This is the column that shines a light on cinemas unsung heroes, the guys who work hard, work well but are just not quite given the respect and exposure they deserve. No longer as we, The Snooty Ushers bring you; The Dependables.
Dylan McDermott, Paul Bettany, Ben Foster and Patrick Wilson have all featured so far, however, in this edition we have gone for an actor who is yet to get his breakout leading role. While we here at Snooty Usher Towers think that is long over due, he makes a film better just by being in it. Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you Michael Peña.
Now, as all of the Ushers are fans of this guy, we will all be contributing to some degree. Peña is one of the best supporting actors working today and he has appeared in over 40 feature films. From his debut in the James Garner/Jack Lemmon comedy My Fellow Americans (Peter Segal, 1996), he has come along way from his role as the second thug in the Nicolas Cage classic Gone in 60 Seconds (Dominic Sena, 2000). He featured in small roles in films like Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004), the Oscar winning Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004) and alongside Brad Pitt in Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006) before appearing in World Trade Centre (Oliver Stone, 2006) as Will Jimeno, a survivor of the World Trade Centre collapse. He has gone from strength to strength since then and given the fact that he has been cast as Ponch in the up and coming CHiPs remake hopefully he will soon get the recognition he deserves.
So with out further a do, we will look at our favourite of his performances as The Snooty Ushers celebrate… Michael Peña
Shooter (Antonie Fuqa, 2007)
Special Agent Nick Memphis
Dave: A sidekick role of sorts here, he plays a rookie FBI Agent who first comes in conflict with and then ends up helping Mark Wahlberg’s hero.
The thing that I love about this actor is his ability to make his characters incredibly likable and here is no different. His character is new to the FBI and stumbles into a massive conspiracy when he is disarmed and robbed by our hero. He is also honest and Wahlberg’s character begins to trust him and he becomes his sidekick and helps bring down the conspiracy.
Memphis in lesser hands could be reduced to a bumbling sidekick, but Pena’s performance elevates this role to something more memorable and it is an early sign of what is to come from this brilliant actor. Whether is bumbling around making mistakes, being tortured or standing in the White House his pitches his performance perfectly.
Everything Must Go (Dan Rush, 2010)
James: As reviewed in my last Negotiating Netflix column of 2015, Everything Must Go is a excellent little film with Will Ferrell giving an understated performance as an out of work alcoholic Nick Halsey, whose wife locks him (and his furniture) out of the house. Michael Peña’s cop Frank Garcia is Ferrell’s sponsor, and Frank sets up the yardsale to give him a chance to get straight.
Again, Peña gives his character real depth. He probably gets 4th billing at best, but his role is vital. The relationship between Nick and Frank is so natural and believable, the type that two flawed, adult characters like these two would really have in the real world.
Peña is especially great in this film, balancing the character perfectly. As I mentioned, Frank is a cop, a sponsor, and a friend to Nick, and to manage to show all these sides of the character believably is a testament to Peña’s skill. A really understated role, the type that gets under appreciated and normally goes unnoticed.
Battle: Los Angeles (Jonathon Liebesman, 2011)
Dave: This is a big budget alien invasion film, a high octane, thrill a minute ride that just doesn’t stop. A group of soldiers attempt to repel an alien invasion. Now the key to any film of this nature is that you have to actually care about the characters in danger of being wiped out in the first place. Aaron Eckhart leads the soldiers and does so brilliantly, his platoon are made of up of mostly disposable characters however.
Michael Peña, here plays Joe Rincon, the father of young Hector. He is just an ordinary guy who is doing his best to protect his family. This is a small role and in the hands of a lesser actor who be instantly forgettable, but Peña brings a real heart to Joe and reminds the viewer just what is at stake and what the soldiers are fighting to protect.
Although his screen time is short, it is memorable and like many other of his roles, he makes this film better just by being in it.
End of Watch (David Ayer, 2012)
James: End Of Watch is a gem of a film. It focuses on two LAPD partners, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena), who get targeted by a drug cartel. These are good, honest cops, with their own lives and families, and the realtionship between the two makes this a memorable film.
Is there more of an over-used film cliche than “dirty cop”? One of the recommendation for TV Film Of The Week is In Time, which features Cillian Murphy as a detective simply doing his job, and I always think it’s a nice surprise to NOT have the police depicted as morally conflicted, shades of grey characters. Taylor and Zavala are “the good guys” – but aren’t dull.
This is a role that shows Pena as a highly skilled actor. This should have been an award-laden performance. The chemistry between the two leads is great (the script is one re-writer away from buddy comedy), and the attention to detail in his performance is superb. I heard an interview with the great Tom Courtenay about his film 45 Years, who said that the first thing he has to get right about a character he is playing is the glasses, and from that he can build the rest of the character. In this film, Mike Zavala wears his sunglasses around the back of his head. Maybe that was a last second decision, perhaps wardrobe came up with it to make him visually a bit more different from his partner. I would be willing to be it’s just a sign of the amount of time and thought that went into creating the Zavala character. A great performance from Pena.
Antman (Payton Reed, 2015)
Welshy: This is a comic role, but one that captures your heart. You can tell everyone knew he was onto something special, and it seems the MCU machine agreed. Like many Marvel movies, Ant-Man got a new ending in reshoots, and it’s easy to imagine Kevin Feige and Peyton Reed making the decision to hand the film’s final line to Peña. He delivers it with such innocent excitement that you cant help but laugh at Rudd’s reaction
They really played the Abbott-and-Costello angle to focus on the opposites: Peña’s bright verbal street slang mixed with high brow hipsters style as a counterweight to Rudd’s deadpan charm. Fun Fact: Apparently Peña based it on a Facebook friend.
He has also appeared in great films like Gangster Squad, Observe and Report, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Martian, we could go on and on, instead…Michael Peña – The Snooty Ushers salute you!