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Mr. Movie: We will miss Bruce Willis

We will not see Bruce Willis in another new movie. He has had to hang it up, being afflicted with the cognitive disorder Aphasia. I’d like to take a fond look back at his roller coaster career. And I would like to point out that he definitely could act up a storm in the right part.


He smirked. He strutted. He fell 100 feet from a crane and sustained only a slight limp, which mysteriously disappeared by the next scene. He could “open” an action movie like nobody else. He made the Die Hard movies a franchise, and appeared in dogs like Hudson Hawk (1991) and The Fifth Element (1997). He made more money from one film than the total budget of many third world countries. And he sometimes seemed to be an unaware victim of Y2K,  unerringly picking dogs since the century turned over. But … could Bruce Willis act? Absolutely.


Perhaps the sole exception to the apparently limitless series of losers after 2000 is the dreamy Moonrise Kingdom (2012) with Bruce as a friendly cop.


Granted, the unexpected success of The Sixth Sense (1999) has a lot to do with the story. But Willis is absolutely splendid as the psychologist trying desperately to help a small boy in torment because he sees dead people.  Willis gave the film credibility and put people in the theaters. From there, word of mouth took over and made it a blockbuster, surprising everyone including the people who made it.


In Country (1989) is not mentioned in the same breath with the great Vietnam war movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon, but it deserves to be. Emily Lloyd, yet another British actor with complete mastery of our accent, has lost her father and a big chunk of herself to the war. Willis is her uncle, a Vietnam vet devastated by what he has seen and heard, unable to cope with the fact that he somehow survived when so many did not. Low key and convincing, this film is a sleeper that deserves more attention.


With all the hoopla surrounding Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, people tend to forget that Willis appeared in Pulp Fiction (1994), Quentin Tarrantino’s groundbreaking black comedy about Americans a good way down on the food chain. Told from different points of view at the same time, Pulp Fiction has become something of a legend Willis is just fine as a crooked boxer trying to escape intact and being foiled at every turn.


Nobody’s Fool (1994) is unquestionably Paul Newman’s movie. Richard Russo’s wonderful novel of the vanishing American individualist is a perfect setting for what was Newman’s last leading man role. Give Willis an assist, though, as Newman’s sometimes boss and friend, one of the few characters who understands him. A poker game is a comical high point, as well as the constant one-upmanship between the two.


All of the movies in this article are available on DVD. All are for adult audiences.