Bruce Willis returns to cinemas this week with Surrogates, his first starring role since Live Free or Die Hard. It has been 21 years since the original Die Hard, and it seems as if studios and executives are still trying to make lightning strike twice with Willis as an action hero. Fortunately, Willis' finer instincts keep coming through with some of his quirkier choices between the big-budget blow-em-up movies. And though a casual fan wouldn't know it, he has demonstrated over the years a marked talent for acting. That's right. Bruce Willis is an actor, and a damn good one. It's a shame he has yet to earn a single Oscar nomination, and he could have -- should have -- earned some for the following great performances.
1. Butch in Pulp Fiction (1994)
He shows up 20 minutes in, in a single shot that lasts a full two minutes. It's just Bruce, framed in the center of the shot. The background is lit low and mostly out of focus. He doesn't speak for two minutes; we're listening to Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) speak, but we're looking at Bruce. We're looking at that mug. It's a tough, hard mug, but he knows that Marsellus has his number, so his guard is not entirely up. That look of hard disappointment anchors it. Most of Willis' acting is like that: an invisible stamp of quality that makes everything else around him look good. Then, check out the rest of the film, the way Tarantino's dialogue seems to perfectly fit his mouth, and the brilliant way he pulls off his many non-speaking scenes.