By Dan Mecca
I don’t know where this guy came from, but he is one of the best actors around right now, and if you can’t admit that than you are lying to yourself. It all started, in hindsight, with Wimbledon, a sassy little rom-com starring Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany. And who was Bettany’s younger brother? You guessed it! McAvoy was also the funniest part of the movie, providing laughs where there should not have been any, and playing off Bettany’s awkward charm with…more awkward charm.
And that’s what he’s got: charm. The guy’s a natural, most likely unaware of the depths of his facial expressions and weight of his words. As Carl Colt in Wimbledon, McAvoy played an endearing character, constantly betting (literally) against his brother (Bettany) to lose but rooting for him to win…no matter what the cost.
These terms of endearment would only expand with his next breakout role, that of Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Playing a faun, McAvoy served, once again, as the comic relief in a children’s movie that took itself far too seriously.
And, once again, his performance felt less like acting and more like being, as if McAvoy was always a faun, who just happened to be on set that day, armed with a handful of nice one-liners. Every scene he is in he steals from those wooden kid actors, making every viewer wish he would take their place.
All of this, however, is foreplay. Where McAvoy really broke out was in The Last King of Scotland, playing Dr. Nicholas Garrigan. As the young naive doctor, McAvoy found a dramatic voice not present in his earlier roles. Unfortunately, he was in a film geared not towards his performance, but that of Forest Whittaker and his calculated imitation of Idi Amin. Reminescent of Anthony Hopkins overshadowing Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs or Marlon Brando overshadowing Al Pacino in The Godfather, Whittaker distracts viewers from McAvoy, who carries the film on his shoulders throughout, allowing Whittaker to overact his way to a Best Actor Oscar. I only hope Forest thanked McAvoy for the assist.
But young James’ time will surely come. He anchored Atonement and made the intelligent romance Starter for 10 delightful, with considerable help from Rebecca Hall, another up-and-comer with ridculously natural acting chops. Hell, he even made it through Wanted without laughing, which is more than you can say for Morgan Freeman, who was clearly laughing all the way to the bank in that piece of shit. McAvoy even made waves in the 2003 BBC series State of Play, which has since been adapted into an American feature film starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. And while the film sports a nice poster and trailer for its April 17th release, it has a huge problem: no James McAvoy.
McAvoy’s next film is Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station, a film based on Russian author Leo Tolstoy (the guy who wrote War and Peace). McAvoy is not Tolstoy and it looks like he is not the lead, which is refreshing in a way. Maybe he picked the film because he honestly liked the screenplay. The word on the street is that the film, as a matter of fact, is 2010 Oscar material. It appears McAvoy makes any movie he’s in better for it (see both Penelope and Becoming Jane), so I’m willing to bet we see McAvoy at the Academy Awards next year, if not nominated most certainly deserving.
Do you enjoy McAvoy’s performances? Do you see him growing as an actor?
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