Hugh Jackman has spent a surprising part of his career floating in water tanks. In Reminiscence, the new sci-fi black thriller on HBO Max from writer and director Lisa Joy, the actor plays Nick Bannister, a former soldier turned private investigator of the mind, probing people’s memories as they are immersed in in a large futuristic bath. The twist is that Bannister is addicted to revisiting his own past, frequently taking dunks to probe the details of a romance he had with a missing woman named Mae (played by Rebecca Ferguson). It’s a smart story, anchored by Jackman doing a reliable job as an anti-hero haunted by his sins.
Jackman played this role on several occasions, until the aquatic fixation. In its breakthrough in Hollywood, X Men, he played the Metal-Clawed Wolverine, an amnesiac who constantly reverted to his genesis in a military aquarium. Maybe his best work was in Prestige, as a hammy magician whose signature escape trick involves… well, you know. Each A-List actor has motives and themes that run through their careers, but Jackman’s has been exceptionally specific.
Yet these recurring baths also chart the course of Jackman’s varied career: the many strands of his fame encompass comic book heroism, heartfelt songs and dances, and sinister drama. For years, Jackman didn’t have the clout to launch such a bizarre project as Reminiscence, who is a clear reminder that he has been one of Hollywood’s most underrated stars for the past two decades. Because he emerged with a genre-defining superhero role just as these types of films were taking over the industry, Jackman has been locked out of the public eye for long periods of time. This success has allowed him to collaborate with more daring filmmakers, pursue exciting projects and help make original films like Reminiscence.
Although Jackman’s first major leading role was in X Men, he was originally snatched from the world of musical theater, where his chipper loudly turns as Curly in a West End production of Oklahoma! had won him praise. So her film follows on from X Men were on the softer side: the little-known romantic comedies Someone like You, where he played a charming cad, and Kate & Leopold, who introduced him as an English gentleman. In earlier times, this was the typical strategy of a new male actor in demand: to bring him quickly into a generic romantic comedy, with an generic action thriller (in this case, the absurd hacker flick Swordfish).
But even if the X Men The films continued to be successful, Jackman was slow to find his place as a full-fledged star. He won a Tony in 2004 for his work in The boy of Oz, but Hollywood couldn’t find a suitable musical project for him until years later. It hosted the critically acclaimed Oscars in 2009, an indication of its popularity with viewers around the world, but its only non-Wolverine box office success at that time had been Van Helsing, a critically-criticized monster hunter film. While the other stars of his generation – George Clooney, Will Smith, Matt Damon – always found a mix of blockbusters and more serious projects, Jackman at first struggled to do the same, while still maintaining his brilliance of celebrity.
Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, Prestige, which is possibly Jackman’s best performance, seemed to finally unlock him. Jackman played Robert Angier, a talented, corner-prone magician who values performing art over craftsmanship – a clever subversion of his jazzy Broadway character. While his work as Wolverine had focused on the rage of the one-dimensional berserker, here Jackman was a charmer recognizable by his flaws who ultimately made a devil’s deal to achieve true fame. At the time, Nolan said that while he was initially drawn to Jackman because of his background as a stage artist, “he also has great depth as an actor who didn’t really been explored “.
Prestige was not a huge success. But he did manage to reveal Jackman’s wider potential. He’s worked with tougher directors, playing the quirky protagonist and lover of Darren Aronofsky’s brilliantly confusing film. Fountain, and the cowboy is interested in the epic of Baz Luhrmann Australia. In 2012, he finally landed an important musical worthy of his talent in Wretched, which earned him an Oscar nomination.
Even when his projects don’t fully come to fruition, I appreciate Jackman’s eye for difficult material, regardless of genre. One of his best performances of the past decade was in Denis Villeneuve’s lyrically wet thriller. Prisoners, but he gave it his all even in projects that didn’t work, like Joe Wright’s ridiculous Peter Pan prequel or Jason Reitman’s confused Gary Hart biopic, The front runner. Jackman titled his passion project, The greatest showman, an original musical on PT Barnum, which became a surprise word-of-mouth success. He even fashioned his last roles as Wolverine into projects of unexpected complexity, working with Kate & Leopold director James Mangold on an acclaimed swan song for the character with the bloody noticeably Logan.
The key change between the first half of his career and the second half was that Jackman eventually gained some control over his star power, and wielded it to star in films that were obviously risky – much because of their content. macabre or because they represented old fashionable genres like the musical. In 2020, he gave a dazzling performance of vulnerability in Bad Education, the true story of a Long Island school principal who embezzled money from his district. The film highlighted Jackman’s age, portraying him as a man trying to support his declining charm by investing in expensive facelifts and clothes.
Seen next to his job as an old man Wolverine in Logan, and as the troubled protagonist of Reminiscence who can’t forget his past, it’s clear that Jackman is happy to come to terms with his age, which some of his peers, like the eternally energetic Tom Cruise, don’t. But more importantly, all of his upcoming projects are original stories from exciting filmmakers (Michael Mann, Florian Zeller, Hany Abu-Assad) who have no idea of the franchise potential for them. Jackman may have emerged in Hollywood as a superhero, but he sticks around taking on roles that are anything but heroic.