Total Recall

Total Recall: Paul Bettany's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Priest star.

by | May 12, 2011 | Comments

Paul Bettany

Over the course of his relatively brief film career, Paul Bettany has played a wide variety of roles — tennis pro, legendary poet, albino monk, and the voice of a supercomputer, to name a few — but he’s never carried a movie about a vampire-slaying priest with a cross on his face. Until now, that is, and the release of this weekend’s Priest, which adapts the Korean comic about a centuries-long war between humanity and legions of undead bloodsuckers. To celebrate this career milestone, we decided now would be the perfect time to take a look back at the highlights of his filmography. It’s time for Total Recall!


10. Creation

Just in time for Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, director Jon Amiel gave filmgoers Creation, a dramatized account of the events leading up to Darwin’s long-delayed publication of On the Origin of the Species. An adaptation of Annie’s Box, a biography based on family letters (and written by Darwin’s great-grandson), it gave Bettany a chance to work opposite his real-life wife, Jennifer Connelly, who co-starred as Mrs. Darwin. Unfortunately, the pair’s offscreen chemistry wasn’t enough to keep critics from dismissing Creation as dull and maudlin (News of the World’s Robbie Collin called it “108 minutes of drizzle, scarlet fever and weeping in bonnets”), although for some scribes, the importance of the film’s subject was enough to make the melodrama worthwhile. Kerry Lengel of the Arizona Republic was among Creation‘s supporters, calling it “An intriguing portrait of a man and a time that changed everything.”


9. The Heart of Me

Stiff upper lips! Meaningful glances! Choked-back sobs of repressed longing and regret! Yes, it’s a British period picture! An adaptation of Rosamund Lehmann’s The Echoing Grove, The Heart of Me follows the doomed secret love that blooms between a married man (Bettany) and his sister-in-law (Helena Bonham Carter) during the World War II era. Featuring bombings, a pair of nervous breakdowns, and plenty of tragic death, Heart is the kind of movie that, if not handled delicately, can easily tilt into “soapy melodrama” territory — and unfortunately, that’s exactly where most critics said it ended up, although most of them were quick to point out that its shortcomings didn’t have much to do with the acting. As Peter Keough wrote for the Boston Phoenix, “By the time Bettany walks through the blitzed streets of London, defeated and transcendent, he’s put in one of the more affecting performances of the year.”


8. The Secret Life of Bees

Bettany is a pro at doing the “rakishly charming” thing, but he can also be supremely creepy when it’s called for. Case in point: his performance as T-Ray, the widowed single father whose ever-boiling rage drives his 14-year-old daughter Lily (Dakota Fanning) to run away in search of the truth about her mother. An adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling novel, The Secret Life of Bees wasn’t able to manage much (cough) buzz at the box office, and it was a little too sentimental for most critics — but some were powerless to resist its soft-hued depiction of the struggle for love and equality in the 1960s South. As Dana Stevens wrote for Slate, “It’s hard to roll your eyes when they’re full of tears.”


7. A Knight’s Tale

Offering an imagined peek into the writing of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales — with a classic rock soundtrack, plenty of jousting action, and a heaping stack of anachronisms in the bargain — A Knight’s Tale brought Bettany to Hollywood after he rose through the ranks of British television and cinema. Starring Heath Ledger as a knight’s squire who refuses to let his lack of noble blood keep him from jousting — and Bettany as the hard-living Chaucer, who helps him pull off a false identity — Tale was a splashy $117 million hit despite largely lukewarm reviews from critics who didn’t appreciate the modern lingo and pop culture references. For some scribes, though, all that medieval action made this a Tale worth telling: “The movie promises to rock you,” wrote the Washington Post’s Rita Kempley, “and much of the time it does.”


6. Wimbledon

After a number of supporting and co-starring roles in high-profile films, Bettany earned his first shot at leading man status with 2004’s Wimbledon, which uses the world of professional tennis as the backdrop for a love story between a cynical pro (Bettany) and the fresh-eyed ingenue he takes under his embittered wing (Kirsten Dunst). Adding tennis to the mix was something of a twist for the rom-com genre; sadly, it was a twist most filmgoers weren’t terribly interested in seeing, and Wimbledon limped to a $41 million finish at the box office. On the bright side, most critics liked it well enough — including Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer, who mused that it was “A pleasant enough entertainment at a time when movies either pleasant or entertaining are in short supply.”


5. Dogville

The debate over whether humans are inherently good or evil has waged for years. Director Lars von Trier is firmly in the latter camp, as evidenced by just about every entry in his filmography — including 2003’s Dogville, which follows the steady fraying of the social compact in a small town after a mysterious woman (Nicole Kidman) arrives seeking shelter from murderous gangsters. As Tom, the aspiring writer who serves as the audience’s guide to Dogville, Bettany helps establish the warped framework for the slowly unfolding horrors in a profoundly disquieting film that earned honors from many critics’ circles — as well as the praise of writers like Tom Long of the Detroit News, who wrote, “Dogville is in no way a standard film and likely won’t appeal to many. But Von Trier is so inventive, so outlandish and so filled with energy he has to at least be admired.”


4. Gangster No. 1

Bettany had booked a few film and television roles by the turn of the century, but 2000’s Gangster No. 1 served as his true cinematic coming-out party, giving him the chance to play the younger version of a bloodthirsty criminal (played by Malcolm McDowell in segments that open and close the film) who uses treachery, deceit, and good old-fashioned torture to rise from mob enforcer to London gangster kingpin. It was barely released here in the States, only landing on a single screen during its limited run in 2002, but Gangster No. 1 still received a warm critical reception; as Ella Taylor wrote for the L.A. Weekly, it’s a “Clever, brutal and strangely soulful movie.”


3. The Young Victoria

When you can marry your first cousin in front of the entire world and still be awesome enough to have an entire era named after you, you deserve a solid biopic — and that’s what Queen Victoria got with 2009’s The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt as the young monarch and Rupert Friend as her eventual king. As the reform-minded Prime Minister (and one of the Queen’s earliest close advisers) Lord Melbourne, Bettany took a supporting role among a solid cast that included Miranda Richardson and Jim Broadbent, helping Victoria earn the praise of critics like Christopher Kelly of the Dallas Morning News, who wrote, “If The Young Victoria never transcends its fussy trappings — it’s still a familiar costume drama — it remains brisk and intelligent.”


2. A Beautiful Mind

Before they sailed the seven seas in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Bettany and Russell Crowe co-starred in the Oscar-winning adaptation of Sylvia Nasar’s book about the life of Nobel-winning mathematician John Nash. As Nash’s college roommate Charles Herman, Bettany provided a sunny ray of well-adjusted light amidst Nash’s increasingly clouded, paranoid judgment, helping ground the hit drama that Variety’s Todd McCarthy lauded as “Consistently engrossing as an unusual character study and as a trip to the mysterious border-crossing between rarified brilliance and madness.”


1. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Patrick O’Brian’s long-running Aubrey-Maturin series of books, about the friendship between a pair of officers in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic War, reached American screens with this 2003 epic, which distilled storylines from a number of the books to create a two-hour-plus epic. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World finds Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and Dr. Stephen Maturin (Bettany) piloting the HMS Surprise in pursuit of the French privateer craft Acheron — a mission far more dangerous, and more grueling, than anyone expected. At 138 minutes, Commander could have been a tough slog too, but under Peter Weir’s direction — and with Crowe and Bettany holding the spotlight — it was smooth sailing for most critics. “Even if you can’t tell a mizzenmast from a gangplank,” wrote Jami Bernard of the New York Daily News, “Master and Commander will take your breath away.”

In case you were wondering, here are Bettany’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. A Beautiful Mind — 91%
2. Dogville — 88%
3. A Knight’s Tale — 80%
4. The Secret Life of Bees — 79%
5. Gangster No. 1 — 76%
6. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World — 75%
7. The Young Victoria — 66%
8. The Da Vinci Code — 64%
9. The Heart of Me — 60%
10. The Reckoning — 59%

Take a look through Bettany’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Priest.

Finally, here’s Bettany in the trailer for 2011’s Margin Call, co-starring Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore: