The Rise Of Michael Shannon

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On the eve of the UK theatrical release of The Iceman, Brogan Morris takes a look at the career of Michael Shannon.  

This Friday will see the UK release of Ariel Vroman’s The Iceman, a factual crime thriller based on the life of notorious Mafia hitman Richard ‘Ritchi’ Kuklinski. The titular character is played by none other than Michael Shannon. The Iceman gives the US actor one of his few starring roles, and critics are already unanimous in praising one thing: Shannon knocks it out of the park.

You won’t find Michael Shannon on the covers of fashion or style magazines, or anywhere else where vapid obsession with appearance takes precedence over real substance. Nor would that world likely accept him. Shannon is not Ryan Gosling, nor Michael Fassbender – he is an average-looking Hollywood performer, one that likely wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. But Shannon has something better than looks, something that it almost seems is – foolishly – secondary for Hollywood leading men today: genuine acting talent.

Since his screen debut in 1992’s Groundhog Day, Shannon has caught the eye of some acclaimed filmmakers with his intense, near-manic qualities. Mud director Jeff Nichols has cast Shannon in all of his three films to date, seemingly intent on putting the actor on show until we all notice. And, along with his small, Oscar-nominated role in 2008’s Revolutionary Road, it was Nichols’ 2011 psycho-drama Take Shelter that propelled Michael Shannon onto the Hollywood watchlist.

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In Take Shelter, Shannon was the star. Not wasting a rare positioning at centre stage, Shannon gave an earth-shuddering performance as a mentally fracturing family man, one seemingly on the brink of total meltdown. Take Shelter said: he may not be a pretty young thing with perfect Hollywood features, but you can’t take your eyes off Michael Shannon when he’s up on that screen.

Throughout the 1970s, the ordinary Hackmans and Hoffmans had as much Hollywood clout as the chiselled Redfords and Beattys. The plain Pacinos and Sutherlands were consummate thespians that connected with the audience, and American studios rewarded them with stardom. Today, things are very different. We live in an era where the likes of Taylor Kitsch and Orlando Bloom coast into multi-million dollar gigs based chiefly on their attractiveness. Acting skills, it seems, is not something a star actor necessarily requires anymore.

Michael Shannon’s kind of ascendency, as a result, does not happen often nowadays. But thanks largely to pure acting talent, Shannon is suddenly on the precipice of stardom (expect his portrayal of General Zod in Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man Of Steel to further expand his fan-base). He hasn’t made it to the top astride the luck of physical beauty – he’s another Philip Seymour Hoffman, or Paul Giamatti. These guys might not win any beauty contests, but by God can they act. After years of toil, they now find themselves deserved fixtures amongst some of Hollywood’s most high-profile pictures.

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Hollywood should take note and invest in more performers like Michael Shannon. On the silver screen, charisma and screen presence is more compelling, more powerful and ultimately more attractive than a mere handsome face. One can’t help but feel Hollywood movies would be more compelling if the Hoffmans, Giamattis and Shannons, and not the Taylor Kitschs, were the regular stars.

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