Addressing an injustice. A commanding and perhaps overblown way to start a piece which discusses why I think old Bruce has had a raw deal when it comes to how we perceive his filmography.
Despite most of us thinking action is his genre of choice – the Die Hard franchise being the obvious reference point – I think his best work is much more varied. Let’s look at some of the more intriguing characters that I’d argue have more effectively shaped his career:
- Death Becomes Her (1992) – Ernest Menville
Let’s face it, this film was largely a slugging match between Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn with Willis stuck in the middle. Although his character Ernest did, in some ways, hold the film together in an unhinged yet compelling way.
- Pulp Fiction (1994) – Butch Coolidge
Career defining? Most definitely. To be honest, all the actors in this film walked away with their cool-o-meter firmly cranked to the max. Indeed, Bruce’s Butch had some standout scenes and lines; from Marsellus Wallace and the Gold Watch to ‘Zed’s dead baby, Zed’s dead.’
- Twelve Monkeys (1995) – James Cole
In terms of off-the-rails performances he’s overshadowed by Brad Pitt, yet Willis puts in a commanding performance as a man whose life – and by extension his sanity – is in a constant loop. Whilst Terry Gilliam pulled the strings, Bruce deftly brought the character to life. Eminently watchable.
- Sin City (2005) – Hartigan
Having been relatively quiet since the mid ’90s, this little film noir reignited the fire in old Bruce again, pushing his cool-o-meter back up to Pulp Fiction levels. A sublime portrayal of a washed up cop, fighting to save the most pure character in Frank Miller’s dark, gritty tale – Jessica Alba’s skinny little Nancy Callahan.
- Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Captain Sharp
Bruce the action star in a Wes Anderson film? Surely not. Despite the part not being extensive, his character firmly earns a place on this list: a lonely, depressed police Captain, sharing some rather tender scenes with one of the film’s main characters, a young boy in love. Whilst Willis does cool well, he does flawed far better.