Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Joaquin Phoenix Gets His Stoner Detective Groove On In Trailer For Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’ Watch: Joaquin Phoenix Gets His Stoner Detective Groove On In Trailer For Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’ David Fincher Will Direct The Entire First Season Of HBO's 'Utopia' In 2015 David Fincher Will Direct The Entire First Season Of HBO's 'Utopia' In 2015 Brad Pitt Says 'Fury' Co-Star Shia LaBeouf Is "One Of The Best Actors I've Ever Seen" Brad Pitt Says 'Fury' Co-Star Shia LaBeouf Is "One Of The Best Actors I've Ever Seen" First Look: Kristen Stewart & Nicholas Hoult In Drake Doremus’ Sci-Fi Film ‘Equals’ First Look: Kristen Stewart & Nicholas Hoult In Drake Doremus’ Sci-Fi Film ‘Equals’ John Cusack Says Hollywood Is A "Whorehouse" That "Eats Young Actors Up And Spits Them Out" John Cusack Says Hollywood Is A "Whorehouse" That "Eats Young Actors Up And Spits Them Out" New Image From 'Inherent Vice,' Paul Thomas Anderson Completely Changed The Ending From Thomas Pynchon's Book New Image From 'Inherent Vice,' Paul Thomas Anderson Completely Changed The Ending From Thomas Pynchon's Book Why 'You're The Worst' Turned Out To Be The Best TV Show Of The Summer Why 'You're The Worst' Turned Out To Be The Best TV Show Of The Summer Watch: Ellen Page And Kate Mara Are 'Tiny Detectives' In Hilarious 'True Detective' Parody Watch: Ellen Page And Kate Mara Are 'Tiny Detectives' In Hilarious 'True Detective' Parody New Look: Reese Witherspoon And Joaquin Phoenix In Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Inherent Vice' New Look: Reese Witherspoon And Joaquin Phoenix In Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Inherent Vice' Review: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens & More Review: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens & More 10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention From Hollywood 10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention From Hollywood Miles Teller Says Role In 'Divergent' Made Him Feel "Dead Inside," And He Took Movie "For Business Reasons" Miles Teller Says Role In 'Divergent' Made Him Feel "Dead Inside," And He Took Movie "For Business Reasons" While You're Waiting For 'Interstellar,' Here's Over 100 Behind-The-Scenes Photos From 'The Dark Knight' Trilogy While You're Waiting For 'Interstellar,' Here's Over 100 Behind-The-Scenes Photos From 'The Dark Knight' Trilogy First Look At 'The Dying Of The Light,' Paul Schrader Quits Film Over What Nicolas Winding Refn Calls "Artistic Disrespect" First Look At 'The Dying Of The Light,' Paul Schrader Quits Film Over What Nicolas Winding Refn Calls "Artistic Disrespect" New Images From 'Interstellar' Arrive, Christopher Nolan Says The Film Is A "Mirror" Of 'Inception' New Images From 'Interstellar' Arrive, Christopher Nolan Says The Film Is A "Mirror" Of 'Inception' Watch: Have A Threesome With Very NSFW Clip From 'Maps To The Stars' With Julianne Moore & John Cusack Watch: Have A Threesome With Very NSFW Clip From 'Maps To The Stars' With Julianne Moore & John Cusack The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

Nicole Kidman's 5 Bravest Roles

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist June 20, 2013 at 3:03PM

While in everyday life it may conjure images of people charging into burning houses or diving into choppy oceans to save drowning dogs, “bravery” has a rather different connotation when applied to Hollywood actors and their choice of roles. Threatening to simply become a byword for “gets his/her kit off” or “plays a gay character,” the word "bravery" as critical currency has perhaps been a little undermined by reductive overuse. But there is still value in separating the kinds of performances that are calculated simply to rake in dollars, raise profiles or cement a star persona from those that seem chosen to test an actor's limits and challenge the audience’s expectations. For the sake of argument, the latter roles are the ones we’re labelling “brave” here, which comes in handy when discussing the varied and thriving career of Nicole Kidman, who turns 46 today. This time last year we talked about her 5 Essential Performances, and while there's obviously some overlap, this year we thought instead about which we might consider her bravest.
15
Dogville Paul Bettany Nicole Kidman

"Dogville" (2003)
Of the many epithets that have been attached to Lars von Trier’s name over the years -- enfant terrible, provocateur, genius, misogynist, Nazi -- one of the stickiest has been “torturer of actresses” (you can read about his bust-up with “Dancer in the Dark” star Bjork here, along with other notable actor/director spats). And Kidman was certainly not immune to his hectoring, temperamental ways, with director and star reportedly taking frequent long walks so they could shout at each other in private. But whether the working relationship was better or worse than with his other leading ladies, the performance Kidman gave is among the best he’s ever elicited (and remember both Bjork and Kirsten Dunst won Cannes Best Actress trophies, and Emily Watson was nominated for an Oscar, for their roles in von Trier movies), and definitely among the best she’s ever given. On the one hand it’s a gift of a role for an actress ambitious to show her range, of course, tracing an arc from naivety and innocence through increasingly gruesome psychological and sexual victimization, to powerlessness and hopelessness, before building back up and culminating in a towering act of revenge that wouldn’t seem amiss in a Park Chan-wook movie. But the film’s experimental theatricalism, and hyper-unreal stylization means it could easily have run the risk of alienating the viewer from the human drama and losing the performance or worse, rendering it ridiculous, within the avant-garde trappings. But Kidman is again fearless, and makes us believe the environment through sheer power of her own conviction in her performance.

The Paperboy Nicole Kidman

The Paperboy” (2012)
Ah well. For every few gambles that pay off there has to be at least one that doesn’t, right? And boy, Kidman’s all-in, bet-the-farm-and-throw-in-them-gator-hides-too roll of the dice on Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” did not pay off. Which actually makes it an interesting and honest addition to this list -- after all, if all daring choices guaranteed even a qualified triumph, there’d be nothing truly daring about them, would there? The instinct for unembarrassed trust in the director’s vision that marks some of her most interesting collaborations is also on display here, but Daniels is no Kubrick, Campion, Glazer or von Trier. Instead his impulse seems to be to coach Kidman (and in fairness, the rest of the cast who rise/sink to the occasion in accordance with their talents too) into avoiding as much as she can any approximation of real human behavior. But whether it’s the headline-grabbing, pun-ready moment when she pisses on Zac Efron or whether she’s causing John Cusack to spontaneously ejaculate by writhing and touching herself flanked by near-strangers at a prison interview, Kidman flings herself into the role, such as it is, purring and clawing and pouring herself wholly into some kind of platonic ideal mould of a hypersexualized white trash woman with a taste for bad boys.The whole thing plays at such a lurid pitch of straight-up bad taste, that perhaps the only unforgivable crime you could have committed as an actor already contractually obliged to complete filming would have been to back out, even a little, to try to wink or nod or allow even the slightest note of irony to creep in to your performance. It’s a credit to Kidman’s professionalism that that never happens, though we fear the results would make us a bit gunshy about committing to as risky a role in the near future.

Birth

Birth” (2004)
“Hey, let’s go see that movie where Nicole Kidman takes a bath with then kisses a 10 year-old boy who she thinks is the reincarnation of her dead husband!” was what pretty much nobody said back in October 2004, ensuring Jonathan Glazer’s uncategorizable, flawed but eerily beautiful “Birth” went gently into the good night of box office obscurity. But while maybe a hard sell for even the most adept of arthouse marketers back then, it’s a film that has gradually grown in retrospective acclaim, contrary to some poisonous reviews at the time, and when people do go back and rediscover it, one of the things that can’t be denied is the shimmering loveliness of Kidman’s performance. Yes, the film plays to her patrician, statuesque beauty, but the tenderness she brings to her role, the edge of a grief so old it seems almost physically painful to have it flare back up into hope, is a special sort of lightning in a bottle: a thousand things go on behind her eyes, and yet she retains, as the film’s tone requires, a sliver of unknowability. And for the majority of the running time, she and her director again seem in perfect sync, with Glazer weaving the film around her, as she betrays with only tiny moments, the oceanic feelings inside. The underplaying is vital in a film that has potential to become silly or salacious but actually retains a tone of uneasy intrigue throughout. Well, almost throughout -- the great misfortune is that the film’s ending undoes a great deal of the compelling and uniquely-voiced work up to that point, both over- and under-explaining a plot which till then operated more on the level of fairytale than real-world what-if. But even as it’s crumbling around her, Kidman retains her focus, and her grasp on her character and our attention.

Narrowly missing out on a spot in this list were Kidman’s turns in Noah Baumbach’s “Margot at the Wedding” in which she throws herself into a deeply unsympathetic role (but we did feature it in Essentials, in addition the downbeat but minutely observed "Rabbit Hole" and "To Die For"), and “Fur” which despite an intriguingly offbeat premise ends up just too slight to count among her more daring choices. "Moulin Rouge!"which was of course a challenge from the point of view of the singing is otherwise less about performance than costuming, choreography and design, but she’s also terrific in a gruelling early TV miniseries “Bangkok Hilton” that came about before her Hollywood breakout. And there could have been any of several more -- Kidman, even in genre fare, has matured into an actress who can almost always be relied upon to commit to a project and a director completely -- an act that requires a certain courage every single time. Before the end of the year we’ll be seeing her possibly cameo in “Anchorman 2 and after that channel Grace Kelly  in “Grace of Monaco.” In the meantime, we’re aware how subjective an assessment of a role’s risk value can be, so feel free to tell us in the comments why our list should actually have included “Trespass,” “Australia” and “Practical Magic” instead.

This article is related to: Nicole Kidman, On This Day In Movie History, Features, Feature


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates