In his younger days, Bill Paxton was a scene stealer. His boundless energy and charisma overwhelming anyone who dared to share oxygen with him. As he aged, he maintained that charisma, but transformed into a rich, complicated, and nuanced performer, beloved by film and television fans the world over. There was a special kind of “Bill Paxton Excitement” whenever he had a new film coming out. Sadly and as many know, Paxton died at the age of 61 from complications from surgery. He left behind a family, mournful colleagues, and a new television series – Training Day – where Paxton had taken on the role portrayed by Denzel Washington in the film. Hell, it was only three-years ago when Paxton and Washington shared the screen in the action flick, 2 Guns. You see, Paxton was a workhorse actor – a troubadour. He worked because he loved to work and had just as much fun in a shoot’em up, as he did in something like Raimi’s A Simple Plan. In celebration of Paxton’s career, we asked the Cinepunx staff to discuss some of his most iconic performances and what they mean to us.
Aliens (1986, James Cameron, Director)
In arguably one of the most powerhouse casts in a sci-fi action movie ever, Paxton stood tall and delivered several of the films most memorable lines. From unforgettable moments like, “Game over man! Game over,” to less-celebrated but still memorable ones like, “I say we grease this rat fuck, son of a bitch right now.” Private Hudson steals nearly every moment he appears on screen. For peak Paxton-ness, see the Five Finger Filet scene with Bishop, and the final moments of Hudson’s life, laying waste to Xenomorphs and allowing his team the opportunity to flee through the air shafts of Hadley’s Hope.
-Max Davis, Cinepunx
A Simple Plan (1998, Sam Raimi, Director)
Though Bill Paxton gave us more incredible performances than we can count, it’s his subtle and devastating turn as everyman Hank, in A Simple Plan, that stands as his most accomplished and taciturn role to date. Sam Raimi’s 1998 thriller is still criminally underseen, but it’s a shattering masterpiece, featuring Oscar worthy performances from Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton (who was nominated), and Bridget Fonda. It’s a character story about brothers growing up in a certain environment (think Hell or High Water in the snow) which shapes who they are as men. It’s also a story about greed and its corrupting power. Paxton portrays Hank as the most likable guy you’d ever want to meet, whose descent into darkness is all the more shocking because of how good we thought he was. He’s the perfect surrogate for the audience. We don’t think we’d do what Hank does in the film, but we can’t be sure – after all, he’s so affable. The chemistry between Paxton and Thornton is electric, and the final ten minutes of the picture is Paxton’s finest screen-work ever. (I also happen to think it’s Raimi’s best work ever, as a director.) In A Simple Plan, you’ve got a group of masterful artists working at the top of their respective games, with Paxton’s values and moral authority steering the ship. In fifty years, we should still be talking about this film. By then, maybe more will have seen it.
-Billy Ray Brewton, Cinepunx
Broken Lizard’s Club Dread (2004, Jay Chandrasekhar, Director)
“You think Eddie Money has to put up with this shit?” Bitter beach bum Coconut Pete doesn’t get the respect he deserves! He wrote the guidebook on how to kick it in the islands and let your worries fade, only to have Jimmy Fuckin’ Buffet steal his thunder. Age, anger, and an array of illicit drugs has left Pete a beaten man. His smiling exterior is a show he puts on for the guests of his private island getaway. Yet, he was ready to pass the island over to his nephew and give rock and/or roll one more go. Unfortunately for him, a maniac in the island has different plans.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Paxton fill this role with such perfection. His dark and dry sense of humor is on full display in some scenes, while in others he’s a maniac in his own right. The offbeat genre legend always had a way of creating left of center weirdos or assholes s that the audience remains drawn to.
“If it isn’t to much to ask, have sex with the guests. Cause some of em aren’t bad lookin!”
-Justin Harlan, Cinepunx
Near Dark (1987, Kathryn Bigelow, Director)
Re-watching Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, it’s readily apparent that the only reason to watch this more than once is for the sole purpose of seeing Bill Paxton as Severen. His shit-kicker vampire is everything about that movie. Having just gone through the film again, it was pretty striking that it’s never quite as good as I remember it being — except for the scenes with Paxton as the focus.
Like, seriously, the rest of Near Dark may as well be in black and white, with Severen being lit in neon Technicolor. He’s dynamic, and interesting, and the rest of the cast is just so quiet and muted. It’s striking to see just how soft-spoken the ostensible leads, Caleb and Mae, are. Everyone else is, as well. Severen’s a swaggering badass and steals every single scene he’s in, simply by virtue of being the coolest guy in the room.
It’s all just a roundabout way of saying that Bill Paxton is the star of Near Dark. He looks the coolest, he does the craziest stuff, and he gets all the best lines. Pretty much every single line he utters is quote-worthy, be it his first lines of the picture, “Howdy. I’m gonna separate your head from your shoulders. Hope you don’t mind none,” or the off-handedly chipper way he tells Caleb’s sister, Sarah, “We keep odd hours,” when she remarks that, “Boy, you people sure stay up late.”
Hell, Lance Henriksen’s Jesse is the leader of the vampire pack, but the real showdown actually takes place between Caleb and Severen. It’s an epic battle which involves guns and a semi truck. Jesse just kind of goes off the road in a station wagon. An ignominious end but given that Jesse was kind of a ‘background’ leader, rather than the brash and swaggering Severen.
Goddamn, folks: he’s on the poster. If there’s any doubt as to who the money maker is in this situation, that ought to answer it. Go back, watch Near Dark again, and just keep an eye on Paxton as Severen. I mean, there’s no way you can’t see him.
-Nick Spacek, Cinepunx
One False Move (1992, Carl Franklin, Director)
I was ten-years-old in 1992 and didn’t know who Bill Paxton was. I’d seen Weird Science and Aliens, but the name didn’t ring a bell. After One False Move, I never forgot it. I only checked this film out because Siskel & Ebert raved about it on their show, particularly the role of Dale “Hurricane” Dixon portrayed by – you guessed it – Bill Paxton. One False Move is a combination of an outlaw vigilante tale and a modern day film noir. No one played the guy next door quite like Bill Paxton and, here, he’s a small town Chief of Police engulfed in the imminent arrival of dangerous criminals into his hamlet. Paxton brings such likable spirit to the role of Dixon, a bit of a yokel who is all too excited about finally getting to see some action. While Franklin’s directing is skillfully on point, it’s Paxton who grounds the film. This is another picture I don’t think nearly enough people have seen. It, along with A Simple Plan, are towering achievements in crime cinema, the best acting Paxton ever did, and relics from the 1990’s that deserve rediscovering. It’s a shame it will have taken his death to get these pictures seen.
-Billy Ray Brewton, Cinepunx
Predator 2 (1990, Stephen Hopkins, Director)
Once upon a time a hot shot, young L.A. detective found himself woefully in over his head in a two fronted war against an army of drug lords and an extraterrestrial who loves killing humans for sport. Sadly, Detective Jerry Lambert dies heroically on a subway car, defending his partner, proving the time honored saying to be true, never bring a knife to a “bigger knife attached to a homicidal alien” fight. Also, was it in his contracts that he had to have contentious on screen relationships with his Latin, female co-stars?
Predator 2 is another in a long line of shit Predator sequels. This movies finds redemption in its cast of lunatic over-actors such as Glover, Busey, and, of course, Paxton. This is hardly Bill’s finest performance, but it has a McDonald’s coffee vibe to it: that in lieu of it actually tasting good, its so hot that it requires skin grafts if it makes contact with your skin. Fuck it, who wouldn’t watch 30 minutes (screen time) of Paxton overdoing it while dressed like he’s an active participant in a Zoot Suit riot. Plus he gets murdered in a subway car by a Predator, it’s almost poetry.
-Max Davis, Cinepunx
Twister (1996, Jan De Bont, Director)
Twister is a beyond ridiculous movie. It taught me as much about weather as Armageddon taught me about astrophysics. It’s not uncommon for the villain in a movie to be an actual force of nature, but this time Hollywood found a force of nature of their own to combat the destructive force of the tornado. Paxton. He didn’t fair well against Terminators, Xenomorphs, or Predators, but with the help of Helen Hunt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a 6 foot gumball machine filled with trash, Paxton killed the tornado and saved us all.
Sometimes great actors have a way of getting us to invest emotionally in weak stories and characters. While this film rockets past sensible in most aspects, Paxton finds a way to make us care about this divorcee, ex storm chaser, who saves his thought-to-be failed marriage on “one last chase”. It’s a testament to his ability that, in under 5 minutes, he found a way to make me care, and not just see the whole cast die gruesomely one-by-one, disaster movie style.
-Max Davis, Cinepunx
Weird Science (1985, John Hughes, Director)
Weird Science was, if memory serves me correct, my introduction to both John Hughes films and Bill Paxton. Is it either of the two’s best work? Probably not. But, I think it’s my favorite. Paxton had a relatively small but vital part in the movie: the asshole big brother, Chet. Any 80’s teen comedy worth a damn had either that character or the bully/jerk at school, and man was Paxton a total prick in this movie. He bullied his younger brother, Wyatt, mercilessly and wasn’t that much kinder to his friends, either. I remember watching Weird Science as a kid and rooting HARD for Chet to eat shit. When he finally gets his comeuppance in the form of being turned into a wart-covered Jabba the Hutt-like monster, I felt a rare sense of satisfaction rivaled only in cinema by moments like the ending of Shawshank Redemption. Chet meets his match (and then some) when he comes home after Wyatt’s party and is confronted by Lisa, the gorgeous creation of Wyatt and Gary. When she turns him into that monster, Paxton’s strength as an actor made him almost likable. I’ve heard it said that it’s usually a smart actor who plays a dumb character really well, like Steve Martin in The Jerk; maybe it’s the same for actors who often play obnoxious assholes. With Paxton’s death, an outpouring of kind words about him have flooded the internet. Paxton was great in that role, one he often reprised in one way or another in later films. So by the logic I just put forth, he must’ve been one hell of a guy in real life. I’m gonna miss watching and (sometimes) hating him.
-Ivo Thomas, Cinepunx
To check the recent Bill Paxton episode of WTF with Marc Maron: