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5 Great Daniel Craig Performances

November 9th, 2012 9:00am EST

Skyfall Today you can catch Skyfall, Daniel Craig's third film in the role of iconic superspy James Bond. (You can read my review of the film here.) Yet Craig has been a formidable actor since well before he stepped behind the wheel of Bond's Aston Martin.

In honor of Skyfall's opening day, here are Craig's five best performances, in chronological order.

1997: The Ice House

Craig has only a supporting role in this adaptation of the Minette Walters novel of the same name, but it's an early indicator of his future leading-man status. He runs away with the flick as Detective-Sergeant Andy McLoughlin, the second on a suspicious death investigation who makes the error of getting involved with one of the three suspects. While his character arc is not exactly novel, the material is well-written and Craig makes it his own, creating a McLoughlin who would believably make his choices, rather than a gullible hero who gets duped. As the story unfolds and the character flourishes, you feel as if he's matured rather than been made to look like a fool. The Ice House has recently been released on DVD, this time with Craig getting top (and in fact only) billing on the cover. You can order your copy here.

2000: Some Voices

In this small film, Craig joins forces with David Morrissey (State of Play, Doctor Who, The Walking Dead) to play a pair of brothers whose relationship is tested by mental illness. Craig plays Ray, who is schizophrenic, and who would be a shock to anyone who only knows Daniel Craig as James Bond. He's spontaneous, sometimes childlike, and trying to reintegrate back into the world after being discharged from a psychiatric hospital into the care of his older brother Pete (a well-cast Morrissey). This is a whole other side of Craig, one that is allowed to be by turns funny, weak, distressed, frustrated and completely off the rails. It's a role that proves Craig is far more than just a one-type actor. You can order your copy here.

2004: Layer Cake

This movie based on the J.J. Connolly novel is said to be the role that put Craig in contention for the part of James Bond, and it's easy to see why. His nameless protagonist (credited only as XXXX) is equal parts tough and sympathetic, smart and utterly stupid. He's a little bit of everything, and Craig can hit all the notes, whether it's trying to kill someone or nearly getting killed. There are all sorts of twists and reveals in this movie, but through it all we never lose sight of Craig, what his character is thinking and feeling, and that we want him to figure it all out. XXXX is compelling because he's so human, including the flaws, and Craig gets us to see him as a person, someone we get to know and not just watch. His voiceover frames the film, too, and he has just that right amount of wit in his tone that makes it feel like a conversation, not a cinematic device. It's a great movie, and Craig's best performance before Bond. You can order your copy here.

2005: Archangel

Thomas Harris novels have been somewhat of a goldmine for the screen (see: Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, Manhunter, Hannibal, The Ghost Writer). Archangel is the adaptation which gets overlooked. The key to its success is Craig, who's able to play both the world-weary, cynical side of history professor Fluke Kelso, and the determined yet also scared side of him as well. The viewer believes that he is not a hero, just an ordinary man - but a man who then is motivated to find the truth even if it means risking his life. Craig connects with the audience throughout his character's entire arc. He's also very well matched by another talented actor, Gabriel Macht, who plays the aggressive journalist accompanying Kelso to perfection. Between Craig and Macht's performances, Archangel is that rare thing: an adaptation which is stronger than the source. You can order your copy here.

2006: Casino Royale

When Craig made his debut as Bond, he became the only Bond to ever be nominated for a BAFTA - the British equivalent of the Oscars - and deservedly so. With Casino Royale he reminded us that James Bond is an actor's part, not an infalliable fixture or a piece in the formula. Whereas many action movies don't call for a lot of acting, this one did, and Craig brought so much to the role of Bond that had nothing to do with one-liners, gadgets or girls (though he had all those). He got us back inside Bond's head and heart, showing us how he became the timeless spy, and what that cost him. His debut was a character piece as much as it was a blockbuster, and that was worth raving about. You can order your copy here.

Honorable Mention: Copenhagen (2002)

Michael Frayn's Tony Award-winning stage play Copenhagen is no easy production. Centering on physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg and a meeting that took place between them in 1941, it's heavy with scientific dialogue and historical context, and this BBC adaptation is so simply staged that it relies almost exclusively on the acting. Craig, playing Heisenberg, gives emotional weight to events and concepts that the audience might not know outside of history textbooks. He makes us understand the importance and gravity of the conversation. It is far from a showy role, the exact opposite in fact, but he wears it well and handles the dense material deftly. You can order your copy here.

Incidentally, Craig is also very, very good when he's on the stage: he co-anchored a production of Keith Huff's A Steady Rain alongside fellow movie hero (and Tony winner) Hugh Jackman in 2009.

Skyfall opens in theaters today. You can read my review of the film by clicking here.

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.

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