The Amazing Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper is one of those actors that has been around for awhile who keeps showing up in movies that I like. I've never been good at remembering actors' names, except for the Brits. That is, I've never been into the business of following an actor or actress from film to film ("I must see everything that has Johnny Dep in it!" That sort of thing). I can't avoid the big names like Tom Hanks, but I won't go see a film just because Tom Hanks is in it (although it might sway me).

So I've been excited to "discover" Chris Cooper.

I recently saw Cooper in the 1996 Lone Star, for my West and the American Imagination class. Not a bad film but a tad disconcerting since I kept going, "But that's the guy from The Bourne Identity." The bad guy moreover. Now, I liked The Bourne Identity, and I thought Chris Cooper was a good bad guy, but up to that point I hadn't associated him with anything but The Bourne Identity.

And then, I'm standing at the library checkout counter with my Seabiscuit DVD and I look down and there's his name again! Chris Cooper. He's in this film? I think. And I realize. He's Tom Smith. He's got ten more pounds on him than in Bourne Identity and looks about fifteen years older, but it's the same guy. And holy smokes, I'm impressed because Tom Smith is a fantastically different character from Cooper's parts in Lone Star and Bourne Identity. (Actually, now I think about it, all the parts are cowbody parts: good cowboy, bad bureaucratic cowbody, laconic cowboy, but the cowboys in Lone Star and Bourne are depthless--by necessity; the story doesn't call for depth, not even in Lone Star where all the depth and ambiguity is reserved for the cowbody's daddy. Tom Smith, however, is depthful, a fully rounded character.)

Turns out, Chris Cooper starred in Matewan and October Sky. He's one of those actors who I doubt will ever win an Academy Award. But he should (along with Ed Harris and a few others.) I know Hollywood does those life-time achievement things, but that's usually reserved for dying artists who everyone feels guilty over. It seems to me that just being good at what you do (consistently) deserves a pat on the back now and again.


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