From Hogwarts to Wayne Manor: Robert Pattinson, Actor
So Robert Pattinson is our eighth big screen Caped Crusader (including Will Arnett in the Lego movies) a choice that has received backlash among some bat-fans. A few were upset that the pretty boy from Twilight was cast as their hero, which is dumb because Pattinson has gone to great lengths since starring in the moony vampire romance to prove he is far more than just a teen heartthrob.
I dug up one of my old reviews for the first instalment of The Twilight Saga from over a decade ago:
“The real one to watch is Pattinson, of course… my initial reaction was that he looked like an ultra-lifelike creation from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, with the bloodless line of an unsmiling mouth, jutting nose, and stern eyebrows. But when he smiles… yes OK, girls, I get it. Some might say that the muppets are more expressive, but I think there’s a good actor in Pattinson waiting for better material…”
I’m happy to say I called it on that one. Since Pattinson made his breakthrough in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005, he has steadily built one of the most interesting CVs out of any of his contemporaries. Now at the age of 35, he has the lot. He’s a big star who can open a tentpole Hollywood movie, but isn’t afraid to take risks and likes to keep us guessing. One minute he might be turning in a supporting role in a big blockbuster, the next collaborating with an auteur like David Cronenberg or Werner Herzog.
It hasn’t been all plain sailing, and he reportedly considered quitting the acting game early on after playing a teenage Salvadore Dali in the poorly received Little Ashes. There have been other duds along the way such as Herzog’s forgotten Queen of the Desert, where he played a young Lawrence of Arabia.
As for The Batman, I haven’t seen the results myself but the casting made good sense to me. Ben Affleck was a pretty decent caped crusader, but with him pushing fifty it was clearly time to hand over the Batmobile keys to a younger actor. Pattinson might not be the youngest big screen Batman - that was Christian Bale at 31 - but there is a freshness about him that makes him seem younger. Plus there is always a certain brooding unknowability to his characters that makes him a good fit for the conflicted Bruce Wayne.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Pattinson almost made his film debut in 2004 as Reese Witherspoon’s son in the period drama, Vanity Fair, but his performance ended up on the cutting room floor. He fared better in the fourth instalment of the Harry Potter movies.
In a small but important role, Pattinson cuts a noble figure as Cedric Diggory, the good-natured Hogwarts champion and dashing Quidditch player. He might not get a huge amount of screen time, but it is testament to his screen presence that Cedric’s tragic demise is so powerful, ranked number one in Insider’s countdown of the most heart-breaking Harry Potter deaths.
It’s very easy to make fun of The Twilight Saga, the ponderous teen romance adapted from Stephanie Meyer’s book series. Some of the peculiar revisions of vampire lore certainly didn’t endear the films to horror fans (vampires sparkling in the sun!) but they were never the target audience in the first place.
The films are largely forgettable to regular movie fans. The first instalment was half-decent, like a less fun version of The Lost Boys, and I quite liked the audacious flash-forward in Breaking Dawn: Part 2 which gave us a decent bit of carnage without actually having to kill anyone off.
The most interesting thing about Twilight was, and still is, the casting of Kristen Stewart as Bella, the mopey teen who falls hard for vampire dreamboat Edward Cullen, played by Pattinson. Both actors were so clearly capable of better things, and so it has proved.
Meyer wrote Cullen with Pattinson’s fellow Englishman Henry Cavill in mind, but he was deemed too old for the role when it came to making the film version. Cavill lost out to Pattinson on both Cedric Diggory and Edward Cullen. How one channel of mainstream cinema could have changed if it was the other way around…
With the success of Twilight, Pattison was evidently eager to get involved with whatever indie projects took his fancy. First up was a date with cult Canadian auteur David Cronenberg, venturing back into writing his own screenplays after a long stretch since Existenz. Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a young billionaire whose day gets increasingly weirder as he rides around in his limo having impromptu meetings with whoever drops in, receiving a prostate examination, and discovering someone wants to kill him.
The film itself was only middle tier Cronenberg but Pattinson is terrific. He’s on screen for almost the whole movie, and he puts in a magnetic performance, giving us a first indication that he wasn’t afraid to play dislikeable characters. Eric is aloof, spoiled, and filthy rich, but the actor’s charisma has us on the hook anyway. He collaborated with Cronenberg again on Maps to the Stars.
The Rover (2014)
Pattinson continued his process of distancing himself from the heartthrob image in The Rover, a fiercely grim dystopian neo-western from David Michod, the Aussie helmer who gained international acclaim for Animal Kingdom a few years earlier. In a ferocious dog-eat-dog world ten years after a devastating economic collapse, Pattinson is Rey, a scrappy simpleton caught up with Eric (Guy Pearce), a violent loner who just wants his car back.
Shot in the baking Australian outback, The Rover recalls the gritty, visceral films of the ‘70s Australian New Wave like Wake in Fright and The Last Wave. It’s a gripping watch and fascinating to see Pattinson gleefully subverting his pretty boy image. Partnered with Pearce in one of his most baleful, uncompromising roles, Pattinson has the showier part. He has the good sense to hold back on the tics that a lesser actor might have employed, never threatening to go full R-word like Sean Penn in I am Sam.
The Lost City of Z (2016)
Pattinson has enjoyed the star power to open a movie since the huge success of Twilight, but he has shown no desire to rest on his laurels and has put in some of his most subtle performances in supporting roles.
In The Lost City of Z, he shows that playing a supporting role doesn’t mean using your limited screen time to upstage the lead… here’s looking at you, Brad Pitt 12 Monkeys. In James Gray’s measured portrait of obsession on the hunt for lost cities of gold, he plays Henry Costin, a quietly driven explorer with great knowledge of the Amazon. He accompanies the doomed Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) on his first expedition, where they first become convinced that legends of the lost city are based in fact.
Pattinson’s carefully calibrated performance is in keeping with the subdued tone of the film, and he lends excellent support to Hunnam. Both men are dedicated explorers, but Costin isn’t touched with the obsessiveness that ultimately commits Fawcett to his mysterious fate in the deadly jungle.
Good Time (2017)
Pattinson gave the best performance of his career to date in Good Time, the Safdie Brother’s scuzzy, neon-lit crime thriller. He plays Connie Nikas, a lowlife frantically trying to scrape the cash together for his disabled brother’s bail bond when he is arrested for a botched bank robbery. Set over the course of one very, very bad night for the brothers, Connie pinballs from one desperate situation to another with sometimes blackly comic results.
Pattinson, with his scraggy bleached blonde hair and Queens accent, looks authentically like some street-level chancer. Connie is not a good guy at all. He’s cruel, impatient, violent, a restless schemer with a rat’s instinct for survival. The film is often compared to Dog Day Afternoon, and Connie is the heir apparent to Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik, trying to keep his head above water as things fall apart around him. You can see his mind racing all the time, working out angles on the fly, making a clear through line to Adam Sandler’s conniving, full-time loser in the Safdie’s next film, Uncut Gems.
Pattinson has built his career around brooding, enigmatic roles, so it’s a nice change of pace to find him playing sweet and goofy in Damsel. It’s a quirky take on the western that fits right in with the past decade’s fascination with tweaking the tropes of the genre - see also: Slow West, Bone Tomahawk, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, etc.
Damsel feels more like the off-kilter whimsy of earlier Coens like Raising Arizona or The Hudsucker Proxy than the rather black-hearted Scruggs, with Pattinson giving an endearingly screwball spin on the classic western hero. He makes an excellent screen partnership with Mia Wasikowska, with their relationship taking several unexpected turns.
High Life (2018)
If Pattinson’s nervy performance in Good Time was all about his energy on screen, his understated performance in High Life is all about his control. He plays Monte, a convicted prisoner aboard a spaceship destined for a black hole, used as a guinea pig in artificial insemination experiments by the perverse ship’s doctor.
It’s a cryptic, cerebral, and darkly erotic space oddity, pairing Pattinson again with Juliette Binoche after their evident chemistry in Cosmopolis. As the ship approaches a black hole and the psyches of the ship’s crew frazzle and break, Pattinson depicts Monte as a man emerging from an almost zen-like calm as the doctor’s meddling leaves him with a baby to look after. It’s a study in understated emotion as Monte awakens to the task of raising a child alone in such an isolated, extreme environment.
The first English language feature from French director Claire Denis, High Life is likely to alienate as many viewers as it hooks. If the similarly themed Interstellar deduced that love is the transcendental power in the universe, High Life comes to a more pessimistic conclusion, although is no less moving for it.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Robert Eggers followed up his stunning debut, The Witch, with this idiosyncratic horror that takes us into the headspace of two 19th century lighthouse keepers driving each other crazy on a desolate rock. Like its predecessor, The Lighthouse is rich in atmosphere and thick with period detail and dialect. The stark black-and-white photography and boxy aspect ratio casts viewers back to an older period of cinema, trapping them in such close proximity with the two characters that you can almost smell the stale farts in their cramped quarters.
It’s a meaty two-hander which gives Pattinson the chance to test out his chops against Willem Dafoe, and it’s a feast of acting. Dafoe has the hammier role as Thomas Wake, the crusty senior “wickie,” an old salt with a penchant for hard liquor and rambling soliloquies. Pattinson matches him stride for stride in a subservient role that expands and gets stronger as the gothic madness sets in.
Memento, Inception, Interstellar, even Dunkirk… Christopher Nolan is obsessed with time, and his temporal tinkerings are at their most tiresome in Tenet, the mega-budget spy caper where our unnamed Protagonist (John David Washington) tries to save the world from an impending threat from the distant future, through the process of inversion. Like the title, the movie is supposedly palindromic, but the storytelling is so dense and muddled that it requires multiple viewings to pick up all the threads. Frankly, I found it so intensely boring that I just turned to explainer articles instead, and still wasn’t convinced that all the information I needed to work out the puzzle was in the actual movie.
Nolan likes his movies big and portentous, and Tenet is one of his biggest and most humourless to date. Thankfully Pattinson is onboard as Neil, the Protagonist’s shady handler who helps him along the way on his mission, including an audacious airport heist. Pattinson reportedly based Neil’s mannerisms and accent on Christopher Hitchens, the religion-bashing author and journalist. Pattinson is the only person in the movie who looks like he’s having any fun, playing the slightly sozzled Neil with a devilishly raffish air.
So there you have it, some of my favourite Robert Pattinson performances so far. What are your picks? Was he good casting as The Batman? Let us know what you think!