Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Rise and Rise of Jack O'Connell: From This is England to Unbroken

In case you hadn’t noticed, Jack O’Connell is about to go mega-star massive. His next film appearance will be in Angelina Jolie’s second film as director, Unbroken. This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete turned military man and plane crash survivor who then survived years of torture as a prisoner of war. Zamperini is an incredible man with an unbelievable life story and Jolie has plucked the relatively unknown (at least in the US) O’Connell to bring Zamperini to life in a film that is sure to gobble Oscar nominations in 2015.

Angelina Jolie Unbroken

Angelina Jolie

I’ve had my eye on Jack O’Connell for a while now, even if his career to date had been filled with an alarming amount of tough guy thugs. I can’t say I noticed him or paid any particular attention to him way back in one of my favourite films This is England but he is there and the performance is notable as O’Connell’s Pukey isn’t his usual brand of wideboy. O’Connell’s character has a particularly terrifying encounter with Stephen Graham’s menacing racist Combo when O’Connell dares to challenge his beliefs.

this is england jack o connell

O’Connell had many roles in British TV from The Bill through Waterloo Road, Wire in the Blood and Skins but it was the double whammy of Eden Lake and Harry Brown that cemented his status as a go-to-geezer for low-budget British filmmakers. In both these films, but particularly Eden Lake he got to play terrifyingly horrible little bastards; becoming incredibly memorable as the kind of hooded monster that the media was always banging on about as the use of the word ‘chav’ became acceptable in the tabloid press. Banging heads with Michael Fassbender and Michael Caine, Jack O’Connell managed to easily hold his own with these older and more experienced acting greats.

Eden Lake clip

O’Connell was then given bigger parts in the likes of little known films such as Tower Block and The Liability. They may be small films but O’Connell’s swaggering performances were bigger and better than the films he was in. Playing the hoodlum was a speciality and O’Connell could have easily been stuck by typecasting positioning him as a loudmouth loutish lad for life but then he was delivered a couple of really interesting roles to start flexing his acting muscles with.

Tower Block Trailer

The Liability Trailer

While a small but notable role in 300: Rise of an Empire allowed him to show off a six pack and likely take a tidy paycheque, it was his performances in the excellent Starred Up  and '71 that should really have seen him become a massive star in 2014. As young convict Eric Love in Starred Up , O’Connell got to face off with Ben Mendelsohn as his jailbird father but also show a fascinating vulnerability beneath the bravado. Similarly, in '71 his usual swagger was replaced by a limp as O’Connell’s soldier spends most of the film injured, scared and running for his life from the IRA in Belfast.

Starred Up Trailer

I’d recommend any of these films, particularly just to watch O’Connell at work. His rise to the top has been filled with great performances but Unbroken looks set to be the one that really puts him on the international map. 2014 has already been an exceptional year for the star but it will be crowned by the true life story of horror and hope that Jolie has in bringing to big screens on Boxing Day. Don’t be surprised if O’Connell is up for Best Actor in 2015 awards season. He’s already earned it.

Unbroken Trailer

Still here? What is your favourite performance from Jack O'Connell?

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