I admire actors who have the ability to transform and experiment with their roles; actors who always seek challenges and try to avoid playing the same kind of character twice. For me, Edward Norton has always been this performer by bringing a certain level of intelligence and versatility to each role that strengthens the films he has appeared in. Norton’s commitment to his characters extends to his mental and physical capabilities, yet he makes each character so unique and realistic that it almost appears effortless. In this top 5, I’ll be celebrating this actor’s diverse and accomplished filmography, and as you’ll soon see, no two characters are ever alike.
Red Dragon (2002)
This sequel to “Silence of the Lambs” has a lot of problems, but in his role as FBI agent Will Graham, Norton holds his own while acting opposite Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector. Norton’s intensity as a dramatic actor suits the tone of this tense movie well, and his ability to convey logic and intelligence while hunting down a serial killer made him a unconventional, but identifiable protagonist.
The Illusionist (2006)
This film had the unfortunate timing of being released the same year as a much bigger and more noticed film about magic (Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige”). Personally, I enjoyed this film better and Norton was an excellent choice to embody the film’s mystery, romance, and intellectual elements as the magician, Eisenstein. Norton blends smoothly into this fantasy costume drama that quickly becomes a game of wits when he is persecuted by the Austrian royal family. This movie never received the attention it deserved and is a really great hidden Norton feature.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
By teaming up with Wes Anderson, Norton was able to step out of his typically dramatic and serious roles and explore his comedic talents. As Scout Master Randy Ward, Norton portrays a nerdy and uncertain middle school teacher who must lead his group of boy scouts on a rescue mission. Norton was a perfect compliment to Anderson’s deadpan and quirky humour, and this role displays Norton’s flexibility as an actor.
Fight Club (1999)
Probably Norton’s most well-known and popular film, this anti-capitalist mediation on modern life has gained a cult following and become something of a film legend. Norton stars as a character known simply as “The Narrator” – a 30-something guy working a meaningless job while trying to fill his life with support groups and Ikea furniture. Norton’s incorporates subtlety while communicating a character who is disenfranchised by consumer culture and ultimately transitions into one who reveals his inner desire to unleash chaos on what the world has become.
American History X (1998)
This is Norton’s most complex and controversial role to date and displays his commitment to his roles and characters. Portraying a reformed neo-Nazi with a violent past is a sublime balancing act that requires a deep assessment of the character’s flaws and ability to transform. Norton’s performance as Derek Vinyard confronts audiences with his blatant racism and hate, but as the film progresses, he becomes empathetic to a certain extent – a fact that forces us as viewers to address our own troubling feelings on the subject matter. “American History X” is haunting and is one of those film experiences that will stay with you forever, much in part to Norton’s intense and startling portrayal.