Whether he’s piloting futuristic racing cars around a kaleidoscopic funhouse or perishing earnestly in the North American wilderness, Emile Hirsch has been steadily building a solid acting resume that surely hints of some great work to come. And though he’s been relatively quiet since roles in Gus van Sant’s Milk and Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, the young actor is set to return with a bunch of new films, the first of which — opening in theaters this week — is the sci-fi action thriller The Darkest Hour, the debut feature for visual effects expert-turned-director Chris Gorak, produced by Timur Bekmambetov. Hirsch stars, alongside Olivia Thirlby, as a young American traveler in Moscow who finds himself pitted against a deadly, literally electric invasion by power-hungry aliens. Well now, that’s not good for tourism, Timur. We had a chance to chat with Hirsch recently, where he obliged us with his five favorite films… and an impromptu exegesis of Terrence Malick.
A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951; 98% Tomatometer)
This’ll be my five favorite films of this moment. I really love A Streetcar Named Desire. With Streetcar Named Desire, and On the Waterfront — those are like the Brando movies that I think are so essential to the growth of film acting in general; I mean, Brando came along and changed the game.
The Matrix was just such an incredible cinematic experience. I saw it when I was 13, in the cinema. I didn’t know anything about it — I hadn’t seen the trailer. It just blew my mind. I didn’t know anything about it when I first saw it. And I was lucky enough to be able to work with the Wachowskis later, years later, on Speed Racer, which I had a great time on.
Raging Bull was just an incredible performance by Robert De Niro. A great, you know, show of discipline by an actor. And Martin Scorsese… visually, it was just so cool.
The Usual Suspects was Bryan Singer’s masterpiece. It was such a great ensemble and such a smartly-told film. The twist at the end was just fantastic. That movie kicked so much ass.
The English Patient I saw when I was really young, and the love story just devastated me, I think. You know, I was just sobbing. I loved it. Beautiful images. Something that can evoke that much emotion out of me — I was just really moved. So those are five that just come straight to the surface. You must get all kinds of people naming these obscure-ass movies though, right?
Most people tend to be pretty honest; unless they’re, you know—
Trying to be assh—s. [Laughs] Did you see The Tree of Life?
Yeah, I loved it.
I thought it was amazing. All the shots of the bacteria, when you see them bubbling for the first time, all the gasses and the fluid. And you see the little helixes swimming toward the surface together. I thought that was so amazing.
I could’ve watched that sequence for two hours.
Yeah. People were complaining about the cosmos shots and the life shots but I found that infinitely great. It’s such a good film. So beautifully shot and acted. Another thing I really loved about it was the way in which you see the evolution of innocence to experience with these young boys, and how these young boys kind of become a metaphor for the human race; of how our species is just naturally corrupted with time. You’re born good but you eventually see this dark side as you get older; like when the boys get together and they’re killing things — it’s not that they’re raised wrong, it just happens naturally. And then [the movie’s] like trying to go back to that state of grace, you know? I loved that movie. What do you think that doorway represented? Cause it keeps cutting back to that doorway. I think it represented the transition from life to death, but the reason it’s on the beach — it’s the solitary doorway — is because there’s no real difference: death, in a certain sense, is an illusion of change. You’re still in the same area — it’s like you can pass through this manifest doorway but you’re still in the exact same area as you were before.
The Darkest Hour opens in theaters this week.