Throughout renowned actor Brendan Gleeson’s thirty-plus years in the entertainment industry, he has delivered nothing but exceptional performances. Every role Gleeson takes on is tackled with a raw passion that infuses the screen with a level of emotional tonality that not every performer can create with the ease that Gleeson presents.
It can be easily interpreted that every successful actor is blessed by the limelight as soon as they start working. Gleeson is a fantastic example that anyone can pursue their dreams at any age. As soon as the Dublin-born actor received his Bachelor of Arts in English and Irish, he trained professionally as an actor. However, he went into teaching at a secondary school for several years. During Gleeson’s teaching days, he never gave up acting and would take on roles in theatre productions such as “Brownbread” (1987) and “Home” (1988), as well as writing plays himself, including “The Birdtable” (1987).
It was not until the early 1990s that Gleeson took the leap and pursued acting full-time, first starring in The Treaty (1991), then taking on supporting roles in Braveheart (1995), Angela Mooney Dies Again (1996), Michael Collins (1996), and The General (1998). As the years rolled on, Gleeson would not only become a household name in Ireland but also across the globe with his performances in films such as 28 Days Later (2002), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), and Beowulf (2007). Throughout Gleeson’s career, he has solidified a penchant for playing stern, complex, and captivating characters who undoubtedly make a film all the better with his presence.
With careful consideration, we at The Film Magazine present three career-defining performances from Brendan Gleeson.
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1. In Bruges (2008)
At the crux of Brendan Gleeson’s innate ability to capture a stoic persona whilst maintaining a level of endearment is his performance as Ken, a hitman’s mentor In Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges.
In Bruges is a scathing, sarcasm-filled riot of misadventures and profanities as McDonagh lays out a bleak but hilarious landscape in which Gleeson and co-star Colin Farrell’s comedic timing bounces off one another.
Gleeson’s career is brimming with frosty, aloof characters, but amidst his remarkable ability to depict these cold personalities is Gleeson’s often overlooked ability to portray dark comedy with a rare sense of naturality. The film thrives due to a combination of quick one-liners and long-running gags that run home the overall gritty, realist humour that compliments the contrasting crime noir plot. McDonagh uses Ken’s harsh demeanour and Gleeson’s performative style as a vessel for the offbeat, fierce script.
In Bruges is a pinnacle of how crucial performances can be to the success of a film. McDonagh’s script and directorial flair are admirable, yet Gleeson’s take on a straight-laced, no-nonsense, rather pragmatic hitman is what truly raised the movie to its acclaimed status.
Working in an ensemble cast brimming with incredible talent has the potential to amalgamate all the performances together to create an all-around commendably acted film. However, Gleeson’s brutish talents propel him to the forefront, showcasing his aptness for possessing the screen and creating a performance to be remembered.
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2. Calvary (2014)
Brendan Gleeson plays Father James, a kind-hearted priest in a small Irish town. During his daily duties at the church, he attends a confessional where an anonymous parishioner announces that he intends to kill James after being abused by another priest as a child. As James grapples with the threat, he sees the darkness within the presumed peaceful community he has fostered for all these years.
Calvary comes from the mind of John Michael McDonagh, brother of In Bruges director Martin McDonagh and creator of The Guard (2011), in which Gleeson starred as a bad-mannered sergeant in rural Ireland. Whilst The Guard took a brilliantly satirical route to expose corrupt police departments, Calvary forgoes the jovial comedy to put on a merciless display of institutionalised abuse in places of worship. As the film weaves through the malevolence of the priest’s surroundings, subsequently exposing his own demons, a perceptional change to Father James’ life occurs. Gleeson takes on this valiant role with an integrity and passion that fuels his performance with a level of sincerity that captures James’ mistrust and the sudden change in the world around him.
Throughout the first act, Gleeson dons his character with a cloak of warm friendliness that seems to coat his entire personality; he is one to be trusted and has become a staple figure in the community. However, as Calvary unravels, Gleeson takes James’ wholesomeness and unveils that level of suspicion and sadness everyone hides deep down. By the finale, James is still an honourable man, but now he is a man who has encountered a world of hurt, has questioned his own beliefs, and has struggled with society’s lack of empathy. For Gleeson to portray such a fleshed-out character whose journey ends in a completely alternative position from where they started is genuinely commendable.
3. The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
One of the most discussed films from 2022 was The Banshees of Inisherin, a tragicomedy following Pádriac (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson), two lifelong friends whose friendship suddenly ends at Colm’s will. The film chronicles Pádriac as he attempts to recollect and reconcile his bond with the tempered Colm.
The film eases in the looming threat of existentialism with every passing scene, amalgamating a strange unexplainable tension amidst the rather hilarious and, at times, whimsical narrative. With such a heavy story that explores these burdensome, dense themes, a strong cast is essential to avoid the weight of the entertainment value being entirely bogged down by the film’s own heaviness. What allows The Banshees of Inisherin to excel amidst all of its depth is the exceptional collection of performances by Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Kerry Condon, and most importantly Brendan Gleeson.
The Banshees of Inisherin tackles various subplots involving domestic troubles and civil war. Nevertheless, the film lives and dies on the mountain of brotherhood and how Colm and Pádriac’s friendship represents the need for solidarity across every walk of life, no matter what hardships or differences humanity collectively experiences. Gleeson, as Colm, is a severely grim, troubled man with an awfully sombre outlook on life as his character nears old age, which is made all the more pronounced by Farrell’s docile gathering of reality. Gleeson is the melancholic glue that keeps the film immensely grounded and metaphorical amidst all the brilliant one-liners and warm jokes.
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Brendan Gleeson may not have become an international star until later in life than those he so often shares the screen with, but his talents are nonetheless exceptional. This Irish actor’s ability to portray a wide range of characteristics in believable ways, and to find empathy in often troubled characters, has made him one of cinema’s most respected contemporary names.