5 Great Robert Patrick Performances
November 5th, 2012 9:00am EST
Today I wish a very happy birthday to Robert Patrick, an actor who can always be counted on to give a solid performance - which is good, because he's also one of those actors who seems to be in almost everything. Currently, he's starring as Chief of the Boat Joseph Prosser on ABC's freshman drama series Last Resort, but chances are you've seen him in a half-dozen other things and didn't know it.
In Robert's honor, I've sorted through his prolific film and television resume to pick out his five best performances. Read on to see what made my list and feel free to add your own choices in the comments below.
1. Special Agent John Doggett, The X-Files (2000-2002)
Following after a departing lead character is never an easy task for any actor, especially if said character is as beloved as Fox Mulder was. But the producers could not have found a better successor than Patrick as Special Agent John Doggett. With his no-nonsense attitude and that stare that could go through people, Doggett was tough enough to handle everything the X-Files Division could throw at him - which was a lot. In just two years on the show, he found out two of his old friends were super soldiers (one of which tried to kill him multiple times), got amnesia, died, and came back to life. That's intense.
What made Doggett one of the best heroes ever to have graced the science-fiction genre, though, was how complex he was. As enjoyable as it was when he was saving Scully or helping Mulder, he was just as good when viewers got to see his more vulnerable side, and Patrick played that just as well. Two of the best episodes from The X-Files' final years, Season 8's "Via Negativa" and Season 9's "Release," are great episodes because of the amazing, heartbreaking performances he gave in them. Even when the episodes were lacking, he was always good.
Doggett might only have been with the X-Files for two years, but by the end, he felt like someone who'd been there a lot longer. It's unfortunate that the cancellation of The X-Files meant that his character didn't get to be explored any further, because there was still plenty of life left in him - and to this day, a decade later, I still wonder where he might be. That's the mark of a truly great character.
2. T-1000, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
I find it amusing that the same actor played both my favorite science-fiction hero and my favorite science-fiction villain, but that just goes to show you how versatile Robert Patrick is. His performance as the liquid metal antagonist in T2 was the exact opposite of his work on The X-Files; he was a machine and a frightening one at that. I can't be the only person who had nightmares after seeing this emotionless stare of doom.
Putting aside how groundbreaking the special effects used to create the T-1000 were at the time, Patrick's performance was exactly what this role needed. I wasn't afraid of the "evil Terminator" because of all the nifty things it could do; I was afraid of it because of that unsettling stare and the way he delivered his limited dialogue. He made the character into something I definitely did not want to cross, ever.
And yet, after he was defeated by the T-800 and the Connors, I also kind of missed the liquid metal guy - just because I appreciated how cool it was that a fictional character could have that kind of effect on me. Terminator 2 remains an incredibly memorable sci-fi flick, and that's in part because there was a more than worthy adversary who made the hero's journey that much more worthwhile. I've seen a lot of bad guys on film since, but rarely have they intimidated me the way the T-1000 did more than two decades ago. I'm still just a little bit scared of him.
3. Mr. Aaron, Lonely Street (2009)
From the movie pretty much everyone saw to a movie that you probably have never heard of: in this comedy-detective flick, Patrick plays a mysterious dude known only as Mr. Aaron, who hires a private detective (Jay Mohr) to spy on a tabloid reporter. After the reporter turns up dead, the detective figures out that there's a lot more to Mr. Aaron than he thought. To say too much more about it would take away the fun, and this is an underexposed gem of a movie. It's also one of Patrick's best performances because you can't even tell it's him.
The previous roles on this list wisely took advantage of Patrick's distinctive qualities, but in Lonely Street, he completely disappears into the part, and not just because of the great makeup job. It's so different from any role he's played before or since, and it also allows him to show something he doesn't get enough credit for: how funny he can be. Oh, and there's even a music video included as part of the DVD special features. This movie proves that Patrick can play pretty much anything, not just the tough guys.
4. Ray Bennet, Backflash (2001)
Following along the same lines as Lonely Street, Backflash gives you Robert Patrick in a role you wouldn't expect to be played by Robert Patrick. The difference is that in this movie, there's no makeup job to conceal him; the treat is in watching mild-mannered video store owner Ray evolve into someone else over the course of the film. To go into specifics would ruin the experience of seeing Patrick play one thing and then gradually, believably transition into something completely opposite. If you're paying close attention, you can really grasp how the character changes as the movie goes on. By the time I got to the end, it made perfect sense, because all the clues had been there in Patrick's performance.
The role holds a special place in my heart because of its subleties and nuances. There are a lot of good actors out there, and they can all handle the big emotional moments or major cliffhangers well. It's something else when you don't have that, and you're building something with the smallest pieces, be it body language or a throwaway beat in a scene, but you still create a character that is just as compelling. Everything that Ray does means something in Backflash, and it's a performance that shows Patrick's tremendous work ethic. It also happens to be a pretty good movie, too.
5. Colonel Tom Ryan, The Unit (2006-2009)
Four years after The X-Files, Patrick returned to TV as the commanding officer of an elite military team in the CBS drama produced by Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and playwright David Mamet. Given his natural intensity, he fit perfectly into the role of Colonel Tom Ryan, who gave the orders, kept the secrets, and was not always on the straight and narrow. The position sadly didn't make as much use of his action chops as it could have, but he was believable in command, and Patrick being so likeable made Ryan's more questionable choices a little easier to swallow. He brought that extra touch of humanity to a character who could have easily been another gruff authority figure.
For example, Ryan's affair with one of the Unit wives was finally exposed in the fourth season, in the same two-parter where he decides he's going to participate in a mission to rescue someone close to the team. This means that Patrick had to do a lot over the two episodes: he had to handle the action sequences, but at the same time there was some heavy acting involved, too. He made it all look easy, with how he could wield an assault rifle in one scene and be resigned to his imminent death in another. Like his role on The X-Files, The Unit allowed audiences to see how good Patrick is at developing a character over a prolonged period.
It wasn't always perfect; there were quite a few moments over The Unit's four seasons where Ryan was downright insufferable or the writing let Patrick down, which is what keeps me from placing this one higher up on the list, but for the most part the role was worth the ride. It takes a special type of actor to believably order around Dennis Haysbert, and Patrick was definitely the man for the job.
Honorable Mention: Special Agent Jeff Douglas, Zero Tolerance (1994)
This is not one of his best movies, but it's on this list because there is one scene early in Zero Tolerance that is one of the best individual moments in Patrick's career. His hotshot FBI agent Jeff Douglas - a precursor to his role in The X-Files, almost - finds out that his entire family has been killed, and Patrick's reacting is so good that the audience feels as devastated as he does in that moment. It's the complete collapse of a man in just a few minutes, and it's absolutely gut-wrenching to watch.
These are just a handful of the many roles that Robert Patrick has inhabited over the years; you can check out his considerable filmography if you want to see the rest. If you don't know him yet, you're missing out on one of the most underappreciated actors working today.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit Digital Airwaves and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
Photo Credits: Google Image Search; Robert Patrick Archives