Sam RockwellOpening this Friday is the true story-inspired 'Conviction,' starring Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters, a single mother who puts herself through law school to avenge her brother, wrongfully convicted of murder. While Swank is undoubtedly excellent in her role, we're counting on Sam Rockwell, as the locked-up Kenny Waters, to hit it out of the park.

Since his breakout role in 1997's 'Box of Moonlight,' in which he played a free-spirited rebel, Rockwell has been thrilling us with his edgy, funny, soulful, often off-kilter characters and deeply committed acting style. (Not to mention his excellent dance moves.) If he isn't a household name yet, it's due mainly to the less-than-commercial films he's chosen to work in -- though he recently held his own with Robert Downey Jr. as evil arms mogul Justin Hammer in 'Iron Man 2.'

Whatever your degree of familiarity with the man, we encourage you to take a ride to Rockwell Land. To that end, we've put together a handy-dandy guide, starting with his more accessible stuff, then going deeper and weirder. You're free to get off at any time, but we suggest you go the distance for the full-on Rockwell experience.
Start with:

'Iron Man 2' (2010)
Rockwell plays Tony Stark's rival defense contractor Justin Hammer as sublimely arrogant yet clueless (his scenes with the equally naturalistic Robert Downey Jr. are particularly entertaining). As a guy who lives to outdo Stark, but humiliates himself again and again, Rockwell is annoying, pathetic and very funny.

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'Matchstick Men' (2003)
Though Nicolas Cage (deservedly) dominates Ridley Scott's movie about a troubled grifter with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, Rockwell oozes slightly sleazy charm as Frank, his more laid back partner in cons. An amiable slob, Frank is a great counterpoint to Cage's prickly character.

Proceed to:

'Moon' (2009)
In Duncan Jones' stark, solid sci-fi film, Rockwell plays an astronaut who's spent nearly three lonely years on a lunar mining base accompanied solely by a robot with the voice of Kevin Spacey. As he becomes more stir-crazy, counting the days before he can go home to his wife and child, an accident occurs and things take a turn for the inexplicable. Rockwell is utterly compelling as the movie's disintegrating core.

'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' (2003)
For his directorial debut, George Clooney adapted TV producer Chuck Barris' eccentric (to put it mildly) memoir, in which the author claims to have been a CIA assassin during the same period he was hosting 'The Gong Show.' With a script by master surrealist Charlie Kaufman ('Adaptation,' 'Being John Malkovich'), who better than Rockwell to portray Barris? He's both comic and tragic as a genial goofball who transforms into a sad, profoundly disturbed man.

Go deeper:

'Box of Moonlight' (1997)
In Tom DiCillo's dramedy John Turturro is Al Fountain, a middle-aged engineer who takes an uncharacteristically spontaneous road trip and picks up a free-spirited hitchhiker. Rockwell is completely convincing and quite endearing as the carefree, charismatic Kid, a character who lives by his own rules and who serves as a catalyst for Al's journey of self-discovery.

'Choke' (2008)
This adaptation of a Chuck Palahniuk ('Fight Club') novel, directed by actor Clark Gregg, is alternately hilarious, smutty and poignant. Victor Mancini (Rockwell) is an unregenerate sex addict and colonial theme park worker with a dying, dementia-addled mother (Anjelica Huston). He finds emotional and financial gratification by being saved from choking in restaurants by strangers. It's hard to think of anyone else who could embody the character's many aspects (sexy, pathetic, witty, scheming) so perfectly.

'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' (2005)
Though some fans of the celebrated sci-fi radio/book series disputed the authenticity of this many-years-in-the-making adaptation, those who dug Garth Jennings' film totallyenjoyed Rockwell's interpretation of Zaphod Beeblebrox, president of the galaxy. A flamboyant, ridiculous character with a second (equally ridiculous) head, Rockwell drawls and chuckles compulsively in a completely over-the-top -- but appropriate to the movie -- performance.

And even deeper:

'The Green Mile' (1999)
Yes, this was a hugely successful Stephen King adaptation starring Tom Hanks, but Rockwell is in a (scary) league of his own as outrageously despicable death row inmate "Will Bill" Wharton.

Want more Rockwell? Also check out 'Welcome to Collinwood,''Safe Men,''Lawn Dogs' and 'Galaxy Quest.'
categories Features