Bill Paxton was one of those guys who could be the most affable dude in the room, the friendliest guy on the block and without warning, at the drop of a hat turn the energy of his performance around 180 degrees into something dark and dangerous before the audience even had a chance to react. A boisterous, scene stealing, standup guy and just as talented in the director’s chair as he was in front of the camera, this guy was one of cinema’s greatest treasures. Here are my top ten personal favourites of his many excellent performances!
10. Wayne Caraway in Nathan Morlando’s Mean Dreams
This indie drama was one of his last films before passing and one of the most terrifying, despicable characters he’s ever played. Caraway is a corrupt county sheriff who is running drugs as a side hustle and letting his daughter (Sophie Nélisse) become collateral damage in the process. He’s volcanically unpredictable, heinously abusive and frequently very violent, especially towards the kids around him. It’s an arresting portrayal of renegade small town law gone bad to the bone and he relishes every rotten mannerism and brooding, misanthropic gesture.
9. Bokky in Traveller
This is an obscure little indie focused on the lives of the descendants of Irish Gypsy ‘Travellers’ in the states, making their living as con artists. Paxton’s charming Bokky is a seasoned pro who mentors a young rookie (Mark Wahlberg) with roots in the community, both eventually finding themselves in over their head. It’s a quaint, eccentric caper flick that showcases a niche society you don’t often get to hear too much about.
8. Dale ‘Hurricane’ Dixon in Carl Franklin’s One False Move
Dale lives up to his name, a bull in a china shop of a small town sheriff played expertly by Paxton as extremely warm and welcoming at first, until we see a dangerous core smouldering just under the salt of the earth exterior, brought out by a violent, twist laden crime narrative that lets no character off the hook.
7. Earl in Baltasur Kormákur’s 2 Guns
A spectacularly corrupt CIA agent in a Panama hat, Earl is out to get back a stolen slush fund that somehow ended up in the hands of the cartel and then the film’s two heroes (Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg). He isn’t just the pursue and retrieve type of fellow though, he relishes his power and has a nasty sadistic streak that comes out in ruthless Russian roulette torture bouts he puts his captives through. A cheerfully psychotic, scene stealing villain, Bill has a lot of fun and banters around with the rest of the cast nicely.
6. Hank in Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan
Just a small town dude who finds a whole whack of stolen money, things spiral out of control for him, his girlfriend (Bridget Fonda) and dullard brother (Billy Bob Thornton) in this brutal, icy and brilliant morality play of a thriller. Paxton always excelled at showing the dark side of seemingly harmless characters and this is no exception, giving the old saying ‘money is the root of all evil’ a run for *it’s* money.
5. Jerry Lambert in Stephen Hopkins’ Predator 2
This is a fucking great film and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Lambert is the spitfire rookie in Danny Glover’s impossibly badass squad of tactical street cops, which include familiar faces like Ruben Blades and Maria Conchita Alonso. This being an 80’s action flick, Paxton gives his trademark lovably obnoxious and inexhaustibly verbose energy and is a terrific addition to an already packed cast.
4. Brock Lovett in James Cameron’s Titanic
Brock is one of the characters who only exists in the present and sort of anchors the historical facts with his presence. Paxton gives this scruffy treasure hunter a laid back yet determined edge and rocks a pirate hoop earring awesomely.
3. Dad Meiks in Bill Paxton’s Frailty
This was his feature directing debut and what a film it is. A sort of Southern Gothic horror whodunit, he gives an absolutely haunting, harrowing turn as a loving father who gradually begins to lose his marbles and display murderous tendencies. He plays the horrific elements straight and frankly, making his curve into madness hit all the harder.
2. Private William Hudson in James Cameron’s Aliens
“Game over man!!” Paxton made that hilarious line and many others iconic in this portrayal of the ultimate badass who has the ultimate nervous breakdown when danger shows up and ultimately actually fights pretty damn impressively and redeems himself for freaking out like a little bitch earlier on. He’s also riotous comic relief and gets all the best moments.
1. Severen in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark
One in a pack of roving vampires, Severen is undoubtably the most rambunctious and bloodthirsty of the pack, an unpredictable wild card who murders humans on a cheerful whim and always has a quip ready before blasting someone’s face off. In a career full of rowdy behaviour and off the wall performances this one stands out as the most impressive sustainment of energy for a feature length running time I’ve ever seen.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!