With twenty years on the clock and his fair share of cinematic skeletons in some dubious closets it is satisfying to see Mark Ruffalo begin to get the recognition he deserves. Often he shines in small roles in big films, or sets his sights on a larger role in a smaller, independent film and yet his quiet everyman quality always has a glimmer of something engaging and real thrown into the mix.
To celebrate the release of What Doesn’t Kill You, out on DVD and Blu-ray on the 2nd of September, we have looked back over some of the many reasons we’re fans of the actor. This is not an exhaustive list of his great roles; The Kids Are All Right and You Can Count on Me do not appear, nor do the likes of Zodiac and Shutter Island, but they are all worth checking out.
These four films show off different sides to Ruffalo as an actor who consistently brings something interesting to every role.
Though Ruffalo is one of the many supporting roles in the film Lonergan’s exceptional screenplay ensures that each of the many forces acting on Anna Paquin’s lead character are fully-formed and unwavering. In a brief moment of casual interest the attention of Ruffalo’s bus driver is caught by Paquin’s Lisa Cohen walking alongside the bus and a red light is jumped, a woman hit and killed. The fallout is devastating for all involved, not least Ruffalo as the bus driver trying to hold onto a job.
The key scene comes when Lisa visits the bus driver at his home, not to confront at first but searching for the smallest acknowledgment that the very brief moment they shared spun the world into chaos. Lisa is looking for solid ground again, Ruffalo’s Maretti wants nothing to do with her, relenting only to Lisa alone, and then he stands on the edge, his life, job, family barely maintained by his job and it is his impassioned diatribe against Lisa and her motives which serves as just one of the film’s many revelatory sequences.
The Avengers (2012)
This may seem an obvious choice as it is certainly one of his most well known roles given the wild success of Joss Whedon’s Superhero bonanza. It takes a good deal of confidence, along with an effective director, to step into the ripped purple trousers of a well known superhero, that’s to say nothing of the fact that two previous Hulks had just vacated them.
From the very first scene Ruffalo’s dazed and controlled Bruce Banner hits his stride with a tense conversation with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, and it is his aura of incredulity and normality amongst the Super Soldiers, bemetaled men and Gods which gets to the heart of the character.
It may have been an unexpected turn but Ruffalo gave the Hulk a much needed dose of humanity.
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Few actors can shine in a film after being shot and killed in the first few moments of appearing on screen and yet The Brothers Bloom is not just any film, and in the hands of Rian Johnson Ruffalo is not just any actor.
The Brothers Bloom is an embarrassment of cinematic riches as the story of Bloom and his brother spans the globe and sends your moral compass in a spin again and again. Ruffalo and Adrien Brody are a perfect pairing in this extended con trick and Ruffalo’s bravura confidence hits a neat harmony with Brody’s despair and scepticism. It is a film worth seeing more than once in order to catch the subtleties of the performances but Ruffalo shines from the first moment he appears.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
This is an odd choice I grant you but there’s method in this foolhardy madness. It’s not easy to be memorable in a body-swap romantic comedy, particularly one as flavourless and superficial as this one but Ruffalo gets arguably the best character moments. Ignoring the wish granted and the sudden aging there’s actually a nice message in Gary Winick’s film and it all rests on Ruffalo’s shoulders.
For those kids stuck permanently in the friendzone at a young age the revelation in this film (that being a kid is pretty crap and actually none of it matters a sod when you grow up) is the promised land in the form of Ruffalo’s cool, collected Matt at Thirty. The reason it is on this list is that it takes a particular charm and class to appear sincere and likable in a film such as this, which plies on the SERIOUS MESSAGE OF THE FILM GODDAMMIT with all the subtlety of a bull in a sledgehammer shop. Ruffalo manages it perfectly.