Michelle MonaghanAfter admitting the laudable Stephen Toblowsky and much-missed JT Walsh, we now see whether The Overlooked Hotel can make room for the delightful and versatile Michelle Monaghan.

A recent film magazine review queried why Michelle Monaghan had not hit it big (or at least bigger) off the back of her charming, star-making turn in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was and is a pertinent question and it is hard to know why she has not become a more established star. Although she has a varied CV, it is hard to pick too many turkeys (Made of Honour and The Heartbreak Kid were pretty middling efforts, but hardly part of a broad trend), nor has she gone so left field as to disassociate herself from more mainstream opportunities.

Monaghan had been knocking around in a variety of TV gigs and supporting turns on the big screen, before catching a break as Harmony in Shane Black’s incredibly clever, noir-inflected return to form, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. As the object of RDJ’s affection, she proved an utterly beguiling screen presence, convincing as someone who would capture Harry Lockhart’s heart and believable as the closest approximation the film has to what would otherwise be a noir femme fatale. Her scene with RDJ in which they pick out celebrity lookalikes (Native American Joe Pesci!) is genuinely endearing, the audience carried along with the fun that RDJ and Monaghan are so clearly having. Feisty, funny and hilarious, credit goes to Shane Black for creating, writing and directing such a compelling and rich character, but Monaghan had to put the work on screen.

Having held her own alongside a back on track RDJ, Monaghan’s next big role was as Ethan Hunt’s none-the-wiser wife in M:I-3, moving from supporting character to front and centre, once Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Davian has her abducted in furtherance of his nefarious schemes.Tom Cruise is, of course, an out and out superstar, but at no point does Monaghan retreat into the background. We can believe that Hunt would have settled down with her and in the space of a few scenes she convinces us that Hunt would do anything to protect her. Rather than serving as a mere plot device, Monaghan’s Julia feels fully formed and worthwhile, a real person if you will. She is sweet, loving, but interesting and spiky too, especially when called upon to stand in for the incapacitated Hunt when squaring off against the assembled henchmen.

Gone Baby GoneNext up for Monaghan was perhaps her most interesting and distinctive work to date – Angie in Gone Baby Gone. Although Casey Affleck attracted most of the attention that was rightly given to this twisty-turny and conflicted drama, Monaghan excels as his partner, private detectives asked to try to find a missing girl when the police come up empty. As you would expect from director Ben Affleck and Casey, there is an evocative sense of place about the Boston-set drama that unfolds and Monaghan utterly convinces as a local girl, sewn into the fabric of the neighbourhood. Rather than the “what happened/whodunnit” elements of the story over-riding the characters, they are all instead given space to develop and there is a palpable sense here of what the investigation does to Monaghan and Affleck as individuals and also as regards their relationship with each other.

It is perhaps a little reductive to merely talk of “character arcs” but there is a genuine tension between Monaghan’s Angie and Affleck’s Patrick Kenzie as to what is the right way to proceed and what they should ultimately do about what they discover. There is an extent to which they are changed, rather than just working through the plot to the denouement. The source material (Dennis Lehane’s novel) obviously gets praise for creating the characters, the story and the aforementioned arcs, but Monaghan (like Affleck) utterly sells it, believable, conflicted, pragmatic, dogged. Excellent.

The last couple of really memorable roles lie a little more squarely in genre territory, but are no less interesting or effective for it. Source CodeSource Code showed that Duncan Jones’ Moon was no freshman fluke and Monaghan gave us another beautiful, funny, appealing character, who we can believe in a few short minutes becomes a key part of Jake Gyllenhaal’s motivation for trying to save a train from an unhinged bomber. Eagle Eye paired Monaghan up with Shia LaBeouf, long before he started off his paper bag thing and back when he was occasionally producing interesting work. Eagle Eye was, for want of a better comparison, director DJ Caruso’s North By Northwest follow-up to his Rear Window homage, Disturbia. But homages don’t need to be lazy or as derivative as (for example) Gus Van Sant’s widely derided and wholly redundant Psycho reshoot. Instead, Eagle Eye gave us the paranoia and the “what is happening” of the wrong man thrillers so beloved of Hitchcock, updated with at least something of a nod to the perils of modern surveillance technology.

Much is often made of “everyman” personas and the roles to which certain types of actor are well suited. Monaghan’s natural demeanor lent credibility to her role as a commuter in Source Code and Hunt’s wife in M:I-3 and that same demeanor helped Eagle Eye no end – a seemingly random single mother whose son is threatened by a voice on the end of a telephone – Angelina Jolie, Uma Thurman, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts – none of them could have sold the role, they just look too much like movie stars. That Monaghan is able to hold the screen so seemingly effortlessly while eschewing stereotypically movie star looks is just a small part of her appeal and one of a multitude of reasons why The Overlooked should give her a room, stat.

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Dave has been writing for HeyUGuys since mid-2010 and has found them to be the most intelligent, friendly, erudite and insightful bunch of film fans you could hope to work with. He's gone from ham-fisted attempts at writing the news to interviewing Lawrence Bender, Renny Harlin and Julian Glover, to writing articles about things he loves that people have actually read. He has fairly broad tastes as far as films are concerned, though given the choice he's likely to go for Con Air over Battleship Potemkin most days. He's pretty sure that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most overrated mess in cinematic history.