"Death is whimsical today."
-Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman)
in The Professional
So with all that said, without further ado, my favorite Gary Oldman performances - in no particular order.
The Professional (1994)
Far and away, the best and most visceral performance of his career. In Luc Besson's classic thriller that launched the careers of Jean Reno and Natalie Portman, Oldman plays DEA agent Norman Stansfield, a sleazy, live wire scumbag of a cop who murdered Portman's family in cold blood. He's also a drug addict, gladly stealing and using the evidence from his crime scenes. Oldman plays Stansfield with such feral intensity that is frightening to watch because you know precisely what he's capable of.
The Contender (2000)
In Rod Lurie's terrific political drama, Jeff Bridges received the lion's share of the film's accolades for his fantastic portrayal of President Jackson Evans. Evans nominates Lainey Hanson (Joan Allen, also great) to be his VP before his term ends, and the nomination committee chairman Shelly Runyon (Oldman) pulls out all of the stops to make sure it doesn't happen. He's blatantly sexist, believes that a woman should not have power in high office. He's a gossip-monger and relishes the fact that he holds the evidence that just may take her down. It's a snarky, oily performance, and with his paunchy figure and curly locks, Oldman disappears into the role.
True Romance (1993)
True Romance, one of my favorite films of all time, is littered with great actors in small, powerful performances. Walken and Hopper may have left lasting impressions, but Oldman's brief portrayal of drug dealer Drexl does not go unnoticed. He's covered in garish clothing, long and twisty dreadlocks, gold teeth, glass eye. He doesn't have to say anything and he just creeps you out. But when he does talk...you're just hanging on for dear life. "Why you trippin? We just fuckin' wit' ya!"
Oldman uncannily looks like Oswald, doesn't he? I think his performance here as the most mysterious figure in the "conspiracy" - did he act alone or not? - singles him out as the most effective and memorable among a cast of greats. You've got Pesci, Jones, Sutherland, Lemmon, Matthau, et. al. all playing colorful and enigmatic supporting characters (and very well, mind you). But, plain and simple, Oldman is Oswald.
Chattahoochee is not a great movie but it is a well-acted one (Hopper and McDormand are terrific as well). Oldman was a relatively fresh young face when this came out, and I'll never forget this as the film I first witnessed his work as an actor. It's a live wire performance - he's a mentally unhinged war vet - and his electric intensity becomes a trademark he eventually perfects in the years to come. For me, Emmett Foley was the birth of a great, edgy actor.