Edward Norton is an Academy Award nominated actor, but he is also an accomplished screenwriter and director. While he does not have the longest list of performers for an actor so well established and respected, it's all about how well he chooses the films that he does do. He is also well known for being an environmental activist and charity worker. This weekend the newest of his movies hits the theaters titled Stone, starring Norton, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, and Milla Jovovich. It's about a prisoner (Norton) about to go up from a parole hearing and he's trying to manipulate and blackmail his Parole Officer (De Niro). So here's a look at Norton's best and worst films, and luckily for him his best list far outshines any mediocre films he's ever done.
As a side note, I personally love both of these 'worst' films by Norton, but they do have to be mentioned since they were not well received or did well in the box office.
This was Edward Norton's first major film, and it's always a good sign when a young actor gives such a perfect performance on his very first job. The movie is about an arrogant defense attorney (Richard Gere) who takes on the case of a killer altar boy Aaron (Norton) pro bono to get the press attention. He starts feeling close to the sweet Southern boy, and he's horrified when he realizes Aaron is actually insane. It's too late to claim defense of Insanity, so what's he supposed to do? There's a great little twist in this movie and Ed Norton just nails his character, both as the stuttering and shy Aaron and his other ego the psychotic and vicious Roy. The movie got steady praise and Norton became someone to watch in the future, a young actor with great potential. He was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting actor!
American History X
This is the movie Norton got an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and it was completely justified. It is still a chilling and heartbreaking performance. Norton starts out the movie as the cruel and hateful Derek, a white supremist on Venice Beach who is sent to jail for shooting to death a black man and then brutally murders another by curb-stomping him to death. His gentle younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong) watches in horror. Years later, Derek is in jail and has joined an Aryan gang, but he is attacked by them for mouthing off. In time he befriends a black prisoner and over the next three years turns around his hatred and learns to regret his past. He tries to save his little brother from his own path and hopes to find redemption. This moving role put Norton quickly into the spotlight, and secured him the respect of critics and other actors.
Rule number one about Fight Club: You don't talk about Fight Club! But I have to for this review, so Tyler will have to forgive me. Fight Club is an incredibly controversial film, and although it did well in the box office it never hit the popularity that the studio was hoping for. This only happened later when it was a hit cult classic and was a success on DVD. Norton played the nameless narrator who talks about the changes that happen in his life when a charismatic soap salesman named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) becomes his friend. They start a fight club where men get out their frustration and anger by beating one another illegally. There's a twist in this movie as well that's fairly well known by now, and it's still interpreted in many different ways. Norton goes from being soft spoken and awkward to strong and intense, a change he often does in his films, and it always manages to work for him. Although he received no awards for this movie, it remains a very popular film and he's well known for it.
This is a somewhat lesser known film of his that came out in 2002 with a good cast, and it was made for very little money. Another movie about a man going to prison and his regrets over the situation, Norton plays main character Monty Brogan. It's his last day before he has to turn himself in for a seven year sentence for dealing drugs. He spends it with his best friends, his girlfriend, and his father. They all have their own problems to sort out and ways to try and cope with what Monty is about to go through. They have to face their fears about his future and try to make it through to the next day. It's a very emotional movie and while you can't help but think Monty probably does deserve his sentence, you still feel the sorrow and tension for his loved ones. Another fantastic film by Norton, and Roger Ebert puts it as one of his "best films of the decade."
Death to Smoochy
Death to Smoochy is by far the biggest black mark on his record, and it was a complete failure. It barely got 8 million back from the theaters and it was made for 50 million. Ouch. It's a dark comedy about the true face of the children's television show industry, with Norton playing a good man named Sheldon who wants to help children. He's not willing to play in to the studio's demands and that makes them decide to take him out. He also has to deal with the show host he replaced, Rainbow Randy (Robin Williams). This is a weird film and it was never marketed well, but it's not as bad as it seems. Promise! It was reviewed negatively and the actors involved still joke around about how poorly it was received.
Keeping the Faith
While not an disaster, Keeping the Faith was not a success either. It did make money, but Norton was hoping for better on his directorial debut. It's about two boys who were best friends their whole lives, but they're a rabbi (Ben Stiller) and a priest (Norton). It sounds like the beginning of a joke, and they play that up a great deal, but the two men respect one another for their faith and are trying to bring their congregations together. Things get complicated when an old friend of theirs comes back into town and they both fall under her spell. Oh Jenna Elfman, how could you break up such a lovely bromance? This movie didn't do horribly, it just didn't do extremely well. It's a great little romantic comedy with a dramatic religion twist, but it just doesn't really add anything to Norton's resume. Other then proving he can play something other then a criminal or a psychopath.