I'm a Bruce Willis fan from way back. While my friends had pictures from Tiger Beat of Kirk Cameron and Ralph Macchio lining their walls, I was indifferent to their 'non-threatening' boy charms, because I had a thing for David Addison. Sure, there were some strange times, and as the years passed Willis kind of dropped off my radar. But in 1995, he turned in a performance that was unlike any of his other work when he took on the role of James Cole in Terry Gilliam's remake of the French sci-fi classic, La jetèe, and in 12 Monkeys I was shown a side of Willis that I had never seen before (and unfortunately, haven't seen since).
Now before we get to Willis' turn as the doomed time-traveler, we have to talk about the 800-pound gorilla that is John McClane. Believe me when I tell you that I struggled long and hard with whether or not to hand the iconic action hero the title of Willis' best role, because after all, it is the part that made him a household name. But even though I know that Willis will probably have the words 'Yippee kay-ay Motherf****r' on his tombstone, I wanted to talk about Willis "the actor" versus Willis "the personality", and if you are talking about Willis "the actor", you have to go with Monkeys.
The '90s were a little shaky for Willis. He had made a career out of playing tough guys in one form or another, and with a few notable exceptions (Pulp Fiction), his work leading up to Monkeys wasn't some his best (and in between the high points were some pretty low ones too -- including dreck like Color of Night and Striking Distance). By the time 1995 had hit, I was starting to worry that Willis was going to go the way of so many action heroes before him and slowly drift into the straight-to-DVD bin. But Gilliam came to the rescue, and in 12 Monkeys, Willis was given the chance to do something other than smirk.
After the jump: a whole new Willis and the genius of James Cole...