In the wake of yesterday's tragic news about the passing of American actor Bill Paxton, die hard film lovers and casual movie goers have been ruminating on his filmography, debating which of his roles resonated the most with them through the years. What follows what is a list of some of his most memorable performances. Spanning genres and various emotional depths, each one of these films not only reflects the impact of Mr. Paxton's immense talent, but also highlights his remarkably eclectic career.
1. One False Move
One False Move depicts a streets meets country detective story about a trio of murderers and their collision with destiny. The standout is Paxton's career defining performance as Dale "Hurricane" Dixon, the local sheriff in the town that the killers are heading to. Amazing dialogue and stone cold brutality blend together to produce a film that stays with you long after the credits roll, dealing with topics of racism, big vs. little city law enforcement, and most importantly the idea of fate and being in the right place at the right (or very wrong) time.
Paxton's turn is a pristine example of his layered brilliance, combining elements of both classic noir and southern Gothic thrillers to explore the notion of a man who is the center of his own universe and what happens when that universe is violently disturbed. He jumps from casual racist to overzealous do-gooder in an instant, but it is the naive Samaritan in between, the product of his upbringing and victim of his self-absorbed invulnerability that makes this a special performance. Paxton loses himself inside Hurricane's considerable orbit, portraying the quintessential only child with a badge and the way in which Paxton is able to make your care is unforgettable.
Paxton's directorial feature debut, Frailty, is a horror epic that confronts ideas of faith and fatherhood through a supernatural mystery. Paxton himself stars as a father who believes he has been chosen by god to hunt demons that walk among us. One of his sons becomes a believer while the other begins to doubt the providence of their family's mission. Paxton's embodiment of a blue collar crusader is heartbreaking, stripping away masculine mores to reveal a deeply wounded man trying to resolve loss and parenting two budding young men simultaneously.
The occult aspects of the story serve a remarkable foil that keeps you guessing until the end. Paxton's artistic direction, his genuine restraint is a reflection of his personality. Paxton was known for always supporting his cast and crew and it is his renowned sense of charity and community that bleeds through into the core of Frailty's tragic paternal odyssey.
3. A Simple Plan
One of Sam Raimi's finest films, A Simple Plan, is a quiet noir potboiler. What begins as a snow covered morality play when three men find millions inside a crashed plane slowly contorts into a Sartre-like dissertation on the personal hells we often construct around ourselves, where a single bad decision becomes the first domino in a trail of damnation. Paxton's chemistry with longtime collaborator Billy Bob Thornton is the central stage on which these ideas are tested, manipulated, and ultimately paid for in blood.
While Thornton's turn received the most acclaim, Paxton's is not to be underestimated. He presents as a content family man, who when tempted is quick to mortgage himself out one piece at a time, dismantling his domestic sanctuary brick by brick.
4. Near Dark
Near Dark is a western horror hybrid that presents a unique take on bloodsucker mythology while also overcoming its B movie DNA through a strong ensemble performance and searing nocturnal visuals. Paxton, however, steals the entire theater as Severen, the vampire pack's vicious killer who becomes a surrogate brother to the protagonist. He manages to shift between trailer park sexy and stone cold killer with lightning speed, keeping in step with Near Dark's rapid fire pace.
Paxton's bloody Cheshire grin has become a symbol for cult '80s horror and it’s easy to see why. He embraces the dusty soul of Near Dark with a vice grip and never relents. Longtime fans of the film always refer to the bar sequence as their favorite scene and the reason for this rests on Paxton's bloodstained shoulders.
James Cameron's action sci-fi classic, Aliens, released 30 years ago and is considered a benchmark in the genre. Paxton's iconic performance as foul mouthed grunt, Private Hudson is perhaps his most famous role. Every line he utters is instantly quotable and it is his unforgettable take on the practical joker pastiche that the audience most relates to, displaying natural fear and courage in equal amounts throughout. He takes the flawed every man and throws him into space where monsters are real and confronts these truths with humor and charm at every turn.
It would be unfair to not mention Mr. Paxton's amazing performances in the television series Big Love, or his work on other films such as The Terminator, Predator 2, True Lies, Titanic, Edge of Tomorrow, Apollo 13, and Twister.
He will be deeply missed.