Chiwetel Ejiofor: an actor to watch

Posted by · 12:52 pm · May 1st, 2008

As both Kris and I have suggested, this is likely to be the year of Robert Downey Jr. I’m pleased to see that he’s getting rave reviews for his work in “Iron Man,” and I’m glad to know that it isn’t a mess the way many comic book adaptations become (“Hulk” and “Batman & Robin,” certainly).

But since we’re on the topic of new actors (or, in Mr. Downey’s case, veteran actors re-made) taking the scene, I wanted to draw attention to Chiwetel Ejiofor, who stars in the lead role of David Mamet’s new film “Redbelt.”

Ejiofor easily makes my list of the finest actors working today. Recently, he starred in Alfonso Cuaron’s marvelous “Children of Men,” alongside Denzel Washington in Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” and opposite Don Cheadle in “Talk to Me.” I thought his role in HBO’s under-appreciated drama “Tsunami: The Aftermath” was extraordinary.

In “Redbelt,” Ejiofor plays the role of Mike Terry, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor who runs a struggling academy in Los Angeles. Michael Rechtshaffen of Hollywood Reporter describes Ejiofor as the “heart and soul of the film.” Today, Ejiofor appeared on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross.

There’s a very good chance that Ejiofor will be absent from the awards circuit in 2008. While “Redbelt” may not be awards caliber (Mamet films, interestingly, are often absent from the Oscar race), Mr. Ejiofor is an Oscar-caliber actor. He was exceptional, especially, in “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Kinky Boots.” He may find the platform in 2009, when Danny Glover’s film “Toussaint” about the 18th century slave rebellion that sparked the Haitian Revolution, arrives in theaters. Don Cheadle and Angela Bassett also star.

Time will tell, I suppose. But like Michael Shannon (he creeped onto Kris’s Oscar charts this week for his role in Sam Mendes’s film “Revolutionary Road,” along with Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates), Mark Ruffalo and, until his untimely death, Heath Ledger, Ejiofor’s part of an elite class of male actors on the rise.

I’ll look forward to watching his work for years to come.

→ 7 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

7 responses so far

  • 1 5-01-2008 at 3:02 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ever seen “Slow Burn?” Probably one of the worst films ever made with some of the most hilariously bad lines of dialogue…ever. Chiwetel’s kind of off the tracks in that one, but I agree he’s a fine young actor. One of my new gen faves, for sure.

  • 2 5-01-2008 at 3:20 pm

    Blake Rutherford said...

    I missed it, and that sounds like a good thing. He’s hit his stride over the last three years. We’ll see what kinds of projects come his way that allow him some room to use – in my view – his exceptional talents.

  • 3 5-01-2008 at 4:30 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I recently had the huge privilege of watching Ejiofor as Othello in the Donmar Warehouse’s new production, and he was quite astonishing – I look forward to the film role where he can flex his classical acting muscles.

    As a fellow Woody Allen fan, I’m surprised you don’t mention his turn in the undervalued – albeit not great – “Melinda and Melinda”. Less notable for the performance itself than the fact that he was the first black actor to have a role of any consequence in an Allen film. People can say what they like about Woody, but boy, does he ever have an eye for actors on the rise.

  • 4 5-02-2008 at 4:14 am

    Ali Ercivan said...

    I agree that he’s one of the most talented young actors around. I believe he will get an Oscar nomination as soon as he gets a baity role in an Oscar movie. He could (and should) be considered for Talk to Me, but he was clearly lead in the film and I guess that would be a hard sell…

  • 5 5-02-2008 at 7:28 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Sadly, Ali, Talk to Me was a 2007 release, so that ship has sailed. But he did win Best Supporting Actor at the ever-cool Indie Spirits, so the perf didn’t go completely unheralded.

  • 6 5-02-2008 at 8:59 am

    Blake Rutherford said...


    Yes, he was remarkable in “Melinda & Melinda.” I had a note to include it in my peice, but it didn’t seem to find its way in there.


  • 7 5-04-2008 at 2:39 am

    Ali Ercivan said...

    Yeah, I was also talking about last year. Sorry for the misunderstanding, should have said ‘could have been’, I guess… :)