suave roles he is known for. He perfects the deadpan humour and delivers his dialogue, along with Rachel Weisz, in an absurdist manner. He earned his second Golden Globe nomination for his wonderful performance and managed to bring out David’s desperation and frustration to find a mate well. The shallowness of relationships in the modern world is well-exposed by Lanthimos’ quirky and unsettling commentary via the film. 

“Because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.”