Top 5/Bottom 5: Don Cheadle

Posted Tue Jan 10, 2012 at 12:20 PM PST by

by Aaron Peck

Don Cheadle is a very versatile actor. He's also extremely likable no matter what role he's playing.

In the new Showtime series 'House of Lies' he plays a womanizing, no-good scummy management consultant and somehow he's still as likable as always. I don't get it. We can call it the Cheadle Effect I suppose.

He's also one of these actors that, for better or worse, spans every genre. He doesn't stick to just one movie or one type of role. He seems invested in just about everything that comes by – yes, unfortunately that also means movies like 'Hotel for Dogs.'

With the debut of Cheadle's new series on Showtime, and his role in the recently released dark comedy 'The Guard,' we take a look back at his career and document the highs and the lows.

The Best

'Boogie Nights'

On the surface I'm still not convinced that 'Boogie Nights' was supposed to be a good movie. You take Paul Thomas Anderson out the equation and suddenly you have Mark Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds starring in an epic drama about the rise of the porn industry. However, the end product is still quite stunning in its unflinching look at the adult film industry coupled with real eroticism and some very funny moments. 'Boogie Nights' hits just about every tone, from happy to sad, from coked-out to happily satisfied there isn't an emotion that the movie leaves untouched. One of the most memorable scenes from that movie – besides the ample Heather Graham nudity – was when Cheadle, as Buck Swope enters a donut shop only to find himself in the middle of a hold up where everyone is killed except for him. It's a scene that seemingly pops up out of nowhere, but Cheadle handles it perfectly.

'The Guard'

Acting alongside Brendon Gleeson must be a daunting task, especially when the man is pulling off one of the funniest and bizarre performances of the year. Gleeson's dry wit throughout the movie is only matched by Cheadle's straight-laced FBI agent who can do nothing but be surprised and disgusted by the things that come out of Gleeson's mouth. One of the most underrated films of 2011. It won't win any awards, but I dare anyone to watch it and not like it.

'Hotel Rwanda'

This is one of those movies that critics could easily label "manipulative" because it deals with such an emotionally charged issue. Genocide is something that needs to be dealt with delicately when presenting it a dramatic fashion. Here Cheadle, as Paul Rusesabagina, runs a hotel in Rwanda. Despite his best efforts, Paul is caught up in the middle of the Hutu and Tutsis conflict. The hotel soon becomes a refuge from the innocent people fleeing the bloodshed. Cheadle handles his role with a sincerity that could never be confused with heavy-handedness.

'Reign Over Me'

The attacks on the World Trade Centers are another issue that is usually maligned by people whenever someone tries to make a thoughtful movie about them. It's still a sore subject in American history and one that conjures up all sorts of feelings, from sadness to hatred. Cheadle plays Alan Johnson who happens to run across his old college roommate Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). Charlie lost everything in the attacks and has since become a recluse. Alan does his best to help Charlie, but realizes that his old friend is helping him just as much. It's a tender movie about friendship and love. It's about how we deal with loss even during some of the most traumatic moments of our lives. It's yet another dramatic role where Cheadle brings a sincere earnestness to the screen.


Steven Soderbergh's examination of drug trafficking and its effects on people and culture remains a masterpiece in multi-character filmmaking. 'Traffic' bounces around from storyline to storyline, fitting in as much as possible. Everyone is great in this movie, not just Cheadle, who plays a DEA agent named Montel Gordon. 'Traffic' is the sum of its star-laden parts, and the product of a visionary director. Oh, and did I mention it comes out in a Criterion release in a couple of weeks? Color me excited.

The Worst

'Brooklyn's Finest'

If there's ever been a more mundane, lifeless police procedural I don't think I've seen it. This sinks to the bottom along with 'Righteous Kill.' It's a boring, unoriginal work about policemen doing police-like things. Some are dirty, some are straight-laced, and the movie is a bore.

'Hotel for Dogs'

It's so funny (well, it's not that funny now that I think about it) that an actor who could take such believable and honest roles in some great dramatic features can also find himself in a movie about a hotel for stray dogs that looks like it was lifted right out of Disney Channel Hell.

'Ocean's Twelve'

Speaking of Steven Soderbergh the 'Ocean's' movies are, more or less, light fun. The first one was actually quite enjoyable, but the second one was beyond awful. From the first movie everything led up to the heist. That one quick succession of events that left us wondering what had just happened. Nothing like that happens in 'Twelve.' Even though it's still directed by Soderbergh, something feels completely off about this whole movie, including Cheadle's accent. Although... 'Thirteen' is pretty bad too. I guess it's a tie.

'Rush Hour 2'

Sure, Cheadle only plays a bit part here. Why he's in such a lame movie is a good question. Why he's in such a lame role in a lame movie is an even better question. What, you don't remember Cheadle being in 'Rush Hour 2'? He plays Kenny who lets James Carter in on information about the group who is counterfeiting $100 bills. Still don’t remember who he is? No worries, it's better if you forget this whole mess ever happened.


'Volcano' is one of my guilty pleasures, but I'm not above admitting that it's a bad movie. The late 90s were home to all sorts of natural disaster movies like 'Dante's Peak' and 'Twister.' 'Volcano' never does much more than showcase computer generated lava slowly devouring Los Angeles. To quote Roger Ebert: "'Volcano' is an absolutely standard, assembly-line undertaking; no wonder one of the extras is reading a paperback titled "Screenwriting Made Easy." Still one of my favorite movie review quotes of all time.

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Tags: Don Cheadle, Top 5/Bottom 5, Aaron Peck, Fun Stuff (all tags)