The Curious Case of Jeremy Renner as a Leading Man
Jeremy Renner isn’t a movie star.
Following the success of The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner was anointed “the next big star.” After years as a struggling actor, he did what any one would do when receiving that winning lottery ticket. He cashed in. He attached himself to a superhero property and agreed to take over not one but two fading franchises (Bourne, Mission: Impossible).
When you think about it, he kind of failed with all three. A running joke in the Avengers films is, “Why do we need Hawkeye?” Renner himself wondered this too. His thankless role in the first Avengers (He’s basically hypnotized for the majority of the movie), resulted in him going to writer/director Joss Whedon to have a more central role in the sequel. And if you watch Age of Ultron, not only is he one of the few not hypnotized, we get some backstory with the character that kind of slows the movie’s momentum.
In Bourne and Mission: Impossible, he was tasked with replacing two of the biggest movie stars in the world (Matt Damon, Tom Cruise). I actually think The Bourne Legacy is underrated and better than Damon’s unnecessary sequel, Jason Bourne.
But Legacy, while doing okay financially, didn’t quite make enough for Universal to justify another which is why Damon returned. A sequel to Legacy has been in development for a few years now, but the likelihood of it still happening is slim.
With Mission, Ghost Protocol was supposed to be a passing of the torch from Ethan Hunt (Cruise) to William Brandt (Renner). It had been five years since the last Mission and after that film underperformed at the box office (due in large part to Cruise’s off-screen antics), the fourth movie would make the transition. I think this is why 4 is called “Ghost Protocol” and not simply, Mission: Impossible IIII (They like the roman numerals).
But Ghost Protocol turned out to be not only the best film in the franchise, but a rejuvenation of Cruise’s career. He has since followed that up with another fantastic Mission movie, Rogue Nation, and an instant-classic action movie in Edge of Tomorrow. He’s also been in Rock of Ages and The Mummy, but we won’t hold that against him. I didn’t mention the Jack Reacher movies because I’m willing to die on that mountain. I think he’s great as Reacher. Particularly the first movie. There, I said it!
Getting back to Ghost Protocol though, Renner has a couple of great scenes in the film, but he primary acts as the moral compass/Why are we doing this?/exposition machine.
He does even less in Rogue Nation to the point where I wondered, why is he even in this? Cruise and the Bad Robot crew must of thought the same thing because Renner will not appear in M:I-6. They’ve replaced him with Henry Cavil and his mustache.
The point I’m getting at is, Jeremy Renner isn’t a movie star. He’s not handsome or charming enough to fill the role currently held by a bunch of dudes named Chris and a few others.
Trade charismatic for conflicted, and you have Renner’s sweet spot. Whether it’s the soldier without purpose back home in The Hurt Locker, the guy from the streets who knows there’s no happy ending in The Town or his latest role in, Wind River, as the tormented cowboy desperate to fill the emptiness of a lost child, Renner can convey a cavalcade of demons almost better than anybody.
Which is why I so thoroughly enjoyed his turn in Wind River. He plays a veteran game tracker of a small Wyoming town who teams up with a young FBI agent (Elisabeth Olsen) to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.
The movie is an infusion of cops and robbers and cowboys and indians with Renner as the stoic cowboy (Hat in all) who is measured in his dialogue and utterly compelling when looking off into the snowy wilderness.
The film is a slow burn to be sure and includes a conventional shot-em-up third act, but Renner is so good that you don’t really care that he’s one of two “white” actors leading a thriller with a large Native American cast.
But Wind River rarely if ever plays the race card and instead focuses on grief. A scene about halfway through the film involves Renner telling a local, who’s daughter has been murdered, that he will never get over her death and needs to instead embrace the sorrow and remember all the light that she brought him. It’s a moving scene that encompasses the entire film.
Renner wasn’t meant to smile or laugh (He has a creepy laugh btw) on screen but rather be slightly unhinged at times and give thoughtfully melancholic but necessary speeches to guys on porches.
Leave the running, jumping and smiling to Cruise and the Chrises.