Appreciating Woody Harrelson

Here is something I posted on Film-Addict last night.  A spotlight on the work of Harrelson, an actor truly on a hot streak.   Check it out.  If you like it, spread it across the email boards, social media waves and to your friends homes.  If it reminds you of that bad take out food you ordered last night, delete it immediately.  I aim to dazzle your minds for a brief moment and leave you wanting more.  I don’t want to tear open a wound in your stomach and have you reaching for the pepto bismol.  Read on folks.


He has come a long way since playing Woody Boyd on Cheers for 9 years, but Woody Harrelson is slowly becoming one of the most versatile actors in the business.  He can play comedy, do the action, perform the drama or combine all three into a performance.  He is currently on fire and I am here to tell you what he has been up to.

He is currently gracing screens as two very different characters.   In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Harrelson is Haymitch, the alcoholic wise man who once won the Games and now tutors Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen.  Opening today, Woody plays the menacing Harlan DeGroate, an underground fight/drug kingpin deep in the dangerous mountains of New Jersey facing down a pair of brothers in Out Of The Furnace.  From tending Ted Danson’s bar to facing down Christian Bale’s justice, here is how Woody did it.

This certainly isn’t the first time that we have seen Woody’s fearless versatility.  A-list directors have gotten their dose of Woody.  He was nominated for an Oscar for playing Larry Flynt in 1996’s The People Versus Larry Flynt, directed by Gus Van Sant.  He was the poster boy for derangement in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.  He played a small yet key role in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and co-starred with Billy Crudup in Stephen Frears’ The Hi-Lo Country.   Harrelson flashed his comedic abilities with White Men Can’t Jump and Kingpin as well, showing the many flavors to his ability.

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Woody flailed a bit.   Whether it was a lack of good scripts or a willingness to see what the rabbit hole of comedy looked like, he peeked his head down a little too low.   With failed endeavors like Scorched, Play It To The Bone, Anger Management, She Hate Me, After The Sunset, and The Big White, one started to wonder what was left for Harrelson.  Then, he teamed up with Charlize Theron for a little film called North Country in 2005.  Playing Theron’s lawyer in a fictionalized account of the first prominent sexual harassment, Woody got back on top in what started a series of solid supporting roles.

In my opinion, that is Woody’s repertoire.  Taking a supporting role, stealing a few scenes and coming out holding a fair share of the viewer’s attention, Woody got back to working with Hollywood first class filmmakers.  In 2006-2007, Woody turned in a series of small yet vital roles in Richard Linklaker’s A Scanner Darkly, Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion and The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men.

In 2009, his career hit a new high with the unexpected success of Ruben Fleisher’s comedic take on the zombie genre, Zombieland.   Starring with a young Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg, Harrelson was in his wheelhouse, playing a gun toting Dale Earnhardt loving dead man walking killing machine.  He was the best part about the movie and that included a Bill Murray cameo.

Doing his classic bob and weave into different genres, Woody portrayed a military officer in charge of informing families of fallen soldiers in The Messenger.  Sharing the screen with Ben Foster, Harrelson was quietly devastating as Captain Tony Stone.

In 2011, Woody went to the bottom of the dark side pit as a maniacal cop in Rampart.  Take Denzel’s dirty cop from Training Day and spin him a few times and you had Officer David Douglas Brown, a racist corrupt homicidal cop in the days of the Rodney King cultural breakdown.  It was a mesmerizing performance and one that reminded you what the actor was capable of.

He hasn’t slowed down a bit.   In 2012, he starred in the first installment of the Hunger Games, reteamed with Eisenberg in Now You See Me, played a key cog in the Sarah Palin HBO film Game Change and played a hilarious gangster in Seven Psychopaths.

This year, he followed with Catching Fire and Out of The Furnace.  Watching him go 100 percent pure evil in Cooper’s Furnace is a revelation to behold.  While some may call it scenery chewing, I saw his performance was wildly unpredictable and entertaining.   There was a pain behind his villain, a need to own every soul who came into his presence that was rooted in a jealousy of anyone who seemed tougher or better than him.  Woody’s performance was one you couldn’t get enough of that when it started to come to an end, the movie lost a little of the spark.  That’s how far he has come.

He is becoming more selective and keeping his eye on the prize.  While the Academy hasn’t awarded him yet, The Golden Globes and Emmy Awards may come calling.  Reteaming with his Edtv co-star Matthew McConaughey in HBO’s highly ambitious detective noir drama series, True Detectives, the TV series more promises deep and darker thinking Woody.

The thing that amazes me with Woody, 52, is how easily he can slip into the darker roles after playing lighter ones.  Few actors can do that.  Harrelson built his early career on comedy, so it’s in his system and shows up in nearly all of his performances.  However, when it comes to characters full of depravity and inner demons, Woody is one of the go to guys right now.  His arsenal is a peculiar yet sharply fastened one.  Wildly unpredictable with a Southern twinkle in its eye.

Check out Harrelson in theaters in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire or Out of The Furnace.

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