Patrick Wilson is one of the finest actors working today, honest to God he is. He is a personality chameleon, able to garner sympathy from the biggest of scumbags, or pity from heroes. He can be a charmer in an indie picture, a leading man in a blockbuster, it doesn’t matter to him. The problem is, the guy just doesn’t show up in as many films as some of his peers. Now, if you look deep enough you can occasionally spot a VOD release from Wilson, but as far as marketable cinema, we simply need more Patrick Wilson.
Here are his five greatest films:
5. Bone Tomahawk – S. Craig Zahler’s brilliant 2015 western/horror was a terrific example of genre mashup and an unbelievable cast playing off one another to perfection. Patrick Wilson plays Arthur, the town doctor whose wife is kidnapped by a tribe of cannibals. Despite having his broken leg in a splint, Arthur is determined to track down the savages with Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell and his mustache), Richard Jenkins’ Chicory, and Matthew Fox’s Brooder.
As a straight genre role, Wilson uses his universal charm and determination to hold his own against Russell and Jenkins. He also has the toughest task here, given his broken leg in the story, and it allows Wilson to show off the more physical side of his acting talents.
4. The Conjuring – James Wan’s house of horrors throwback is terrific for a number of reasons. It hearkens back to a classic “haunting” tale, it has genuine scares, and an ensemble that includes Llili Taylor, Ron Livingston, and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life paranormal investigators. Wilson is again part of an ensemble, and his work here and in Wan’s Insidious serves similar purposes. But as a film surrounding Wilson and Co., The Conjuring has the slight edge.
3. Hard Candy – This disturbing little gem from the mid 2000s put Patrick Wilson – and his costar Ellen Page – on the cinematic map. Here, Wilson plays Jeff, a photographer who meets a young girl online and invites her back to his home for “a photo shoot.” And by young, we’re talking fifteen. Hard Candy subverts expectations early on when Page’s Hayley turns the tables on Jeff and things grow increasingly dark as the story plummets to its nihilistic conclusion.
This is Wilson showing off his finest talent: the ability to squeeze every last ounce of sympathy from unsympathetic characters. Jeff is a scumbag, at least we think he is, but Wilson’s desperate portrayal and insistence that he’s an innocent photographer begin to work on the audience. Is he really a monster? We’re pretty sure, but not totally sure, and that’s because of Wilson’s dedicated performance.
2. Watchmen – Another ensemble story, Zack Snyder’s (only good) comic-book adaptation was a polarizing but ambitious story. Spanning decades, and existing in an alternate 1980s that makes the dystopian 1985 from Back to The Future II look like a walk in the park, Watchmen has terrific performances top to bottom. Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach nabs most of the accolades here, but Patrick Wilson’s Dan Dreiberg is an exercise in nuance in a film not that committed to such subtlety.
Dreiberg is formerly Nite Owl – a sort of Batman cover band – but in the story of Watchmen Dreiberg has hung up his cape and cowl. He’s pudgy, timid, emasculated, but when the time comes he slips into the costume once again with great zeal. Dreiberg is the audience’s inroad to the film, the only former superhero who seems to be a truly good person, and Wilson’s performance is vital in bringing humanity to the film.
1. Little Children – If Hard Candy put Patrick Wilson on the map, Little Children proved he had the ability to carry an honest adult story. In Todd Field’s suburban melodrama, Wilson plays Brad “The Prom King” Adamson, the object of lust for desperate housewives who falls into an affair with Kate Winslet’s Ruth. Brad is an Adonis drifting aimlessly through this landscape of dissolved dreams. He’s reluctant to let go of his former glory, opting for late-night football and watching skateboarders over studying for his BAR exam.
While the story veers into disturbing subject matter with a subplot involving a sex offender ruffling feathers in the neighborhood (Jackie Earle Haley, owning again), this remains the story of Wilson’s Brad and Winslet’s Ruth. It’s a terrific display of Wilson’s good looks, his smarmy jock persona, and once again his ability to garner sympathy where there should be none.