We all know him as the Iron Man, thanks to the numerous Marvel films where he has reprised that role. But Robert Downey Jr has a screen life outside that of the character as well. Well before he was Iron Man, he has been Chaplin and has played the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes as well in between. According to a report, he himself has rated the gritty crime comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as being his best work so far. Let’s take a look at some non-Marvel movies where Robert Downey Jr excelled as an actor
Director: Richard Attenborough
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Dan Aykroyd, Geraldine Chaplin, Kevin Dunn, Anthony Hopkins, Milla Jovovich, Moira Kelly, Kevin Kline, Diane Lane, Penelope Ann Miller, Paul Rhys, John Thaw, Marisa Tomei, Nancy Travis, James Woods
Some say it’s the best film of Robert Downey Jr as far as acting is concerned. The film was adapted by William Boyd, Bryan Forbes and William Goldman from the books My Autobiography by Chaplin and Chaplin: His Life and Art by film critic David Robinson. The actor brought to life the legendary Charles Chaplin in this period drama. He won the BAFTA best actor trophy for his effort. Downey is said to have not only perfected Chaplin’s mannerisms but also brought out the humane side of the great comic actor. The film’s appeal hasn’t faded with time and must be watched for Downey’s mercurial performance as Chaplin.
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
Director: George Clooney
Cast: David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey, Jr., Frank Langella
The movie was written by Clooney and Grant Heslov and portrays the conflict between veteran radio and television journalist Edward R. Murrow (Strathairn) and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, especially relating to the anti-Communist Senator’s actions with the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Robert Downey Jr played Joseph Wershba, writer, editor, and correspondent for CBS News who gets caught in the middle of the ideological war between Edward Murrow (David Strathairn) and Joseph McCarthy, regarding the coverage of the anti-Communist investigations. He’s also shown to be secretly married to a colleague, in an era where such practices were frowned upon. The film also commented on the dumbing down of broadcast news. It was way ahead of its time when it came to that, we must say.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Director: Shane Black
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen
This dark comedy is based on the Brett Halliday novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them. Shane Black made his directorial debut with the film. Robert Downey Jr plays an actor who pretends to be a detective in order to learn how to be a detective and ends up actually becoming one. If this sentence doesn’t pique your interest, then nothing else will. The film is full of red herrings and false leads and dead bodies. Val Kilmer plays an openly gay detective hired to teach the actor the ropes and the two end up being best friends after going through several death-defying misadventures.
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney
The film is based on the 1986 non-fiction book of the same name by Robert Graysmith. Zodiac tells the story of the manhunt for the Zodiac Killer, a serial murderer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s, taunting police with letters, bloodstained clothing, and cyphers. The case remains one of the United States’ most infamous unsolved crimes. Downey played a journalist whose mental peace deteriorated while investigating the case and he took refuge in alcohol and drugs. The slow degradation of his character that we see through his performance is masterful indeed.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Steve Coogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Brandon T. Jackson, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Tom Cruise
This is a satire on the high octane Hollywood action movies directed by Ben Stiller. It stars Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Jay Baruchel, and Brandon T. Jackson as a group of prima donna actors who are making a Vietnam War film. When their frustrated director (played by Steve Coogan) drops them in the middle of a jungle, they are forced to rely on their acting skills to survive the real action and danger. Downey had one of the weirdest roles of his (or anybody’s career) in the film. He played a white Australian who is portraying an African-American soldier and because he’s shown as a method actor he doesn’t break character even once. His and Tom Cruise’s performances in the film were universally lauded.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan
Guy Ritchie’s take on the immortal character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was uproariously funny. The bromance between Sherlock, played by Downey and Dr Watson, played by Jude Law was more pronounced. The various slow-motion action shots of Sherlock brawling with the baddies added another flavour to the legendary character. Downey won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for his portrayal. A sequel was released in 2011. Now that Iron Man’s reign seems to be over, Downey should go back to doing more Sherlock sequels.
The Soloist (2009)
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey, Jr., Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander, Lisa Gay Hamilton
The film is based on the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a musician who developed schizophrenia and became homeless. The screenplay by Susannah Grant is based on the book, The Soloist by Steve Lopez. Downey plays Lopez in the film. It was a poignant tale of friendship between a musical prodigy made homeless by disease and a cynical journalist who turns more humane thanks to this friendship. Both Foxx and Downey received rave reviews for their respective roles, though the critically acclaimed film failed to make any money.