TOMMY LEE JONES
Tommy Lee Jones has been a consistent actor for decades now. And while many may see him as a one-trick pony, mostly after his Oscar win in 1993, what is overlooked is his diversity as a performer on occasion. Sure, he is the go-to guy to play the cop or the seasoned veteran in charge of hunting down the convict or the killer, but he also has a pretty acute sense of humor and an ability to branch out when he wants. Sometimes the branching out is effective, sometimes it’s head scratching.
Jones’ first picture was a small part in Love Story, the Ryan O’Neal Ali MacGraw movie. From there, Jones bounced around television and small movies before his breakout role as Mooney Lynn, husband to Loretta, in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Jones and Sissy Spacek, who played the famous country singer, were the heart and soul of Coal Miner’s Daughter. But then a strange thing happened: Jones kept bouncing around for nearly an entire decade, starring in TV movies and rarely seen features, but his biggest of big breaks was in 1989 when he played Woodrow Call on Lonesome Dove.
Despite it being a TV mini-series, Lonesome Dove was a star-making role for Jones, who only starred in two of the episodes. Then again, in the late 80s, a mini-series on television had much more publicity and clout than it might these days. Nevertheless, Jones’ career really took off after Lonesome Dove. In the years following, he starred in films like JFK and Under Siege, but it was his role as Samuel Gerard in 1993’s The Fugitive would win him an Oscar. Though it is debatable on whether or not he deserved the win over Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. Actually, there is no real debate, Fiennes should have won.
The next few years were diverse, albeit a little sketchy for Jones. He starred in another Oliver Stone film, Heaven and Earth, a forgettable Vietnam story. Then he played the villain in Blown Away, a completely absurd thriller where Jones had to use an Irish accent that was the worst kind of camp. But then Jones was in The Client, a solid Grisham adaptation, and starred yet again as a devilish warden in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. Then there was the clumsy biopic of Ty Cobb, then a camped-out version of Two Face in Batman Forever, then Volcano (forget about it). Men in Black, his next film, was Jones’ biggest hit by a mile, but I am pretty sure Will Smith is the name most people think of when they think of MIB.
Jones spent most of the next several years playing alternate versions of his Samuel Gerard character from The Fugitive, even playing an alternate, less interesting version of Gerard in the pointless semi-sequel U.S. Marshals. There was Double Jeopardy, The Hunted, The Missing… none of these would come close to the energy he brought to The Fugitive. In No Country for Old Men, however, Jones would take that same character and add some world-weariness and pathos to the part that seems to be becoming part of Jones’ portrayals these days. Jones has started to uncover a characteristic in his more recent roles that really adds some layers to his acting: The world-weary sheriff, the rigid but uncertain, aging military man (In The Valley of Elah), and more recently the lost older executive in The Company Men, a Sundance favorite this year.
So where does Tommy Lee Jones stand in the grand scheme of things? Sure, he is a great actor at times, but his career is a bit of a roller coaster with some major quality gaps in there. HE has a definite look and a mood and a presence all his own. Still, it would be hard to find a spot for him on the front row here, but he is not far behind: General Admission.