Under the Circuit: Ben Mendelsohn

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Most Known For: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Bloodline”

Snubbed For: “Animal Kingdom,” “Starred Up”

Remember back in 2010 when an underground campaign was launched for Jacki Weaver for her performance in “Animal Kingdom” that eventually led to an Oscar nomination? Where was that for Ben Mendelsohn? Weaver’s co-star in the film has emerged recently as a prolific character actor, starring in both big Hollywood blockbusters and smaller foreign films, but unlike Weaver he hasn’t gotten the support to mount any real charge for an Oscar nomination.

Mendelsohn has been bouncing between the film industries of Hollywood and his native Australia since the 90s. Some of his early credits include “Quigley Down Under,” “Vertical Limit” and “The New World.” It wasn’t until “Animal Kingdom,” however, that Mendelsohn’s career truly began to take off.

photo-of-ben-mendelsohn-from-animal-kingdom-2010-with-laura-20141230081048-54a25e08e257aAs the eldest brother of a crime family, Mendelsohn established the unpredictable wild-card characteristic that he has become known for since. “Animal Kingdom” was a crowded field though, with Weaver garnering most of the acclaim state side and Joel Edgerton and Guy Pearce also sharing some of the spotlight. Mendelsohn did receive some awards love for the performance in his home country, though, taking Best Actor prizes with both the Australian Film Institute and Film Critics Circle Australia Awards, it just never came stateside.

From there Mendelsohn would truly make in roads with American audiences. He had a brief role in “The Dark Knight Rises” as the businessman who works with Bane before ultimately being killed by him. He also had a role in the Brad Pitt starrer “Killing Them Softly” as one half of an inept crime duo that sets the whole plot in motion. He capped off 2012 with a supporting turn in “A Place Beyond the Pines,” as the man who introduces Ryan Gosling to robbing banks.

StarredupBut once again it would be outside the states that his best chance at awards would come. In “Starred Up,” Mendelsohn played the incarcerated father to Jack O’Connell’s young, violent prisoner. While O’Connell was the breakthrough of the film, Mendelsohn is spectacular as his short-tempered father, who struggles between wanting his son to be different from him, and not knowing how to effectively show that, especially in an environment like prison. Nominations from the Village Voice and International Online Cinema Awards for Best Supporting Actor would come, as would a win from the British Independent Film Awards, but “Starred Up” never got the attention it deserved on the major awards circuit.

The good news, the best is quiet possibly still to come for Mendelsohn. He’s still building his reputation, and with each film it grows and grows in a positive direction. This year he has already had “Black Sea” and Netflix’s new original drama “Bloodline.” He will also be seen in then upcoming western “Slow West” alongside Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee. He is also reteaming with Gosling in the actors directorial debut, “Lost River.”

Mendelsohn’s most intriguing role on the horizon has to be “Mississippi Grind.” His first leading role in an American film, Mendelsohn stars opposite Ryan Reynolds as a down on his luck gambler who teams with a younger poker player to win back his money at southern casinos. The film premiered at Sundance to strong reviews, with Rolling Stone going as far as calling Mendelsohn “a new greatest-actor-of-his-generation contender.” Whether that is hyperbole or not will be determined in the coming months, but it certainly makes Mendelsohn one to watch in this year’s Oscar race.

Mendelsohn is definitely on the upward trend. If “Mississippi Grind” can’t break him into the Oscar club, there’s a strong possibility he will become a household name anyway with rumors that he is up for a key role in the “Star Wars” spinoff, “Rogue One.” So, whether it is with the dice or via a galaxy far, far away, Mendelsohn’s time as a big name star seems to be coming, and with it an Oscar nomination is definitely a strong possibility.

  • Samuel Brace

    He is fantastic in Bloodline. Possible Emmy nomination for him?

  • Excellent UtC installment, Mike! I too am a fan of Mendelsohn and hope he gets his due from the Academy.