What Went Wrong With… Paul Bettany & Jack O’Connell?

Image of Paul Bettany and Jack O'Connell side-by-side with text "Duck, Duck, Goose"Every now and again, the British Film Industry churns out a new Actor and sells them to the public as “young”, “gritty”, and “realistic”. Unfortunately for the Actor in question, this is usually a clever way of marketing someone with no real “star quality”, and by labelling them as “authentic” they are basically saying “they look like an average bloke”. These so-called “realistic” Actors are then bundled into films which are set in a “true to life” setting which in turn adds credibility to the Actor’s averageness, and once the public buys into this sham; the Industry Bosses probably piss themselves with laughter.

A decade and a half ago this was Paul Bettany, and with his first lead in “Gangster No. 1” was touted as the next big thing. He was swiftly nominated for “Best Actor” at The British Independent Film Awards and also as “Best Newcomer Of The Year” by the London Film Critics’ Circle. If you ignored these cases of overrating however, it was plain to see that Bettany with his Michael-Caine-Lite appearance and average acting skills was nothing special, and once the fake furore settled down, Bettany became another face in the Hollywood crowd.

Paul Bettany’s career has gone from being almost famous to almost nameless, he is now the habitual B-Movie Supporting Actor appearing in such atrocious films as “Legion” and “Priest”. If you do see him in a “big” Hollywood movie, he usually plays the forgettable character by the sidelines (watch Transcendence for proof). His most famous role these days doesn’t even feature his face, and as the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. in the “Iron Man” Trilogy he is now as far from the camera as an Actor can get. Unfortunately, this is where many end up if they’re seen as the next great veristic British Actor.

For the last year or so, the torch seems to have passed to Jack O’Connell. He is now touted as the next great Actor, and wouldn’t you know it; he is described as “young”, “gritty”, and “realistic” by the mainstream media machine. O’Connell although quite entertaining in “The Liability” isn’t exactly the kind of face that you remember, he may have some acting skills but so did Bettany and look where that got him.

With Jack O’Connell and Paul Bettany, great “acting” is basically looking surly and sullen. With Bettany saying “cunt”, looking slightly confused, and drooling into the camera lens; this passed for good acting in “Gangster No. 1”. Over a decade later O’Connell sashays around with a faux-criminal swagger in the drab and depressing “Starred Up”, and true to form, he was nominated for “Best Actor” at The British Independent Film Awards just like his predecessor. Strutting around and saying “cunt” as many times as possible is not exactly my idea of amazing acting, but it seems to have worked for both Bettany and O’Connell.

One aspect of his career in which Jack O’Connell differs to Paul Bettany is his string of militaristic films. With his back-to-back pro-Military movies (“’71”, Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken”, and even “300: Rise Of An Empire”) O’Connell seems to be turning into one of the “Lest We Forget” brigade; a generation of people who have succumbed to the pro-West military fetish which has infected film and television since September 11th. Since the millennium we’ve been continually bombarded by militarism disguised as entertainment, and the likes of O’Connell seem happy to help with the promotion of propaganda.

With critics overrating everything he appears in (although they ignore the cringe-worthy “300: Rise Of An Empire”) it seems that kissing Army arse gets you noticed and attains you unanimous praise. O’Connell in that respect, seems to be in the “A Beautiful Mind” and “Master And Commander” stages of his career. I guess he still has his “Wimbledon” to come; and his career can only go downhill from there.

When the dust settles from all the frenzied arse-licking, Jack O’Connell may also be shown as an underling of the industry; an industry who loves to overrate any newcomer with a concocted credibility so to push mediocre Drama to the unwitting public. If anything is to be learned from Paul Bettany, it’s that perpetually scowling does not assure you praise in every role you take, and playing the exaggerated Everyman does not guarantee longevity or popularity in the fickle business of mainstream film.

Starred Up And Then Starred Down.

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