***Wow, it's so strange to go back and read this. This little piece on John C. Reilly was one of the very first I wrote for Moon in the Gutter, way back in December of 2006. While it was long before I had any real readers, this article did garner me my first email from someone I had wrote on, which was really freaking cool! In the nearly four years since I wrote this little article Reilly has continued his reign as one of our great actors, although now he can also claim to be one of our great comedians with side-splitting roles in films like Walk Hard, Talladega Nights and Step-Brothers all showing him as one of the funniest men on the planet. He also got nominated for his first Oscar and recently appeared in one of the real bright spots (so I am told, as I still haven't been able to see it) of 2010, Cyrus. I was tempted to really update this article but I thought I would let it stand as it is. Let me just say that John C. Reilly remains a major cinematic treasure and there are very few actors that I like seeing more in modern American films.***
The roles for John C. Reilly leading up to playing John Finnegan in Paul Thomas Anderson's debut Sydney (Hard Eight) were mostly just bit parts in films such as Brian DePalma's Causalities Of War and Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog. The great opening shot of Reilly in Anderson's film feels like a debut though, a major debut. Reilly's amazing performance, as the lonely Finnegan looking to win enough money in Vegas to bury his mother, is one of the great performances of the 90s. While Phillip Baker Hall's work as the mentor Sydney was rightly acclaimed, Reilly seemed to drift so far into the character that you forget it's a performance that needs praising.
The obvious comparison in looking at John C. Reilly is Gene Hackman. Reilly has that same everyman quality but more importantly, like Hackman, he is able to invest his characters with a real soul. There is never a moment watching Reilly where we aren't watching someone who is internally questioning and searching. While he hasn't yet found a leading role the equal of Hackman's Popeye Doyle or Harry Moseby one hopes the wait won't be long.
His most iconic work has been with Anderson, like in Boogie Nights where he gave Reed Rothchild a sincerity that anyone else would have missed and in Magnolia's lonely police officer Jim Kurring, a man so desperate for someone to accept the love he wants so much to give. Magnolia's final moments with Reilly telling Melora Walters Claudia how special she is is one of the most moving things I've ever seen in a film. Anderson's decision to drown out Reilly's wonderful dialogue with Aimee Mann's incredible score ranks with Scorsese's famous pan away from Travis on the phone in Taxi Driver as an example of a rare scene that is too personal to film straight on.
Reilly has continued in film after film to prove his dramatic, comedic and even musical chops. His performance as the simple well meaning husband in The Good Girl is a personal favorite, and his singing cowboy was a major highlight in Robert Altman's final film A Prairie Home Companion. A greatly underrated performance in an equally underrated film, Walter Salles' Dark Water, shows just how much Reilly can give what could have been a very flat character. Jennifer Connelly would talk of being floored by just how inventive Reilly was, and he had no problem stealing every scene he was in from heavyweights like Connelly and Tim Roth.
Whether or not Reilly ever gets his French Connection or Night Moves remains to be seen but I highly doubt that Anderson is done with him. In the meantime he stands as the finest character actor of his generation and someone we can look at as truly being one of us.