Disclaimer: This is a post in which I’m going to heavily criticize one of my heroes. I hate to do it, but these things need to be said out loud. I’m tired of thinking it but not saying it.
Morgan Freeman has been my favorite actor for literally as long as I can remember, probably since I was about 10. He’s one of the first actors whose name I committed to memory. Lean On Me and Glory remain two of my all-time favorite movies, and he appeared in both of them in the same year (1989)! Then, as an 11-year old, I was awed watching him kick ass in theaters alongside Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. After that, 3 of his next 5 movies were Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption, and Se7en. I mean…holy crap, friends. In a 6-year span between 1989 and 1995, he appeared in 6 of my 100 favorite movies ever, and 2 of my top 10. Actually, now that I check, all of those films are inside my top 70. If there’s such a thing as shitting greatness, Morgan Freeman had some serious cinematic diarrhea there for a while. Not only was he a great actor, but he was consistently appearing in great movies.
Morgan Freeman OWNING Denzel Washington in Glory:
The overall quality of his films tapered off a bit after 1995, but in 1997 he appeared in Kiss the Girls (one of his best-ever leading roles) and had a small part in Steven Spielberg‘s masterpiece Amistad (also in my top 50). In 1998, he played what is still my favorite movie President in Deep Impact. I would say his prime was the period between 1987 and 2000, starting with his Oscar-nominated turn as a violent pimp in Street Smart through to when he played a hitman in the criminally underrated genrebender Nurse Betty. In 14 years hence, with only a few exceptions, he’s pretty much been coasting along, taking supporting roles in any project that offered a decent paycheck, and parlaying the reputation of his one-of-a-kind voice into at least a dozen major voiceover and narration gig$. It used to be that Morgan Freeman narrating something was cool. Now, I believe it’s a cliché.
Put it this way. In my view, Freeman hasn’t had a major role in a truly exceptional movie since Million Dollar Baby, which turns 10 this year (sorry, Lucius Fox in The Dark Knight doesn’t count as a major role), and he hasn’t accepted a challenging role (you know, one that requires actual acting) since he played Nelson Mandela in Invictus in 2009, now a half-decade ago. Since Invictus, he’s appeared in 9 other films (not counting voiceover work), none of which will ever be considered a classic, to say the least. He’ll next appear this summer alongside Scarlett Johansson in Lucy (as yet another wise old scientist), and then has exciting projects like Dolphin Tale 2 and London Has Fallen lined up. And yes, London Has Fallen is a sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, in case you didn’t already have enough proof that ANYTHING can get a sequel if it returns so much as a dime in profit.
What bothers me most about his recent filmography is that he doesn’t seem to care anymore about working with elite filmmakers on A-level projects, and thus has been in a slew of mediocre (RED, Now You See Me) to downright bad movies (the aforementioned Olympus Has Fallen) recently. It was fun watching him do comedy last year in Last Vegas, but he certainly wasn’t stretching his acting muscles in that performance. I was just happy it was something DIFFERENT. It’s clear he doesn’t care about who’s going to direct a certain project, because he knows he’s gonna sleepwalk through the performance anyway, because he’s Morgan Freeman and even an average Morgan Freeman performance is better than the best of what you’d get out of most of his peers. I don’t think he much cares about the quality of the script, either. It would seem the only thing you need now to book Morgan Freeman is a $3-5 million check.
I don’t accept that, sir.
I have a hard time getting excited anymore when I see Morgan Freeman is appearing in a new movie, because I already know what character he’s playing: The Morgan Freeman Character. He’s old. He’s wise. He’s smarter than the protagonist…at least at first. I also know there’s a good chance that whatever movie he’s in nowadays isn’t going to be much good. Again, I HATE saying this, but I’m not gonna lie to you or myself.
(skip to 1:08)
Morgan Freeman IS…The Morgan Freeman Character. AGAIN.
So what’s the difference now, aside from his age? For one, he was an active, physical presence in those earlier films. He didn’t just stand or sit around pontificating and looking at things like he does now. I realize he can’t do action anymore, but let’s have him do something other than lecturing people or spouting exposition! He used to make other actors better by imposing his will upon them with the sheer quality of his work. Is he now unable to do that? No, I think the difference now is that he simply doesn’t care much anymore. He goes through the motions in his performances today instead of elevating the moment like he always used to. Is he “too old for this shit”? Perhaps. You can see how frail is he at times when he has to walk around in a scene, he’s getting that faded look in his eyes, the white hair isn’t doing him any favors, and it continues to pain me to see that he still can’t use his left hand at all (he’s got major nerve damage and inflammation as the result of that big car accident he was in back in 2008- just Google “Morgan Freeman hand“). You may have noticed recently that his left hand kind of just hangs there most of the time. He doesn’t hold anything or pick anything up with it, mostly because he can’t. It sucks.
It’s shocking to me that a man who’s turning 77 this year is seemingly taking roles purely for money. And yes, that’s an assumption, but I think it’s a logical one. What other explanation can there be for a man who is this talented to continue taking supporting roles that require him to use none of his talent? He doesn’t even hide the fact that he doesn’t really do movies based on the quality of their scripts anymore. Last year he admitted outright that the only reason he did Oblivion was because he hadn’t worked with Tom Cruise before. I enjoyed Oblivion, but Morgan Freeman is completely underutilized in it. You’re telling me NOBODY out there would like to put Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman together in a quality drama? Well, I guess that would require Cruise to hang it up as an action/sci-fi star. Talk about wasting talent. But that’s another post entirely.
What is it that Morgan Freeman wants to buy that he can’t afford right now? Is he competing with somebody I don’t about to see who can earn more money before they keel over? Is he saving up to become a majority owner of the L.A. Clippers? I hear they’re on the market. The always interesting Celebrity Net Worth estimates that Freeman is worth upwards of $150 million. Now, of course that’s probably nowhere near precise, but it sounds about right. Either way, once you get into nine figures, I’d say you’re in the winner’s circle of the rich guy competition. That’s not the 1% anymore; it’s like the .001%. Even if he has HALF of that 150, what’s he gonna do with it at this point? Unless he’s trying to build a bigger nest egg for his kids, in which case maybe it’s admirable to keep chugging away even though he doesn’t need to. Based on some of the stuff I’ve read about him over the years, somehow I doubt that’s his primary motivation, but even if so, once your grandkids’ grandkids are set for life, you’ve officially done your part for the family.
Where has his fire gone? I still want him to surprise me. Do something unexpected. Do something against type. Ditch the gravitas! You probably only have 5-10 years at most to continue entertaining the world. Is it selfish of me to demand that you make it count? I’m not saying I think he’s going to die soon, but let’s face it, even the best and most prolific actors usually call it quits in their early 80’s.
I wonder now if A-list filmmaking talent even considers asking if he’d be interested in quality projects. I have to assume the answer is no, because he accepts pretty much anything gets offered nowadays. Why is David Fincher gonna waste his breath calling Freeman up now if he’s off working with the great Louis Leterrier again instead? I wonder if Freeman’s reputation is as damaged within the industry as it is with diehard fans of his like me. At this point, I’d almost rather he retire now with some grace than continue on as effectively an actor-for-hire. Mr. Freeman, if you’re going to be lazy, do it on your own time on that massive, beautiful farm of yours in Mississippi. It sickens and saddens me to watch you tarnish your reputation by being so lethargic with your acting. Stop it. There are still so many cool things you could do. I want to see Morgan Freeman in a Wes Anderson movie. I want to see Morgan Freeman on an HBO show. I want to see Morgan Freeman spitting out some Aaron Sorkin dialogue. When is a Quentin Tarantino gonna come along to revive this great actor’s career one more time? Seriously, how awesome would that be? Why can’t these things happen?
“That means they CAN HARDLY READ!!!”
Let me put it bluntly in this overly presumptive hypothetical: until I see that he’s still interested in actually acting, I’m not sure I would hire THIS Morgan Freeman to star in one of my own movies, regardless of how much I worship his past work. Morgan Freeman is without a doubt my favorite actor in the history of cinema, but I’m not sure that I can honestly say that he’s my favorite actor right now. I’d like that to change for whatever time we’ve got left with him. I’m not ready to accept the idea that the greatest actor I’ve ever seen has already given us the last of his greatness, but until he proves otherwise, I’m thinking he’s passed the Biggie’s Favorite Actor world championship belt on to Daniel Day-Lewis. Feel free to fight and get it back, Morgan, IF you can find it in your heart to give a shit about your profession again. And while you’re at it, fire your representation for being complicit in your artistic decline. That’d be a good place to start.
Shit. I take it all back!