Peter Travers, a film critic in whom I have complete faith, describes Viggo Mortensen's performance in The Road as "astounding."
No further coercing needed on my end. Sign me up for a screening of The Road, the latest Cormac McCarthy novel to make it to the screen, following celluloid adaptations of All the Pretty Horses (2000) and No Country for Old Men (2007).
McCarthy is a dark dude and Mortensen movies are rarely easy, which makes the first union between the two (which arrived in theatres on Friday) a match made in movie heaven, if only for those who like their drama rich with detail. Mortensen, 51, makes sure his roles take a while to digest. But when he sinks his teeth into a performance, you feel it.
After years of relative anonymity, he was transformed, via his breakout role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, into one of his generation's finest thespians.
Here are 10 of his best roles.
1 A History of Violence (2005). Mortensen's heroic work in the Lord of the Rings trilogy placed great physical demands on the actor. As the lead in this gutsy David Cronenberg film, he was required to flex an entirely different set of muscles. Mortensen, as family man Tom Stall, who might or might not be a mob hitman starting anew, was a master of restraint in A History of Violence, and without affectation or over-the-top antics he delivered the best performance of his career.
2 Eastern Promises (2007). Mortensen's superb work in Eastern Promises earned him 14 nominations for best actor, including Academy Award, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nods. It's no secret as to why: His second Cronenberg project, which cast him as a Russian mobster named Nikolai Luzhin, gave modern cinema yet another complex character study. A violent, alternately unwatchable and unmissable scene in which Mortensen fends off two knife-wielding attackers -- while completely nude in a tile floor bathhouse, with nary a stuntman in sight -- is one for the ages.
3 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). The first of three J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations required more of director Peter Jackson than his actors. That said, it couldn't have been easy in front of the camera. Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom and Ian McKellen do great work, but Mortensen stands higher than the rest in the role of Aragorn. It wasn't written with him in mind (Daniel Day-Lewis turned it down, while Stuart Townsend was relieved of duty four days into shooting) but Mortensen made it his own with a mixture of muscle and finesse.
4 Appaloosa (2008). Westerns, though limited in terms of format and story arc, require a specific brand of moviemaking magic; as a genre film, westerns are often highly stylized works of art. One of the better ones in recent years is Appaloosa, a pitch-perfect duster from director Ed Harris, who starred alongside Mortensen as a sheriff and his trusty deputy, respectively. Plenty of people disliked RenÃ©e Zellweger in the film -- she certainly mixed some camp with her southern charm -- but you can't beat Mortensen as a hard-as-nails gunfighter.
5 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002). From first to last, Jackson's Tolkien trilogy is a towering filmmaking achievement. The second instalment split the characters into two groups, both of which were guided by the steady hand of Mortensen's Aragorn, a fearless leader who grows more confident with each frame. His presence in the film is a consistent source of quality craftsmanship.
6 G.I. Jane (1997). Mortensen rarely goes full-out as bad guy, but in Ridley Scott's underrated G.I. Jane he plays it bad to the bone. The last vehicle designed solely for Demi Moore came and went largely without mention, though a good many took notice of Mortensen -- all square jaw and squinty eyes -- as a Navy Seal training commander whose ill treatment of Moore's character borders on the sadistic.
7 The Indian Runner (1991). Mortensen was largely unknown when Sean Penn, working from his own screenplay in his first film behind the camera, cast him as a lead in The Indian Runner. Penn reportedly liked the push-pull dynamics of Mortensen as a person, traits he knew would transfer extremely well to the screen. Penn was on the money: Mortensen's role as an ex-con struggling with civilian life, in a script based on a Bruce Springsteen song, is both subdued and sizzling.
8 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Mortensen is less consequential here, which is odd, given that he's the titular king of the final LOTR saga. The film is focused more on the hobbits holding the ring than the leader who reclaims his throne, but Mortensen never lets the amount of screen time affect his presence therein. Another solid turn in his signature role.
9 A Walk on the Moon (1999). Make way for a boatload of romance novel clichÃ©s in A Walk on the Moon, a contrived but otherwise likable film that makes very good use of Mortensen's good looks. Everything from his name (Walker Jerome) to his profession (he's a hippie who sells blouses to women vacationing in upstate New York) screams soap opera, but the role is well-suited to Mortensen. To his credit, he never winds up being the bad guy, despite evidence to the contrary.
10 Carlito's Way (1993). In a very small amount of screen time, Mortensen holds his own alongside Al Pacino as the wheelchair-bound Lalin. It isn't a physical performance as much as it is a just a great bit of acting; Mortensen has only his acting chops to rely on, and they do not fail him as he puts panache into the down-on-his-luck gangster. Mortensen's lines in the film are instant classics.