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Blockbusters to hidden gems: a look back at Tommy Lee Jones' extensive career

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Tommy Lee Jones is one of the most revered figures on the Hollywood landscape, embodying the old wild west figure of the authentic loner, endowed with a deeply-rooted moral compass and a dark intensity that permeates all of his roles.

In celebration of the actor and filmmaker’s 71st birthday and his long, illustrious career, here is a collection of some of Tommy Lee Jones’ best films, both ones widely-acclaimed and lesser-known gems.

1) The Fugitive (1993)

The film that won Jones’ first and so far only Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor, The Fugitive tells the story of Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), who, after being wrongfully convicted for his wife’s murder, escapes custody in a heart-pumping quest to prove his innocence and find the true murderer. A team of US. Marshals, headed by Deputy Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) is tasked with his capture.

His performance is mesmerising, and his portrayal is relentlessly powerful, comic, unstoppable. Incredibly, he succeeds even in stealing the show from Ford, which leaves no questions as to why he won the Academy Award nomination.

2) US Marshalls (1998)

Tommy Lee Jones reprises his role as Deputy Marshal Gerard in this spin-off of The Fugitive, which this time revolves around the pursuit of another fugitive, Mark Warren (Wesley Snipes), who is running from the government following an international conspiracy scandal.

Though some critics considered the film to be a little lack-lustre in comparison to its prequel, Jones’ performance remains as commanding as ever. Further, the fact that a sequel was made without the original star is a testament to the power of Jones’ presence as a supporting actor, and then as the lead.

3) Lincoln (2012)

With another of Tommy Lee Jones’ astounding supporting performances, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is an epic historical drama film about the presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), and particularly his proposed Thirteenth Amendment.

Jones’ performance as Radical Republicans leader and ardent abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens earned him yet another nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. It was a truly standout performance for the actor, and in the end allowed him to nuance his portrayal of Stevens with a softness uncustomary to his usual roles.

4) In the Electric Mist (2009)

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Jones plays a detective tracking a serial killer, whose investigation becomes more complicated by the appearance of a Hollywood star, and a merciless mobster. Detective Dave Robicheaux attempts to solve the murders whilst gradually falling prey to the unexpected, surreal elements of the story.

Tommy Lee Jones, as always, does a fantastic work of playing his usual, sturdy performance of the downtrodden country law enforcer, but nuanced with unexpected depth as a philosopher, whose ruminations turn to the poetic.  

5) JFK (1991)

This conspiracy thriller examines the events leading to John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the alleged cover-up that followed, from the perspective of former district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner). He files charges against businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) for his participation in this assassination conspiracy, supposedly hatched by the CIA, the defence industry, and a host of others whom would benefit from JFK’s death.

Though Jones’ role is, in the end, fairly small, it is arguably one of his most delicately constructed performances. He plays Shaw in a mysterious and subtle fashion, creating a fascinating enigma that gives just enough away to make his character compelling. The sinister, underlying quality Jones laces the performance with is a final, perfecting touch, and it begs no question as to why it earned him yet another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

6) Double Jeopardy (1999)

A neo-noir crime thriller, Double Jeopardy is the story of a woman (Ashley Judd) wrongfully convicted for her husband’s murder. Imprisoned, she learns that her husband faked his own death and framed her for it; she vows to, once out, hunt him down and kill him.

To do so she evades her parole officer, played by Jones. Yet again in a supporting role, this is one of the few roles in which Jones finds himself playing opposite a female lead. Though the film is on the nose at times, and a little contrived, it’s Jones’ unwavering credibility in his roles that plays a large part in rescuing this film from total dismissal.

7) No Country for Old Men (2007)

Widely regarded as the Coen brothers’ masterpiece, this cat-and-mouse drama sees Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumble across cash left behind from a drug deal gone wrong, and steals it. Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a terrifying and merciless murderer, then comes after him, whilst Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) too, pursues Moss in an attempt to protect him.

Jones delivers a goose-bump inducing, opening voiceover that alone sets the tone for the entire story, and is simply some of his best acting. His delivery contains raw, suppressed emotion and horror at the cruelty of men. In just one monologue, Jones asserts his imprint onto yet another fantastic production.

8) Space Cowboys (2000)

An unusual genre for the all-star cast of Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner, Space Cowboys is a space drama film that casts them as old, almost retired ex-test pilots, who are sent into space for the first time to repair an old Soviet satellite.

A more light-hearted role for Jones, his charisma and chemistry with his co-stars bubbles through the action plot, whilst even amongst these other hard-hitters, he continues to hold the screen with force.

 

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